Social Networks

Loopt Offers Local-Social Approach in Pulse

Loopt has been struggling to reinvent itself since Facebook came to dominate the mobile social landscape (and to a lesser degree Twitter). It's very hard to compete with an installed base of 300 million, with more than 70 million using a mobile app to access the social network. Hence LooptMix and now Pulse.

Mix is a dating app and Pulse is much more of a ultiliarian local search tool, with social recommendations -- rather than a mobile social network that has local listings. The (re)positioning is important.

There are two modes in Pulse: search and "pulse" (discover). Here's what the NY Times said earlier this week:

Loopt aims to distinguish itself by making its service comprehensive. It incorporates feeds from 20 sources, including listings and review services like Zagat, Citysearch and Eventful as well as content sites like DailyCandy, Thrillist and The Village Voice.

Pulse produces a personalized and ever-changing list of recommendations based on where you are, the time of day and Loopt’s own data on where you and your friends have been. It shows editorial descriptions and reviews from the partner sites and averages the ratings a business has received.

The two differentiators are thus content breadth and the push-recommendations. At a high level, however, this is the same conceptual discussion we had with Aloqa this afternoon. Having said that Loopt is better off through diversification and repositioning as a local entertainment source rather than being primarily a friend finder. 

Yet there are a lot of companies in the mobile-local segment and the incumbents will not cede the space easily. Witness Whrrl (from Pelago) that was aiming to be what Pulse aspires to. The company was unsuccessful gaining traction as Yelp, Citysearch and other established companies moved more aggressively into mobile. 

However Loopt seems pretty scrappy and adaptable. We'll see how the new direction fares. 

Is Vodafone 360 a Model for Other Carriers?

In this new era of branded handsets and OEM app stores carriers are having to scramble to figure out how to remain relevant to users and prevent connectivity from becoming a pure priced-based commodity. Several US carriers, Sprint, AT&T and Verizon, have all anounced apps stores and are courting developers. I'm very skeptical that these app stores will be very successful among smartphone users (given the competition from the OEM app stores); however I could be wrong.

I think there is an opportunity for carrier app stores among lower-end phones. (See also Microsoft's OneApp, along these lines.)

In the UK Vodafone, minority owner of Verizon Wireless, has officially launched Vodafone 360, a multifaceted service that offers social networking apps/tools, photo tagging/sharing, online backup and enhanced mapping. Will this turn out to be like "bloatware" on PCs or will it be a valuable suite of services that prove compelling and "sticky" among users?

he group communication aspects of the service could prove to be quite popular. Of course it all depends on how well these things work in practice. 

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Vodafone is very aggressively marketing 360 across London and chiefly emphasizing the social elements of the service. The marketing and "value proposition" are not unlike the social software layer on the Motorola CLIQ/DEXT (through Orange in the UK). 

If the Vodafone 360 service proves to be a hit it could be something of a model for other carriers -- value-added services built around contacts, with a PC tie-in -- which must be creative, even experimental, to now avoid the "dumb pipe scenario."

Report: Mobile Users Tweet More

According to a report released yesterday by the Pew Internet & American Life, 19% of US Internet users are using Twitter or a comparable capability on a social network to update their status or follow others' status updates. This is even more true for mobile users and those who have multiple connected devices. According to the report:

Three groups of internet users are mainly responsible for driving the growth of this activity: social network website users, those who connect to the internet via mobile devices, and younger internet users – those under age 44.

In addition, the more devices someone owns, the more likely they are to use Twitter or another service to update their status. Fully 39% of internet users with four or more internet-connected devices (such as a laptop, cell phone, game console, or Kindle) use Twitter, compared to 28% of internet users with three devices, 19% of internet users with two devices, and 10% of internet users with one device.

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These findings make sense given that mobile users are likely to be concerned about staying "connected" and multiple device owners are inclined to be "early adopters."

Does this mean that Twitter is "mainstream"? I would say not quite yet . . . 

Foursquare Gaining, Loopt Mix Dating Site

The NY Times has a very flattering piece on mobile-social-local gaming network Foursquare:

Just seven months old with about 60,000 users so far, Foursquare is still getting off the ground — especially when compared with supersize services like Facebook and Twitter, which have millions of members. But that underground status is part of Foursquare’s appeal, its fans say. It is not yet cluttered with celebrities, nosy mothers-in-law or annoying co-workers.

