Apple Launches iPhone App Store Ahead of Schedule; Boston and Seattle Startups Featured

7/10/08Follow @wroush

Apple had promised to unveil the new App Store section of iTunes—where, for the first time, iPhone and iPod Touch owners will be able to get third-party applications for their devices—on July 11, the same day that the new iPhone 3G goes on sale. But in a typical bit of Apple surprise marketing, the App Store is available today as part of iTunes 7.7, which you can download here. (After upgrading, you might need to click here to get to the App Store within iTunes.)

uLocate\'s Starbucks finder widget for the Where platformBoston-based uLocate, a maker of mobile software that supports a variety of location-based services, is one of about 30 application developers featured on the App Store home page. The company’s free iPhone app, called Where, isn’t really an app in itself but rather a library of location-enabled “widgets” that tap into the iPhone’s navigation system (which, on the new iPhone 3G, includes GPS) and display various types of information on a map. Buddy Beacon, for example, shows the locations of friends who have also signed up for uLocate’s services, while GasBuddy directs users to nearby gas stations with the best prices and a Starbucks finder helps users locate the nearest place to recaffeinate.

ULocate has posted a video on YouTube explaining how the iPhone widgets work. “Needless to say, we are very excited about this launch,” says uLocate marketing vice president Dan Gilmartin. “We have been working for months on this application and are thrilled to be so prominently featured.”

Pelago\'s Whrrl social-mapping-and-discovery appSeattle companies have also been hard at work on their iPhone apps. Two are already getting lots of attention: Whrrl, an innovative application from Seattle-based startup Pelago that combines mobile social networking, local search, and mapping, and Urbanspoon, a restaurant finder that locates nearby restaurants and presents ratings from the Seattle company’s online collection of reviews from bloggers and food critics. Urbanspoon’s app makes innovative use of the iPhone’s accelerometer by selecting restaurants at random through a slot-machine-style interface, activated when the user shakes the phone; TechCrunch featured the app in its introductory overview of iPhone apps today.

Urbanspoon\'s slot-machine-style restaurant finderThe App Store includes more than 550 applications altogether, with more reported to be on the way. About 130 of the currently listed apps are free, and the rest vary in price from $0.99 to $39.99. Current iPhone owners can’t actually buy, download, or use the apps until tomorrow, when Apple will push a free software update. This update will also include a mobile version of the App Store so that iPhone users can download third-party apps directly to their devices over wireless networks. The mobile App Store will come preinstalled on the new iPhone 3G, and owners of the iPod Touch can get an update that includes it for $10.

Here at Xconomy we’re poring through the App Store for more examples of iPhone apps created by developers in the Boston and Seattle areas. Please let us know about the ones you spot by writing to tips@xconomy.com. We’ll bring you a full list as soon as we can.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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