Location safety app Life360 surges past 5M families

A year ago, location-based safety app Life360 had 300,000 families using its app to keep track of its members. Now the app has zoomed past the 5 million family milestone and has 5.4 million families relying on the service on Android (s goog) and iPhone (s aapl) devices.

The surge has come in large part from the growth of smartphones and the increasing awareness and acceptance of location-based safety services like Life360, which help parents stay abreast of their kids’ whereabouts. Chris Hulls, the founder and CEO of Life360, tells me the app has ridden the cell phone upgrade cycle as smartphones penetrate deeper into families. He said that 15 percent of the families on Life360 report that all of their members are on smartphones, a figure he expects to grow with each new upgrade. The average family size has also doubled in the past three months as families link up more smartphones to the service.

Life360 allows family members to keep track of one another through passive location tracking and active check-ins. Members can also send out panic alerts in the event of an emergency. Life360 is now processing more than 100 million location updates every day, more than any other family locator service.

The rise of Life360 is another sign of growth for mobile utilities, which serve the more basic needs of smartphone consumers. As we have pointed out before, the opportunities in mobile are shifting toward more simple, daily uses like health care, safety, education and fitness. While those types of applications haven’t gotten as much notice as games, entertainment and news software, they’re poised to take up more of consumer spending as mobile users expand their notion of what their smartphone can do.

Safety is definitely high on the list of more and more smartphone users. Life360 polled 500 of its users and found that 56 percent of parents gave their children smartphones for safety purposes, and 44 percent of users check in with family members one to five times a day. And 57 percent said they expect that in 18 months, every member of their family over the age of 13 will have a smartphone.

Life360 has relied on a freemium model, with most of its services available for free. That compares to its biggest rival Location Labs, which works through the carriers to provide a paid location-tracking service. Hulls believes that with the introduction of more free services like Apple’s Find My Friends service, location will increasingly be commoditized and apps will need to be free to attract users. But he said Life360 is looking to create more revenue opportunities by pursuing deals with third-party product makers and integrating with home control systems and car-tracking services. And it’s also looking at working with a 24/7 emergency assistance service.

Life360, which is part of the Facebook Fund and Dave McClure’s 500 Startups, has raised $2 million to date from Founders Fund, LaunchCapital, Mark Goines, Seraph Group, Kapor Capital and Venture51.