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The iPhone Goes for a Ride

Apple iPhone

SAN DIEGO -- Consumer products and services took center stage here yesterday at the wrap-up to this week's DEMO conference. Here's a quick look at two of them.

Does Mapflow have the answer to the high cost of gas, boring commutes and traffic jams? Doubtful, but the company is at least taking a whack at providing a partial solution.

And while it's addressing a serious issue, Mapflow showed it has a sense of humor. Mapflow's executive chairman and co-founder Sean O'Sullivan, who could easily pass for a young Gene Wilder, had a few of the funniest lines of the conference. He appeared on stage with a gift bag he said contained a gadget the company had been working on for a couple of years that will dramatically expand worker's commute options. "It's called the iPhone," he deadpanned.

After a few chuckles from the audience, he followed with: "Sorry, we all know the iPhone was invented by Al Gore!"

What Mapflow has actually invented is a service that works with the iPhone. As O'Sullivan explained: "So inside the iPhone we have two hard working midgets…"

Mapflow demonstrator also onstage: "Widgets, I told you, they're widgets."

But seriously, what Mapflow has developed is a service called Avego (pronounced a-vay-go), designed to pair passengers and driver through their mobile devices. The driver needs an iPhone to run Avego's "shared transport" application.

In a video, the company showed how a driver could check into the "shared transport community" from an iPhone while the coffee's brewing from home, check off where they're headed and be available to pick up a rider.

Prices for the rider are preset by Avego based on distance, and the driver gets the bulk of the money electronically, with Mapflow taking a small cut. Those looking for a ride can match up with drivers at Avego's site using a mobile client.

The registration process is also part of a prescreening process to help insure the communication is real and safe. You can also set up a more limited range or network; only people from your company, for example. A driver interested in taking a rider along activates the service, which then looks for a match and sends a notification if one is found. The iPhone's GPS also helps guide the driver to the pickup spot.

After the ride you can even rate your passenger. During the demo, a Mapflow official joked, "That guy was a bit weird. I'll give him one star and hope I never seem him again."

"The value of a wasted seat on a daily commute adds up to about $3,000 per year," O'Sullivan said. "This is an alternative to throwing that money out the window."

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