RootMetrics Invites iPhone Users to Build a Coverage Map

When AT&T (s T) launched its Mark the Spot iPhone app late last year, the joke was that AT&T was getting its users to test how bad its network was. But the thing was, even if you reported a dead spot, something iPhone (s aapl) users in San Francisco and New York encounter occasionally, you still didn’t know how the information was being used.

IPhone owners still interested in detailing the flaws of AT&T’s network should look at the RootMetrics app, a new crowd-sourcing application available now that builds carrier coverage maps based on user data. The free app, which builds off two previous beta apps that ran on Android (s goog) and BlackBerry (s rimm), allows users to help themselves and others understand the weaknesses and strengths of their network. And it can serve as a passive aggressive way to shame an operator into improving their coverage.

The iPhone app features a lot more polish than its predecessors and a new mapping service that lets users see detailed coverage information. And it doesn’t run in the background like the other two apps, which raised concerns about battery life. When users fire up the app, they can either test the network manually or it will happen automatically when they report a problem. The app also checks data performance, which is arguably more important to many smartphone users. The data from the various apps gets rolled into a RootScore for each carrier, helping consumers know which operator is strong or weak in a particular location.

The RootMetrics maps are already live in most large cities and are expanding to smaller regions as users map them themselves. An updated Android app is on its way soon. While the iPhone app is welcome, I wouldn’t have any illusions about AT&T racing to fix holes based on the data. Carriers most often know where the holes are already and are hampered by costs, local permitting issues or other hurdles. But it’s nice to have a map that is built by actual users and is updated in a timely manner. And it’s particularly helpful to know the data performance you can expect in certain areas.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

Why Apple Should Choose Sprint Before Verizon Wireless
How AT&T Will Deal With iPad Data Traffic
To Ship or Not to Ship — Product Launch in the Smartphone Era