Dynamic local search with Localscope

I normally don't try geo-location services because I'm a bit tired of the Foursquare and Gowalla hype and the lack of users in Europe. When I first heard about an GPS app that would pull social data from these services I didn't pay much attention, but the good coverage in other iOS specific sites made me give it a go. 

Localscope [iTunes Link] by Cynapse is a navigation app that allows you to search in popular sources including social media to find locations and businesses in your vicinity. The big selling point is integrating a geo search function using Google, Bing, Twitter, Foursquare and Wikimapia, being able to compare results in the same interface. 

For a number of years now, I have relied on simple Google searches and the fancy Where To? app, originally developed by Tap tap tap and now run by FutureTap. If you are also using Where To?, you'll be used to selecting a category to find the results closer to your location. Localscope takes a different approach, allowing you to type your interest, search and immediately see results from reliable sources. 

Let's say you want to find a pizza place close to where you are. Simply type the word "pizza" (I'm doing this test as I write), and you'll be presented with a list (eight results in my case) courtesy of Google. Once you tap on the search result, you have the address of the pizzeria, telephone number and a website (in this test is the Google Maps entry with user reviews). On top of this, you also get the option to share this particular result to the usual social networks, but it also displays a small map with the restaurant location and a compass which indicates direction and distance. 

 

I wouldn't normally use this at home, but running this test I realise I only know three of the eight results and that other pizza places in my neighborhood I normally go to are so far that they don't even appear!

Cross service location search

So far, all this could have been done by many of Google's iOS apps, but the real deal breaker comes now: With a simple swipe, you can see the same results in the other search engines. Bing tells me to have a pizza 3km away, but it also gives me a rating of 6/10 from 18 reviews. Maybe I'll skip that. Foursquare gives me similar results, plus the guys who check in there more often. 

Twitter gives geo-based chatter around the word pizza, so I can easily spot a £5 meal deal in a major chain not too far from where I am. Inevitably, Twitter results include questions like "Where's the best place to have pizza" and "I hate burnt pizza". Searching Twitter his way could be priceless to find tickets and locations of secret warehouse parties so popular in London's East End.  

The last service, Wikimapia, returns what appear to be recent results with user comments such as "Cheap pizza, and wine comes by the litre". Unfortunately, they don't always have a proper address nor contact details and the Wikimapia link is basically a map window full of Google ads.  

Finding your way, the way it suits you 

In addition to the list view, Localscope also displays search results on a map. This comes in handy to easily spot locations, but it doesn't give any other indication is you tap on the pin. I read on the help menu that this feature actually exists, but I can't get it to work in v1.4. This view can be handy to compare results of different service on a map, but that's it. Something I found useful was the bottom drawer that shows your exact location. This way you can plan your trip accurately without having to leave the application.

There is also an augmented reality option where you hold your iPhone perpendicular to the floor and can see the nearest locations around you. We have seen many (bad) apps using this feature in the App Store and in Localscope's case, it doesn't add much to the mix.

 

Design wise, the app uses a lot of UI metaphors seen in the original Tweetie 2 app, now simply Twitter. You can pull down the list to refresh, swipe left or right to access extra actions. Although the navigation is rather unusual, it highlights the best feature about the app. Scrolling through location services' icons will return instant results on the top of the screen. The selected icon will be highlighted in colour while the rest will fade to a grayish palette to indicate they are not active. This goes quite well with the rest of the interface elements and I found it pleasing to the eye.  

Overall, I liked the cross-service location idea and the way Localscope executes it. As an avid Twitter user, I was surprised by the amount of valuable updated data this thing could pull, as I normally don't filter tweets by location. There is a slight learning curve to get used to everything in there, but the basic search experience comes naturally. The biggest criticism is the different view types because they don't do justice to the standard list view. That tiny map that only covers 1/4 of the iPhone screen just does it for me.

I encourage every owner of an iPhone with GPS capability (3GS onwards) to give Localscope a go. I don't like to sign up to location based social networks, but this allows you to find relevant content from them within the same app. I would like to see more services here in the future (Gowalla?), reconsider having Wikimapia, and display search results in order in every service. I also suggest using iOS's browser module to open websites in the app to avoid jumping to Safari every time you tap on a URL link.