(CNN) -- Cole Harper and his friends were trying desperately to find a bar with a good vibe. It was a cloudy Wednesday night in Chicago and their regular hangout had turned into a graveyard of stools.
So they took a cab to another hangout. And then another. Soon their night of debauchery had turned into a night of "pay the taxi man $10."
Like a lot of tech start-ups, Harper's was founded on a simple question: Why can't we just search the bars nearby to find out who's there and what's going on?
Enter SceneTap, a mobile app set to launch in July. SceneTap uses cameras to relay in real time approximately how many people are at a bar, the male-to-female ratio and the average age. But chill before you go all Big Brother-paranoid in the comments.
SceneTap's video technology is less watch-your-every-move, more amusement park turnstile. One camera over the door literally counts the number of people going in and out. Another analyzes facial features to decide if you are male or female and your approximate age.
"People get confused between facial recognition and identification," Harper says. "There's no recording... no one can view it. It's not tracking personal information. It's less intrusive than paying your bill with a credit card."
As smartphones become essential nightlife accessories, app developers are creating new tools to help barhoppers avoid lame drink specials, sparse crowds and awkward theme nights.
Bar owners pay SceneTap to have cameras installed and then use the information to create better specials and events aimed at their customer base. Harper says about 30 bars in Chicago have added the cameras so far, and he is planning to expand to other cities.
"It's an awesome marketing tool for bar owners or managers to have -- all that real-time data is pretty priceless," says Chad McConneghy, general manager at Wellington's in Chicago. "I've seen the application and it's pretty unbelievable ... I've never seen anything like it."
SceneTap does have some competition. After all, developers know the best apps do one of three things: "They get you paid, get you made or get you laid," Lenny Rachitsky says.
HeatTracker uses Foursquare data to let you know whether hotspots are "cold, warm, warming up, smoking hot or on fire." Useful qualifiers -- even if their terminology is reminiscent of 1999. And WhereTheLadies.at helps you determine, well, where the ladies are (dot) at.
Rachitsky's app is slightly more romantic. Assisted Serendipity helps plan your night on the town by notifying you when a local bar is primed for action. Users sign up for the service and select their favorite hangouts. When more guys than girls (or vice versa) check-in on Foursquare at a location you've chosen, you get an e-mail.
That e-mail not only contains the number of guys/girls who have checked in, it also presents their Foursquare profile pictures (hot or not?) and access to their Twitter or Facebook profiles if those are connected. Suddenly you have an all-access pass to what Rachitsky calls a "serendipitous opportunity."
Rachitsky has also launched a more advanced version of Assisted Serendipity. Localmind lets you ask a question to anyone who's checked in to Foursquare, Gowalla and Facebook Places. Questions like "How crowded is it there?" or "Is this a 60-40 bar?" can be incredibly helpful when looking for a place to drown your brain cells.
But at some point we have to ask: Are there already too many apps controlling our social habits? Some of us now use our phones to decide where to eat, what price to pay, who to date and how to get there.
Harper says he understands some people may feel oversaturated by technology and not ready for another smartphone app. "But as long as there's users downloading it and playing with it, it's hard to argue," he says.