Loopt's updated iPhone app is out. With it comes Star service as an add-on that turns Loopt into a sort of loyalty card for everything. What's more, Loopt is an iOS4 app and can run in the background. Loopt's founder talked with us about this new awesomeness.
Star is powerful, demonstrated by the fact that it's launch location-based-loyalty partner is Gap. We've connected with Loopt founder Sam Altman about Star, and he notes that he's "thrilled about the response to Loopt Star, where we are focused on providing the absolute best solution for both users (making a fun, rewarding game) and for businesses (offering an opportunity to reward loyal customers and encourage participation and foot traffic)." Star brings in the kinds of business participation plays for Loopt that has have boosting Foursquare's success recently.
But the updated iPhone OS brings third party multitasking to the platform for the first time, and Loopt's version 3.0 app supports it. Multitasking has been available on the Palm and Android phones for a while, but these phones haven't achieved the same kind of market penetration or (more importantly) user mindspace as the iPhone. This places the iPhone's multitasking as potentially game-changing, particularly when it comes to location-based services. Altman thinks it's definitely a "sea change" because "the move from a situation where I have to consciously look at my phone to know where people are and what’s going on, to a situation where my phone tells me when something is occurring is huge." Specifically, it'll let the Loopt app actively alert users that they're near a Star location—even if they're not using the app at the time.
Always-on location services, partly because they're so new, bring with them an attendant parade of privacy worries—an issue which has been pushed into the spotlight even more at the moment thanks to Facebook's and AT&T's failings. We asked Altman if this had affected his business. He noted that it hadn't, but did say that "from our standpoint, we have made little to no changes in our policies; but we’ve been more diligent about messaging our users that they are there; that we take their privacy seriously; that they are safe on Loopt." Loopt's confident in its privacy policies, and has even "testified before Congress on Privacy issues."
Regarding over-sharing of location data via Loopt, the new app has what Altman calls a "hybrid" approach, "that is, you can have background location sharing with a small subset of close friends and family, that can be turned on and off; and for everyone else you can 'check in' to specific places when you get there." We asked Altman what the biggest misconception about Loopt was, and he directed his answer toward this very issue: Persuading its clients that Loopt is responsible with their data, and the new services are worth taking part in, is very important. Altman wants people to "feel safe and comfortable with location sharing" and wants to "message carefully that location sharing is controlled," which is a nice dig at Facebook's aggressive pro-sharing stance, especially since Loopt absolutely doesn't "share all the time without a user’s knowledge."