Find cheap gas with your cell phone

With gasoline prices continuing to soar across the U.S., here's a way to find the cheapest gas for your car: Try using your mobile phone.

A free service unveiled Monday by start-up Mobio Networks allows users of some 50 supported cell phone models to use mobile Web services to locate the lowest local gasoline prices. The Cupertino, Calif.-based Mobio said the Cheap Gas widget, or mini-application, is now included in its free GetMobio downloadable suite of 50 applications and widgets, bringing a wide range of services to cell phone mobile Web users.

The Cheap Gas locating service is provided with partner GasPriceWatch.com. which logs gasoline prices for some 130,000 gas stations around the nation, and provides the data to Mobio for distribution via the widget. The price information is collected by about 150,000 "price-spotters" and gasoline retailers around the nation, according to Andrew Baw, product manager for Mobio. The prices are updated constantly, with about 350,000 price changes logged each week.

Mobio takes the GasPriceWatch.com data and does a mashup with geospatial data and the user's personal information -- including their location -- to provide the lowest gas prices to users' phones, said Marcia Kadanoff, vice president of marketing for Mobio.

Users can add in up to 10 addresses, or location tags, that can be used by the Mobio Cheap Gas widget to find the nearest and lowest fuel prices. Once users enter their locations, all other Mobio applications can use the same data to provide services. Similar services for gas prices are available from companies including Verizon, but those are often fee-based, Kadanoff said.

"If you enter in an address, it gets very specific, to give you [gas] stations on the block where you are," Baw said.

Users can filter their gas price searches by brand and see location maps with cross streets and other details.

The Mobio applications allow cell phone users to use their standard data or regular service plans to access the additional services, Baw said.

The other Mobio widgets and applications in the 50-product GetMobio suite include applications to find stores, spas, nightclubs and even emergency road service providers, Kadanoff said. The applications are organized into categories to make them easier to find, she said.

Upcoming additions to the GetMobio suite include a service to allow users to make a reservation in a local restaurant and an application that will find local movie times and even buy tickets, Kadanoff said.

So far, the Mobio applications and widgets run only on specific phone models including Motorola Razr models and LG, Samsung and Nokia models, with Blackberry compatibility expected by the end of this month. Compatibility with Windows Mobile-capable phones is expected by the end of June. Other supported models will continue to be added.

Mobio plans to bring in revenue by collecting a piece of the revenue from partners, such as restaurants, movie theaters and others that gain business from the Mobio-provided services, Kadanoff said. Users could also see "non-intrusive" advertisements as part of the service, she said, but those decisions have not yet been formalized. "We think non-intrusive ads are more appropriate, given the small size of cellphones," she said. That could eventually include such things as flash screens with ads that appear and disappear quickly, or watermarks that are visible in the screen backgrounds, she said.

"We find that younger customers don;t mind advertisements as long as they're getting something for free, and older customers don't like advertisements at all," based on surveys done by marketing companies.

Julien Blin, an analyst with IDC in Framingham, Mass., said the Cheap Gas widget and those from competitors including GPS vendor TeleNav could be helpful for drivers and cell phone users.

"I think this can be very useful, especially if you are traveling in a city you don't know," Blin said in an e-mail. "The gas prices [are] going up so it is certainly a very cool application to have. However, the biggest challenge for Mobio Networks is to update the information on a regular basis. Just to give you an example, a few weeks ago, I was using a similar application, powered by uLocate. I was trying to find a cab. Unfortunately, several phone numbers were outdated."

"It is also critical for those applications to provide turn-by-turn directions," Blin wrote. Mobio does provide maps with directions as part of its widget, according to the company.