I often find myself wanting to use my iPhone to find places that are close to my current location, such as nearby restaurants, banks, and parking lots. There are some ways to do it using the built-in apps on the iPhone, such as going to the Maps app, finding your current location, and then doing a search for "restaurants" but the list returned is limited. Localscope is a very useful app dedicated to finding places close to you by using several different tools at once: Google, Bing, Foursquare, Twitter and Wikimapia. I wasn't aware of this $1.99 app until the developer sent me a free copy for review purposes, and after using it for a few weeks, I now find that it is the first app that I launch when I want to find places around me.
When you first launch the app, it uses the iPhone's GPS to find your current location, which is displayed at the bottom of the screen in the form of a street address. You can modify that address by tapping the small arrow at the bottom left of the app to move the pin to any other location. Or you can enter a specific street address, which makes it possible to find what is near a location even if you are not currently in that location.
As a side benefit, whenever the pin is in a location, you can tap the circle at the bottom right to quickly share that location with someone else via a text message or e-mail or post your current location to Facebook or Twitter. (The app sends a Google Maps URL and shortens the URL using Bit.ly's j.mp service.)
Once the app knows where you are, you can tap on one of 35 different categories (restaurant, pub, gas station, hotel, hospital, police, post office, etc.) Or if those categories don't cover your need, just type something else in the search bar. The main screen always lists items in the order in which you searched them, most recent searches at the top of the list, so if for example you mostly use this app to find restaurants, that choice will always be at or near the top.
Once your search term is entered, you get results from Google with key information such as the name, address, phone and distance from where you are now. I like viewing the results in a list view, but you can also tap the rectangle at the top right to change to a map view.
Tap on any result to get more information. For example, one field contains the phone number, which you can tap to quickly place a call. Or you can tap the URL to launch Safari and get information on the restaurant through a Google search.
If that was all the app did, it would be a great, clean interface for a Google search. But what I really like about this app is the ability to get a second opinion from other search engines. On the main search results screen, just slide at the bottom to run the same search in Bing or Foursquare. You will likely see results that are similar, but not identical, so it is a great way to double-check if something might have been missed on the first search on Google.
In my expereience, the Twitter searches were usually not that helpful, but Wikimapia was a good alternative place to search.
In addition to the list and map views noted above, you can also select an augmented reality view. In this view, your iPhone uses the camera on the back of the iPhone to show whatever is in front of you and superimposes on top of that image information on what is nearby, including how many places are to the left and how many are to the right. I didn't get a good image of this on my iPhone, but here is an image from the developer's website to give you a sense of how it works:
The app also has some advanced features that I haven't tried. It integrates with the Facebook app on the iPhone, but I am not the sort of person who posts this sort of information on Facebook. It also integrates with the TomTom navigation app if you use that one, which I can see being very useful. And if you find a location and start walking (or, I suppose, driving) towards it, a compass will update in real time to point you in the right direction and tell you how far you have left to go.
The above screen shots give you a sense of the results that you can get by running a search, but what they don't show you is how fast this app works. This app is without question the fastest method that I currently have on my iPhone for figuring out what is around me, and the two primary reasons that I really like this app are its speed and the well-designed interface.
If you ever want to use your iPhone to figure out what is around you, this app is easily worth $2. Localscope is a great, useful app.