Urbanspoon is one of the first companies to announce a local search iPhone app (others are here). The application acts almost like a local restaurant eight-ball that lets users define cuisine, price or other factors, before shaking the device to see what nearby eatery pops up.
This takes advantage of the iPhone’s accelerometer (the thing that can tell when the device is upright or on its side) and GPS capability.
“With the iPhone [software development kit] you can get access to the accelerometer and access to GPS and maps,” says cofounder Ethan Lowry. “We looked at all of the other apps, which were either games or practical applications. We thought it would be good to do something that is a hybrid of both.”
The novelty and appeal of the eight-ball feature makes it part search and part discovery — an interplay that’s found some successful online models and could be ripe for mobile local search applications like Loopt. In this way the application is almost like StumbleUpon for mobile restaurant search. Like StumbleUpon, results will be part random and part based on what is highest rated (and closest).
“On our Web site, we have rating information so for the iPhone search, what we do is look at the 200 closest restaurants,” says Lowry. “There is a random factor but also a ratings factor. When you shake the phone, it will tend to come back with one of the best restaurants around.”
In the future, social or personal criteria could come into play for registered users of the site who have predefined their food preferences or favorite spots (even more like StumbleUpon). In this way, the application could serve as a promotional tool for the online service, as it’s a fun application that could be a hook to drive online use and registration on Urbanspoon.com.
“There are other things we can build in, like if you attach your identity to your iPhone then we can do things like favor things on your wish list,” says Lowry. “There are lots of things we can do to customize it.”
There will also be some control over just how random results can be. The application allows users to lock down any one of the spinning wheels that represent the variables in a restaurant search (cuisine, price, etc.). This comes in handy if you know you want Italian food, for example, but are willing to roll the dice with other factors.
“The randomness is a critical part of it being a game,” says Lowry. “At the same time you might want a little variety within certain confines.”
The application will be free in order to promote the online service, and available on the iPhone App store when it launches next month. You’ll have to wait till then to get the best use out of it anyway, when the (GPS-compatible) 3G iPhone launches. Until then, you can watch the video demo here.
Extra screen shots (click to expand)