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Appiphilia: Putting the iPhone's GPS power to use

April 17, 2009 |  5:47 pm

Developers have been using the iPhone's location-tagging features for a while now.

The camera tags photos you snap on the phone so that they can later be mapped in iPhoto or together with other people's photos on Flickr. Evernote tags where you jot down notes so you can search by location later. And GPS-aware social networks like Loopt and Foursquare allow users to keep track of each other's whereabouts as they visit different places around the city.

But a couple of new apps prove that there are plenty of fresh ideas to stretch that little GPS chip even further.

Nin-access NIN: Access (Free)

What it is: The app gives you access to news and multimedia relating to the industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails.

The group isn't the first musical act to offer an iPhone app. Most of them are little more than a glorified version of their band websites -- yes, I'm looking at you, Death Cab for Cutie. Sure, the NIN: Access app is that, too. It presents news, photos, videos and streaming music from the website.

But its main attraction is the "nearby" feature. The service, which shows you short messages from other fans in your general vicinity, is like a locational Twitter. While it requires you to register for a free account with the band, unlike Twitter, there's no friend feature. It's all about location, location, location.

Users set the distance cutoff -- 1 mile, 5 miles, 50 miles or the entire stream. If you're in a big city, you might ...

... set the proximity to a lower number to offset the concentration of users. What you get is access to a conversation of nearby NIN fans.

Head over to the NIN: Access website for a glimpse of those short messages laid out on a map. Right now, it's mainly being used as a medium for inane musings (like Twitter) or for lavish praise of the band (like the group's message boards).

But Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor says he imagines how it could be useful for fans during concerts -- "that you can actually see the show unfolding and live-blogging with people at the show, with photos," he said in an interview with Digg Dialogg. "But it may just turn out to be a way for people to hook up."

Bottom line: It's got a bunch of features that duplicate the website, including portable message boards. But the kicker is a location-based Twitter exclusive to the band's tight-knit following.

Jetsetter JetSetter ($4.99)

What it is: It's a game of sorts. Users sign on to the software after a flight or long drive. The app logs the destination and credits the account with the mileage traveled. Then users compete to see who can rack up the most miles over the course of a week, a month or a year.

Because of the app's exclusive appeal to avid travelers, the initial idea behind JetSetter was to design a premium app that retails for $1,000, says developer Greg Raiz. You might remember the last iPhone app that sold for that price -- a useless program called I Am Rich.

Well, Apple apparently learned its lesson that time, and denied JetSetter entry to the store until Raiz reduced its retail price to a reasonable level.

What you get is a bird's-eye view into the life of folks who are always on the go. The leader board is stacked with a handful of users, who apparently are flying more than 10,000 miles in a week -- that's about the distance of traveling between L.A. and New York three and a half times.

Jetsetters are using the chat feature to either boast about one's constant travels or complain about the app not crediting them for a long flight.

Bottom line: If you're a regular traveler or someone interested in reading the musings or tracking the travel distance of pilots and frequent flyers, JetSetter is a fun "social game" rooted in the real-world.

-- Mark Milian