It's striking to see a 36-year-old quoted in the article praising the game/site/network:

“On Twitter, there are more than 3,000 people that follow me, and Facebook is more of a business community now,” said Annie Heckenberger, 36, who works at an advertising agency in Philadelphia. “Foursquare is more of the people that I actually hang out with and want to socialize with.”

My guess is that the quoted individual is single and has plenty of time on her hands. That's my thesis about who Foursquare appeals to; it's game-like nature makes it engaging but limits its mainstream appeal. Perhaps I'll be proven totally wrong. In the beginning I was a Twitter detractor.

In a related vein, Loopt has launched a new service called Loopt Mix, which is effectively a dating app with push notifications. There's substantial reason to believe that this is the future of Loopt and they've decided to embrace the way many people were already using the app: for hooking up. 

Geodelic Builds Event App for Universal Studios

LBS app maker Geodelic has launched an iPhone app in an unual way. The company built Universal Studio’s Halloween Horror Night app that is being promoted for use within the Southern California amusement park during the month of October. The app shows park maps and ride wait times, places to eat and restroom locations, all tied to handset location awareness within the park. It also promotes Universal horror films and has third party ad units. The same app is available for Android devices.

Although Geodelic hasn't officially launched an iPhone app, once users leave the park the Halloween Horror app will transform into Geodelic proper. Here are some screens:

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There's an interesting opportunity for apps that are focused on events and festivals or institutions. MobilePeople has also spoken to us about what they perceive to be the opportunity to build apps for, say, Jazz Fest or the Olympics, etc.

Aardvark Now a 'Social Search Engine'

Aardvark has relaunched its site and rebranded to a degree as a "social search engine." The site is sexier but the service is the same. I've also written about this at Search Engine Land.  One can now access Aardvark via, Twitter, IM and the iPhone. 

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Aardvark competes with a range of companies, but most directly with companies such as ChaCha, kgb and of course Google, because of its ubiquity. My guess is that Aardvark would see itself as a unique company in many respects but in the context of "human powered search" it has a number of other firms to contend with. The challenge for everyone in this space is how to differentiate from Google and establish a service that is more:

  • Useful
  • Trusted
  • Efficient/Responsive/Specific
  • Fun

Siri is coming soon too; it's not human-powered but will also be potentially competitive with Aardvark, kgb, et al. Here are our previous articles about Aardvark:

Openwave: "Operator X" Social Networking Data

We all know from personal, anecdotal experience and emprical information that social networking access on mobile devices is growing. However mobile software and analytics company OpenWave put out some data this past week from a "tier one" carrier in North America reflecting growth in the use of social networking sites from mobile handsets. (With few exceptions, mobile only social nets are all but history.)

The data reflected below don't match up with the broader distribution of traffic seen on the PC side or other mobile social networking access data that we have or have seen. MySpace as the top site suggests a younger demographic, possibly pre-paid users. Also the handsets presented in the report suggest a lower-end user base as well. So that leads me to believe that the carrier is not Verizon or AT&T in the US. That would leave T-Mobile and Spint (maybe with Boost included). However, it may be a Canadian carrier because of the "North American" characterization.

At any rate here's the data, drawn from a five day period last month:

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Are You Having an Affair with Your Phone?

Market research company Synovate released findings from a wide-ranging survey of 8,000 mobile phone users in 11 countries (504 respondents in the US). The markets included Canada, Denmark, France, Malaysia, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan, the UK and US. Here are some of the top-level findings (largely verbatim):

  • 82% of Americans never leave home without their phones
  • 36% of people across the world (42% of Americans) say they 'cannot live without' their cell phones
  • Almost 50% report sleeping with their phones "nearby"

More than two phones + smartphones:

  • 23% said they own more than two mobile phones. Americans and the French are more likely to own more than one phone
  • UK and US mobile users are most likely to own a smartphone: 21% and 20% respectively

Most used features:

Beyond voice and text messaging, the most regularly used phone features were:

  • Alarm clock – 67% globally use this regularly / 56% of Americans
  • Camera – 62% globally / 68% of Americans
  • Games – 33% globally / 31% of Americans

Mobile Internet access:

