ULocate is Where, Now? Exactly

Okay, bad joke in the headline. But there’s some real news behind it. The Boston startup formerly called uLocate, long known mainly as the creator of the GPS-based Where local search app for mobile phones, announced yesterday that it has taken the app’s name as its own.

The change “creates a more coherent message for the marketplace about who we are,” says Walt Doyle, Where‘s CEO. “Where is our entire business, so it was time to have alignment between the consumer-facing product and our corporate identity.”

It’s just the latest in a long series of transformations for the startup, which was founded in 2003 by a group of alumni from the online news network CNET. First came child-tracking software for GPS phones, then fleet-tracking software, a pet finder, and friend-finder apps for Mapquest and the now-defunct cellular carrier Helio. After a company relaunch in 2007, uLocate came up with a platform designed to help developers build GPS-enabled “widgets” or mini-apps for multiple mobile operating systems and networks.

Finally, after raising some $16 million in venture funding from the likes of Venrock, GrandBanks Capital, and Kodiak Venture Partners, the company located its true niche. Building on the widget platform, it created the free, advertising-supported Where app, which works on almost all mobile platforms and includes many of the location-based widgets originally built as exemplars by the company’s own engineers.

Those widgets enable searches for local news, movies, weather, traffic, restaurant and business reviews, concert and sports event listings, and gas prices, as well as Starbucks and Zipcar locations. Where also features social-media tools, such as Foursquare-style check-ins and a Facebook-style community wall. It’s available for iPhones, Android phones, BlackBerry devices, Palm phones, and works on the AT&T, Boost, MetroPCS, Sprint-Nextel, T-Mobile, and Verizon networks.

And starting this week, the company has linked up the newly revamped Where.com website with the mobile app, via a personalized “placebook” that functions like an electronic clipboard. A user with a Where accounts can search Where.com for restaurants, events, or other information and save the results to his Web placebook, which automatically synchs with the placebook inside the Where app on his phone.

In other words, Where wants its site and its app to function together as a one-stop shop for all location-related activities. “We saw tremendous value creating the opportunity to connect the past, the present, and the future in terms of how people relate to places,” explains Doyle. “More specifically, the mobile phone is a fantastic tool for the present but it’s very bad for the future. You don’t use a mobile phone for research when you’re trying to find places of interest that you might want to go to in the future. With Where.com, you can discover, save, and share places that are automatically synched with your phone.”

Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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