When it comes to location-based services, check-in apps like FourSquare and Gowalla are probably the ones that have gotten the most attention in recent months. For the most part, though, the usefulness of these apps is still not quite clear. After all, there has to be more to location than discounts, virtual badges and mayorships. One service that has been trying to bring some much-needed attention to actually helping users solve a real-world problem through your phone’s built-in location features is EchoEcho. The service, available for iOS, Android, Symbian, Blackberry and (soon) Windows Phone, wants to make it easier for you to find and meet up with your friends. EchoEcho does so without forcing you to sign up for yet another social network (it just uses your existing address book) and its inherent usefulness means it doesn’t have to resort to “gamification” to get you to use it.
I have been following EchoEcho since its earliest releases in 2010 and it’s been quite fun watching the bootstrapped company grow and slowly gain traction. Today, EchoEcho is launching the latest version of its apps and announcing a $750k seed financing round from Google Ventures and the UK-based venture firm PROfounders Capital.
As the company’s co-founder and CEO Nick Bicanic told me earlier this week, the team focused on making the sign-up process as easy as possible. Most mobile apps expect you to confirm your phone number by typing it into the phone and then copying a security code from an SMS you receive from the service to verify your identity. EchoEcho takes the opposite route and simply sends an SMS from your phone to its servers, thereby reducing the chance of data entry errors and making the sign-up process as easy as pressing “send.”
This latest version of EchoEcho, which is really the company’s first major public release, now also includes a built-in chat feature and an even easier to use user interface. One nifty new addition to the app is a mobile web-based client that allows users who don’t have the app installed yet to exchange their position with existing users who ping them. The app now also features a places database that covers almost every country in the world. To do so, the company is working with multiple vendors (including SimpleGeo, Foursquare and Google) and then dedupes the data on the fly.
Keeping it Simple
One thing that always attracted me to EchoEcho was the fact that it was easy to use and focused on doing one thing right: figuring out where your friends are and making it easy to meet up with them. Instead of randomly checking in and hoping that one of your friends will see it, the service simply lets you ping your friend, share your location (and get that of your friends’ as well) and decide on a place to meet – all with just a few clicks.
The service also puts a premium on privacy. You can’t see somebody else’s location, for example, without sharing your own as well.
Coming Soon: Groups
With all this focus on simplicity, though, there are still a few features I would like to see in the app. What’s missing right now, for example, is the ability to meet up with a group of people. Bicanic, however, told me that this feature is coming. The team also plans to add some real-time tracking functionality to the app, though what this will look like still remains to be seen.