  • 17% of respondents use email on their mobile on a regular basis: 26% in the US and 25% in the UK
  • 17% access the mobile Internet: UK at 31%, US at 26%
  • 11% say they social network regularly via mobile: UK (17%), US (15%)

SMS behavior, dating and lying: 

  • 31% of people across 11 markets have lied about their whereabouts via text
  • 20% have set up a first date and 12% have broken up with someone by text
  • 20% have set up a first date, including 9% of Americans
  • 12% have broken up with someone via text, led by 23% of Filipinos. Just 4% of Americans have done this
  • 35% agreed that they have hidden behind text to say no or send a difficult message, led by 49% of Filipinos.
  • Least likely to hide behind text are Canadians (79% say they haven't done this) and Americans (71%). 31% agreed they have lied about why they were running late or where they are, led by 57% of Filipinos. Least likely to lie via text (or so they say) are the Dutch (84% say they haven't) and the Americans (79%)

What these data show (once again) is that people find their mobile phones an indispensible piece of personal technology and communications tool. They love them; they're more attached to them than the PC.

The figures above on mobile Internet access are consistent with what we've independently found -- 27% of US users accessing the Internet on their mobile phones. We also found an identical number regarding social network access via mobile phone among US users: 15%

Zong Expands into Subscription Payments

Zong uses mobile carrier billing and SMS to enable users to pay for online virtual goods and other small items with their phones. The individual transaction limit (set by carriers) is $9.99. And previously Zong could only be used for individual transactions, but the company has now expanded its services to allow for recurring billing.

According to Zong's release

Photobucket, the premier standalone photo and video sharing site with 45 million unique monthly visitors, and OMGPOP, a real-time social gaming platform with more than a million daily game plays, are each extending Zong’s Recurring Payment Service as a payment option to their users. Photobucket users interested in upgrading to the site’s Pro service and OMGPOP users interested in upgrading to its Star Membership no longer have to enter up to 70 characters of identifying and financial information. Instead they can bill the membership fees to their mobile phone simply by entering their 10 digit mobile phone number online, receiving a four digit confirmation PIN by SMS text, then entering that PIN online to complete the purchase. The monthly membership fee then appears as a line item on the user’s monthly mobile phone bill. 

This service first rolls out in the US and later across the globe. Here's our previous write up of Zong and how it works. 

Foursquare and Local Mobile Deals

I'll admit that I was an early Twitter critic and now I'm a convert. So I may be similarly wrong when I say the following about Foursquare: it's not a mainstream app or broad SMB ad platform because of its limited appeal to select groups of people (read: college students and twentysomethings with time on their hands). 

Recently Foursquare launched Foursquare for business, which is effectively a mobile coupon or loyalty program. There are a range of businesses seeking to drive visits via Foursquare. Here's an example:

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Foursquare can create a kind of loyal, cult following and potentially drive meaningful foot traffic for selected categories of businesses (restaurants/cafes, bars, clubs, youth oriented hotels). But the commitment required to play and the mild complexity of the game creates a barrier for older (read: busy) adults and most SMBs.

This is not to say that Foursquare can't achieve success but it won't have the broad appeal that a Twitter does today. The appeal of Twitter lies in its simplicity.


Related: There Goes the Neighborhood: How Foursquare is Subtly Threatening Your Anonymity

Nokia Buys Plum: Social Net for Small Groups, Families

Nokia has acquired the assets of a small social network platform called Plum. Plum is intended for small groups, friends and families. It allows users to create "private social networks." The way the site describes its service is as follows: 

Plum is for anyone who wants to stay connected and share in a more private way than is currently possible on big social networks like Facebook. With Plum you can set up social groups for close friends, your family, roommates, co-workers, your church, your basketball league, school…

In its FAQs Plum tries to answer the question, "why should I use it if I'm already on Facebook?": 

We're big fans of Facebook. It is a wonderful service for staying in touch with and broadcasting to large number of "friends" — people you may know. Yet, in real-life we all belong to many different social groups — family, school, work, sports team, church and so forth. Plum lets you set up or join different groups for different people and interests in your life. We are not suggesting you stop using Facebook. But we are asking that you try us out for groups of friends or family where you may not want everything you post and say to be visible to all your friends.

The amount of the transaction was not disclosed.

