According to a report in the Wall Street Journal late Monday, Apple is in discussions with Foursquare about including data from the location-based service in Apple’s Maps application — the same mapping application that has gotten criticism from many users for its lack of features and poor use of data. If Apple and Foursquare were to form some kind of data-sharing relationship, it would certainly make sense for Apple, since it would add a level of usability that other maps (including Google’s) might not have, and it would make sense for Foursquare to leverage the size of Apple’s installed base. But would it make up for all of the perceived shortcomings of Apple Maps?
There’s no question that Apple needs all the help it can get. When the company announced that its own mapping service would become the new default in iOS 6 — replacing Google Maps — it was seen as more of a blow for Apple users than it was for Google, since Apple’s maps were viewed as not being as reliable in terms of data (something that got the company in hot water recently with Australian officials, among other things) and also as lacking some of the features that Google users have become accustomed to, including transit directions.
Even veteran Apple supporter John Gruber of Daring Fireball described the new Apple maps default as a “downgrade”, and CEO Tim Cook wound up apologizing for the state of the service. And when Google released a maps app for the iPhone last week, it quickly became the most downloaded in recent memory — with more than 10 million downloads in less than 48 hours.
The bottom line is that Apple needs to add as much value to its Maps app as it possibly can, in order to keep people using it so that it can improve its data and become more competitive with Google. That’s where a partnership with Foursquare would come in very handy: Speaking as an iPhone user, one of the main things I do when I use a mapping service or application — other than finding a specific destination — is look for restaurants, coffee shops, stores and other things that are near me, particularly when I’m in a strange city or country.
Coincidentally, that’s also the main thing I (and I think many other users) do with Foursquare. For me, it has become like a better version of Yelp, with locations of businesses and services that my friends or acquaintances have recommended, all helpfully placed on a map that shows where they are in relation to me. I’ve used this countless times in New York and San Francisco to find everything from a coffee shop to a computer store, or even to find hotels.
Adding that kind of information might not make up for the lack of good geographical data within Apple’s Maps, but it could get more iPhone users to spend time in the app, and that in turn would help generate better data. Google has its own local recommendations and services that it shows in Google maps, but Foursquare’s socially based info could be a strong advantage for Apple at a time when it needs help the most.