Loopt to Become First Third-Party iPhone Service to Run in 'Background' [Updated]

Silicon Alley Insider reports that the location-based social networking service Loopt has struck a deal with AT&T that will permit the service to monitor a user's location (with their permission) in the background.

Via a deal with AT&T, and with your permission, Loopt will be able to access your location all the time you have a network connection, even when you're not actively using the iPhone app. (The app isn't running in the background; it's working server-to-server.) Loopt cofounder and CEO Sam Altman tells us that it's been users' most requested feature.

As pointed out, the application itself is not actually running on the iPhone at all times, but Loopt is able to pull your location information at all times with the cooperation of AT&T.

Loopt, which was highlighted at the App Store launch at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference in June 2008, allows users to track the locations of their friends and offers several related social networking features. But until now, Loopt and other similar services such as Google Latitude have required iPhone users to be actively using their applications to locate other users. Despite the fact that Loopt currently only updates a user's location every 1-2 hours, implementation of an "always-on" location tracking service will lead to more useful tracking of friends and development of additional location-based features as the technology continues to develop.

Always-on, real-time location information is critical for the future of location services, Altman tells us. You'll be able to get alerts when you're near a person or place you're interested in, for example. You can build a "life graph" of all the places you've gone, he adds. (Maybe a running map?) And -- Altman doesn't say this, but we're making the next logical step, here -- this opens the door to easier location-based advertising, promotions, etc.

Loopt is offering a free 14-day trial of the background service for 5,000 users. Always-on service beyond the initial trial period will cost $3.99 per month and will appear on users' AT&T bills.

Update: To clarify the "background" nature of the feature, location updating is done strictly on a server-to-server basis, with Loopt receiving information directly from AT&T. The Loopt iPhone application itself does not run in the background.

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