Among the companies it has acquired Nokia has bought two social networks: Cellity and Plazes, based in Berlin. The Plum price was probably not significant for Nokia and it helps the company as it transforms into a broader content and services play beyond simply being a hardware OEM. 

New Motorola Phone a Branding Blur

Today at the Mobilize conference Motorola announced it's long-awaited first Android phone the "CLIQ" (from T-Mobile) with "Motoblur." For about 10 minutes it wasn't clear what the phone was called. It seemed like it was called the "Motoblur" but then T-Mobile took the stage and called it the CLIQ. It's officially called "Motorola CLIQ With MOTOBLUR." 

This is some of the most confused branding in recent memory. To compound matters it's being called DEXT with MOTORBLUR in the UK and Europe. Putting all that aside, the phone is interesting for a few reasons:

  • It's another example of software customization on top of Android: the social network widget interface/integration. HTC's Sense interface is another example of this. We should continue to see the evolution of more layers between the basic Android experience and some unique software or interface elements, as Android OEMs trying to differentiate from one another. 
  • The hardware looks almost exactly like the MyTouch3G (though there's a slide out QWERTY keyboard). It will potentially be challenging for consumers to differentiate accordingly. Motorola is counting on the social software/networking utility to be the differentiator. But that's probably not going to matter as much as price to consumers. Hypothetically, if the CLIQ is $199 and the MyTouch is, say, $150, the MyTouch is likely to win. 

The "MOTOBLUR" social software (MySpace, Facebook, Twitter) is the type of thing that carriers arguably should be doing (i.e., customizable home screen) to remain relevant to end users. Instead, they're building apps stores, which in my mind face very mixed prospects.

Here's video of the new handset in action. And here's a flash simulator.  

Facebook, Pandora Come to Android, Palm Debuts Inexpensive Pixi

Two "top-tier" mobile apps previously missing from the Android pantheon are now available: Facebook and Pandora. Though not as complete as its iPhone cousin, the Facebook Android app is pretty functional. Here's a video demo of how it works.

In hardware news, Palm has now launched the Pixi (formerly EOS or Pixie). It promises to be cheaper (maybe $99) than the Pre, which is coming down in price to $149 to boost sales. Here's a "hands on" video of the new Pixi from Engadget:

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It uses the WebOS like the Pre and in some ways appears more functional than its more expensive sibling (you don't have to slide the keyboard open to enter characters or queries). It also reportedly has a better keyboard. If the price is $99 it's going to be a much bigger hit than the Pre for sure. The big differentiator is that the Pixi has no WiFi; however that's not going to be an issue for most buyers who jump at the lower price point.

The larger point here is that smartphone prices are creeping downward amid intensifying competition. The new Android Hero (from Sprint) is going to come in at $179. The Pre is now $150 and the Pixi may be $99. The iPhone 3G is $99 and Verizon was clearing out the Storm (in anticipation of Storm 2) for $50.

These kinds of prices will drive big smartphone sales, which drives mobile Internet usage.


Video: Google improves the Android Market. Right now it's a pretty mediocre experience and not very conducive to discovery of new apps.

Loopt First B.G. App on iPhone: Do We Care?

Loopt was heralded last week as the first iPhone app to run "in the background" so that it can continuously update a user's location. As a technical and "policy" milestone I agree it's noteworthy.

But I immediately found myself asking the question "so what?" Loopt, arguably the most visible of the mobile-only social networks, with distribution across most of the carriers and smartphone platforms, is probably already an "also-ran." While the site claims "millions of users," Facebook has 65 million mobile users (globally). Twitter is also more established as an updates tool (though not for all groups equally) and if I'm looking for local business or entertainment information there are myriad mobile sources (Loopt uses Yelp reviews). 

The thing that may keep Loopt afloat (unless or until there's an acquisition) is the fact that it has a subscription model ($3.99 per month). A smaller number of paying users will support the service vs. advertising only, which would require massive usage to generate meaningful revenues for the company. 

Some have argued that Loopt has turned into a dating service. The central feature of Loopt, continuous location awareness, is also something that consumers are highy ambivalent about, although in practice they want relevant ads and offers:

Opus Research 4-09

Source: Opus Research, 4/09 (n=707)

Facebook Becoming a Mobile Giant

Facebook's new mobile iPhone app is a considerable upgrade over its previous one. I won't do a review of the app, but it offers much more utility than before (including chat, notes, photo uploads, etc). We'll continue to see new features and various enhancements in future versions too (next up is probably video uploads). There's also been some speculation that it could become a mobile apps platform within an app (others are pursuing this approach). While all but a relatively small number of highly successful Facebook apps basically languish online, mobile offers an opportunity to reinvigorate the strategy.

