Alohar Mobile, the location startup led by ex-Google Maps architect Sam Liang, today launched a new iPhone app called PlaceUs that tries to add contextual intelligence to location sharing.
PlaceUs aims to help people stay connected with a close circle of loved ones. As the app learns your routines, it can do things like automatically send a message to your spouse when you head home from work or when you’re stuck in traffic on the way to daycare. PlaceUs can also notice if you haven’t been to the gym in a while and send you a reminder.
Alohar claims that PlaceUs can also keep track of how much gasoline you’ve used by tracking your speed, routes and distances. Once it notices you’re running low, it can initiate a search for a gas station automatically.
Liang calls the technology powering PlaceUs “group AI.” In his view, virtual assistants like Google Now or Siri are designed for individuals, but his app works within a group of people. The group aspect why the original PlaceMe project, which launched two years ago, has now evolved to PlaceUs.
For his part, Liang is no slouch when it comes to location technology. He served as the architect of Google’s mobile location platform. He helped build the system for triangulating location using WiFi and cell towers, and also enabled the ubiquitous blue dot on mobile Google Maps. Liang also designed the Android and iPhone APIs.
Despite the huge number of similar apps that already exist, the mobile location space is ready for new innovation. Existing solutions either require manual input or they drain your batteries at an impractical rate.
PlaceUs triggers notifications when you arrive at or leave a place. The app is designed to detect your location down to a specific store in a mall. In order to conserve battery, the real-time component of the app only kicks in if someone else is viewing your location.
Chances are there are a handful of people in your life that you’re willing to continuously share your location with. Apps like Foursquare tend to cast a broader net, encouraging you to connect with people that you wouldn’t need, or want, to lambently broadcast your whereabouts to. PlaceUs wants to get rid of the “Hey, where are you at?” texts that occur between family and close friends.
You’ll need to opt-in to sharing with people. Once you have the application setup, you can send text messages to others to have them download the app and start receiving your updates. You can delete connections at any time and also temporarily hide your location from specific contacts.
Your location data is sent via end-to-end encryption, and Alohar promises that it will never sell the information to third-parties.
“We have no interest in the advertising business model,” Liang said. Instead, PlaceUs will implement premium features down the road that users can add-on through an in-app purchase.
I’ve been burned by location apps promising automated intelligence before, so I’m skeptical of new apps. However, Liang has the credentials to give mobile location services a much-needed makeover, so I’m willing to give it a try.