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Google Goes Native With Latitude App

The Latitude app for the iPhone allows continuous location updating, so you always know where your friends are.

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Despite its zealous promotion of the Web and HTML5, Google still sees value in native mobile apps, which offer capabilities that aren't yet available or well-implemented in mobile browsers.

On Monday, Google released a native iPhone app for Google Latitude, its social friend-tracking service. Latitude for the iPhone allows users to continuously share location information with friends.

Keeping tabs on friends this way, however, has a downside: Google has warned that continuous location sharing transmits a lot of data, which could affect those with limited data plans.

Also, any kind of continuous data transmission taxes the phone's battery more than periodic or on-demand transmission. This was one of the reasons that prior to iOS 4 Apple disallowed background processes in third-party apps.

Google offers Latitude as a feature of Google Maps on Android, BlackBerry, Symbian, and Windows Mobile phones. The company previously released a Latitude Web app for the iPhone and desktop computer users.

The new native iPhone app represents an attempt to make use of the latest iOS capabilities. "Though we released Latitude as a Web application before the iPhone supported third party background applications, today’s Latitude app was built from the ground up using iOS 4’s new multitasking capability to support background updating," explained Google engineer Chris Lambert in a blog post.

Apple released iOS 4 in June and iOS 4.2 in November.

When Latitude was initially released last year, at least one privacy group expressed concern that the system could be misused if installed and activated surreptitiously. Such speculation now appears rather overwrought. Currently, some 9 million people are actively using the service, according to Google.

Lambert observes that Latitude is 100% opt-in and that users have the option of sharing the city they're in rather than more specific coordinates.

The Latitude app will be available in over 15 languages and 45 countries though various iTunes App Stores over the next few days.

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