There's also Facebook's payments strategy, which could expand to mobile (it's already got a relationship with Zong using mobile phones to pay for virtual goods online [watch for a potential acquisition of Zong by FB]). Then there's the recently announced expansion of Connect from the iPhone to the broader mobile Internet.

Facebook also just announced a relationship with Nokia integrating Facebook (via "Lifecasting with Ovi") into the N97 and new Nokia N97 Mini phones. Here's a promotional video showing how it works:

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The company also said in August that it has 65 million users globally who access the site from mobile devices. That's reportedly more than triple what it was in December, 2008.

Clearly mobile is a very key part of Facebook's strategy now and could make it a dominant globaly player in mobile across a number of fronts, including, potentially advertising. It's probably only a matter of time before Facebook becomes an ad network. Indeed, if I were Facebook I would take a look at buying one of the leading mobile ad networks top accelerate that development.

Picture the Power of Location-Aware Twitter

Twitter execs say the company is developing an application programming interface (API) specifically to make it easier to associate geographic location with the content of Tweets. This is something that third-party applications like Twinkle have done for some time, providing a way for mobile Twitter users to communicate with those nearby. There have also been a number of user-driven initiatives to embed geographic "hash tags" (like #SF or #NYC) so that Twitter search could sort out geographically relevant comments, questions or queries.

Reports say that the new API is designed specifically for third-party platforms like Tweetdeck and Tweetie, and will enable Twitter users to link latitude and longitude information to their Tweets. An immediate improvement would be to associate the lat/long info with the designation of a neighborhood (using the facilities of the likes of Urban Mapping or Maponics). Associating location with neighborhood should benefit people who use Twitter to learn who's nearby, what's nearby, and what can be done without getting too specific about exact location.

There is already significant evidence that geocoding Tweets will sound the alarm among privacy mavens who oppose any openings for targeted advertising delivery. Yet there is also evidence of a critical mass of Twitterers and social networkers who enjoy publishing their specific locations for the purpose of promoting local activities. Still experience with Yahoo's Fire Eagle, Google's Latitude and Brightkite's (ahem) Brightkite have cultivated an increasingly sophisticated set of mobile users who are prepared to control (and game) the location-aware Twittersphere to serve their desired ends and objectives.

New Yelp iPhone Release Adds Content, Features

The forthcoming Yelp update for the iPhone adds a number of new features as well as brings more of Yelp over from the PC side. The new features include:

  • Sales and deals near you: this is content that exists on Yelp that will now be available via the mobile app (the change may motivate more businesses to add sales and deals)
  • Maps: offer improved search and now they now take advantage of multitouch and can be pinched, zoomed and expanded
  • Talk: this is a feature on Yelp on the PC. However, now you can read and respond (Q&A) to community posts in mobile (becomes Twitter-like on the iPhone)
  • Comment on reviews: users can choose buttons that label reviews useful, etc (ranking/rating reviews). In addition, you can send the reviewer a compliment. Those on the receiving end can also reply. 

Click the image below for a video tour of the new features:

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What's striking is that when Yelp first launched on mobile, at the behest of Palm three years ago it was kind of a fun experiment. Now mobile has become a strategic part of the business.

NearbyNow Rolling Out iPhone Apps for Publishers

On the success of its Lucky Magazine app, NearbyNow has built iPhone apps for Seventeen Magazine and Runners World (with others to come) that allow users to review apparel and purchase locally, using NearbyNow's inventory monitoring and verification. According to the press release:

Seventeen Fashion Finder will feature a variety of fashion and accessories that are teens' fall must-haves. The application allows teen girls to search by product: jeans, tops, bags and shoes; by trend: rocker, bo-ho, classic and girly or by price point. The application then checks availability and reserves any of the products in stores nearby. Seventeen Fashion Finder is the first mobile application targeted at the teen market that allows users to locate and reserve products in their local area.

