Loopt 4.0: Redesigned, Facebook-Heavy, And Location-Based Texting

Much has already been written about how Loopt was perhaps a bit too early to the location game for their own good. But that doesn’t mean they’re not out there still trying new things to keep their over 4 million users and entice new ones to join. The latest such effort is Loopt 4.0, their latest mobile app.

The first thing you’ll notice about Loopt 4.0 is that it has been entirely redesigned. More importantly, the app has been significantly simplified, to clean up the user experience. On the main screen you can now quickly jump to five areas: Me, Settings, Places, Friends, and Map. The last three are the most important because that’s where you will check-in and see where your friends are.

Below the core buttons is an area to be able to quickly toggle auto location sharing on and off. This is a core feature that is unique to Loopt among the big location players (besides Latitude, which only has this feature). Here, you can easily turn background location updates on or off. And you can determine which of your friends you want to allow to see these updates. Essentially, this allows you to let others track you in realtime — no check-in needed.

Loopt also has the nice feature of being able to automatically update when you a friend is nearby.

If the design of the new Loopt looks familiar to you, it’s probably because you frequently use the Facebook iPhone app. Like version 3.0, Loopt 4.0 borrows some elements from that, including the new Notifications bottom bar.

Speaking of Facebook, much more important is the way in which Loopt integrates with Facebook Connect. When you link your account, you’ll see all of your Facebook friends who are currently using Places. Their check-ins there will integrate seamlessly into your Loopt stream, and sit alongside your Loopt friends. And when you check-in on Loopt, it can easily be passed back to Places (as well as Twitter).

You’ll recall that the latest version of Gowalla, also has this tight Facebook Places integration. They also have Foursquare integration, but Loopt hasn’t enabled that. Instead, they’re betting heavily that Facebook will be the location platform of the future, it seems.

One other really interesting feature of the new Loopt is the new Ping/Pong feature. Previously, you could Ping a friend to ask them to update their location. But now you can send a message alongside that ping. When they see that message, they can Pong you back with their location. Essentially, this is a location-based simple texting system.

Loopt 4.0 also makes it easier to see what the hot places are around you and to see what deals are close by to your current location.

So is all of this enough to keep Loopt in the equation? The bet on Facebook is a pretty big one here, but it’s not a bad one. And with features like background location and the location-based texting, they’re certainly adding something on top of the layer.

But Loopt, like the other players, may find it hard to compete with Facebook in the deals space as Facebook ramps that up in the coming months. Can all of them keep their sales teams around when competitors start using Facebook deals through an inevitable API?

That’s a question for Loopt 5.0, perhaps.

You can find Loopt in the App Store here. (It should be live now, even if it says it’s the old version.) Find out more in the video below.