In case you've been hiding in a cubicle trying with red rimmed eyes straining to manage your deadlines, you may have missed that Google threw Latitude into the world the other week. In general many people are confused about it: Is it an enabler (but hey it's not open)? Is it a service (but aren't there many others out there that are so much better, think Loopt, Brightkite)?
Google is well known for Spartanesque, but well executed apps and the street credibility on the location / mapping front is high. I love the adagium to just do it themselves if others take too long to deliver (e.g. by driving around in cars to offer your location on googlemaps).
How they managed to actually launch this particular service is beyond me, since Latititude is not the brightest kid of the Google flock. The user experience is downright awful and here is why.
First encounter with Latitude
I received an email invitation from an undisclosed colleague (let's call him Laurent) with the striking title 'Laurent Eschenauer wants to share their location with you on Google Latitude'. As if Laurent is suffering from multiple personality syndrom. It includes a lovely image with the location of said person, so the location is shared. Done you'd say! But hey, there is a request. It is however totally unclear that you can be kept informed of the whereabouts of a person for a LONGER PERIOD of time.
I am asked whether to accept this request - although it is unclear what this request is about. I am directed to login or signup - OK that is reasonable, you always need to sign up nowadays. Then I am redirected to iGoogle (huh?). Then what? You have to find the Latitude widget, click on a link to accept the invite. Only to find out you have to use iGoogle to learn about these updates in the future.
The location updating process
There are two ways to update your location: automatically, manually or you can hide if you're doing scary. If you click the checkbox automatically nothing happens. Oh yeah, there is a little link 'Learn more'. Aha, there you learn you have to install Google gears for automatic detection to work. It is not 'Learn more', but 'Need Google Gears to work'.
The mobile experience?
Google strangely decided to focus on Blackberry, S60 and Windows Mobile (where is Android). I'll consider putting an update once we can play with Latitude on iPhone and Android.
Overall this is a very unGoogle like experience and effectively reeks of an acquisition pushed too quickly to market. Many ancient startups do the location detection much more seamless. Whether the latest offspring of Google will grow up to become useful and relevant, only time can tell. But dear Google, maker of useful web apps, why on earth did you?
- create such a strange flow to sign up and don't you explain more about the different steps in the process.
- put Latitude in iGoogle and not in a separate application for registration PLUS integration in other Google apps like Gmail, iGoogle
- didn't you wait until the phone apps for at least android were finalised to ship?
- forget to allow other means to consume location like a desktop widget?
- isn't Latitude open and is there a proper API?