The best way to illustrate how it works is with several screenshots of the Seventeen Magzine app:      

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As I said this is the first of a number of apps that NearbyNow is developing for publishers. One of the other things that is reportedly happening, according to NearbyNow CEO Scott Dunlap, is that sharing among mobile users is driving additional volume. Dunlap told me in an email: 

In the App next to every product image is a button that allows you to e-mail to a friend. The e-mail response also includes a button that says “find local." This means that any recipient of the e-mail can find the closest store next to THEM that has the product, even if they don’t have an iPhone. We’re already seeing this as driving substantial traffic.

As Dunlap has pointed out in the past (it's worth repeating): "iPhone shoppers are 17x more likely to click find local than buy online."

What NearbyNow is doing with publishers is bringing them a new engagement and advertising platform that extends the reach of their brands and advertisers to demographically desirable audiences. 

Yellix: Facebook Becomes Caller ID for Your Smartphone

MobilePeople Alum Claudia Poepperl, has started a new company called adaffix. The company's first product is Yellix. It essentially turns Facebook into "caller ID 2.0" for smartphones (except the iPhone). Here's how Yellix describes what it does:

YELLIX is a free application for your mobile phone. Once installed, it will automatically display a pop-up showing you the up-to-date status, photo and other relevant content of your Facebook friends when they call you on your mobile.

Friends must install the Yellix Facebook app and then the Yellix app on their phones:

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Read the rest of this post on Screenwerk.

Latitude on the iPhone: Falling Short of Its Potential

Google finally released Latitude for the iPhone and iPod Touch device. When Latitude first came out we wrote about it and saw its potential for Google:

Latitude is very likely to succeed because it presents a compelling, simple proposition: “see where your friends are in real time.” It’s also easy to adopt and, as mentioned, built upon large installed bases of existing Google users, in the form of Google Maps for Mobile and Gmail. 

Yet the iPhone implementation is curiously "flat." It's currently missing the messaging feature of the Android version, "shout outs," which makes it much more interesting and useful.

In Android, Latitude is integrated directly into the Maps app and there's a map view and a list view, which provides access to IM/Twitter-like updates (shout outs) with those to whom I'm connected. While it's difficult to describe in the abstract, it's essentially mobile IM (a la Google Talk). Thus Latitude becomes a location-based messaging platform, beyond a simple friend finder.

The Google Mobile Blog explains why the iPhone version of Latitude is a Web-based app, rather than a native app for the iPhone:

We worked closely with Apple to bring Latitude to the iPhone in a way Apple thought would be best for iPhone users. After we developed a Latitude application for the iPhone, Apple requested we release Latitude as a web application in order to avoid confusion with Maps on the iPhone, which uses Google to serve maps tiles.

Google, like Apple, continues to push for improvements in web browser functionality. Now that iPhone 3.0 allows Safari to access location, building the Latitude web app was a natural next step. In the future, we will continue to work closely with Apple to deliver useful applications -- some of which will be native apps on the iPhone, such as Earth and YouTube, and some of which will be web apps, like Gmail and Latitude.

Unfortunately, since there is no mechanism for applications to run in the background on iPhone (which applies to browser-based web apps as well), we're not able to provide continuous background location updates in the same way that we can for Latitude users on Android, Blackberry, Symbian and Window Mobile.

As a Web app I'm guessing it can't do messaging, which is why the shout outs/IM functionality doesn't appear.

The paragraphs above from the Google Blog post are strange and interesting. Google is explaining why Latitude may fall short on the iPhone and it's also gently criticizing Apple for deficiencies in the functionality that Latitude is able to deliver:

"Unfortunately, since there is no mechanism for applications to run in the background on iPhone (which applies to browser-based web apps as well), we're not able to provide continuous background location updates . . ."

This line: "After we developed a Latitude application for the iPhone, Apple requested we release Latitude as a web application in order to avoid confusion with Maps on the iPhone, which uses Google to serve maps tiles" is also very interesting. Apple wanted to avoid "confusion." Hmmm . . . Confusion may be a euphemism for something else.

I think Apple wanted to avoid Google totally taking over the the Maps app on the iPhone, one might say "colonizing" it. Even though Maps on the iPhone has Google branding and data, it's not completely Google centric at this stage.

As a consequence of all this Latitude for the iPhone (in its current form at least) will probably fall short of its potential.