Free, but 'Priceless' it ain't

MasterCard's new iPhone app is free, but 'Priceless' it ain't.

Expanding on the theme of its well-known "Priceless" campaign, MasterCard's Priceless Picks pairs GPS and 3D maps to show you local deals, dining, and other points of interest in your immediate vicinity.You soar around the map in quasi-street view or bird's-eye view, identifying locations as the color-coordinated bubble pops up. Red for dining, blue for shopping, orange for "Priceless" items, and so on.

MasterCard hopes that local vendors will post constantly updating deals in the few words contained within each bubble, and that you'll also post your own local tips--best spot for a sunset, for example. The biggest problem is that these bubbles are short-spoken. Tap the bubble and you don't get a phone number, Web site, or star rating. You see options to e-mail the selection to a friend, flag as improper, or explore more details. The last instructs you to call the merchant to verify a deal or pinch and zoom to work out the vendor's exact street location.

Priceless Picks isn't terrible. It looks pretty good and loads fairly quickly. It lets you filter categories. And it did point to a few interesting sources (unfortunately, one has gone out of business, another mark against the app). Spinning around the map can get dizzying--we'd like to see a compass and a list mode to complement the map mode, not to mention a hearty infusion of real information that will help bridge the gap between merely locating a place and actually visiting it. A comments system wouldn't hurt, either, and neither would a way for users to upload short video reviews that riff on the "Priceless" advertising format. While completely innocuous, neither will it blow you away at this stage.

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