Apple needs to buy Foursquare to beef up its Maps App

The biggest controversy brought along with the release of iOS 6 was the new Maps.app. Apple decided to replace Google Maps with an in house solution, which brought along free, voice prompted, turn-by turn navigation. However, the data remains to be in question. Shortly after release, Apple CEO Tim Cook apologized to customers regarding the hoopla and suggested alternatives. The company continues to improve its application and one way it can be improved is by acquiring Foursquare. You probably think I’m crazy at this point, but Foursquare is a lot more than a check in app. I’m a daily user of the app and have seen just how powerful the database really is.

A few months ago, Foursquare pivoted into an exploration service to take on Yelp. Now the service helps users find and keep track of places to visit, eat, drink, and hang out. In addition, it also provides local offers. As the app is used for such things, it is constantly gathering data that can be valuable to Apple. This data has a lot of rich information that could be built into iOS 6 Maps and into other services Apple provides. Let’s take a look.

Maps

The new maps is sub-par against its competitors like Google Maps. Turn by turn directions have been a great experience so far, but finding local places with it has been a nightmare. In my experience, the app is able to handle basic local searches. For example, if I look for “Starbucks”, it will find the closest ones. However, a more advance search “Starbucks 3rd St San Francisco, CA”, leads me to an irrelevant result or a screen that displays “No Results Found” even when there is data to be displayed. A similar query in Foursquare would provide an answer I’m looking for. The service’s database of point of interests is powerful and a lot more mature.

Not only does the company have an enormous database of places, but thanks to “Foursquare Explore” it is also able to filter the data by searches and personal recommendations. Users would also be able to choose what kind of places should be displayed on the map.

Siri

As we transition from search engines to answer engines, they are going to have to be able to learn a person’s tastes and provide suggestions based on that. One service that already does this is Foursquare. The moment you check-in, it is ready to recommend places. As more check-ins occur, a history is built up, which creates personalized suggestions around what you like. In addition, the service has access to a user’s friends list on social networks and address book. This helps create a more powerful social and location layer.

Currently when a user asks Siri for a restaurant or place to go, it searches Yelp. These results are nowhere near personalized, but instead created upon ratings. However, they can be. By integrating Foursquare’s database into Siri, Apple can provide recommendations based on what they like, where they go most often, etc. Siri would now connect to data points which it wouldn’t have been able to before. Also, with over 20 million users, the data is constantly growing and being updated. This ensures that results are always current.

Passbook

Passbook is Apple’s way of getting into the mobile payment space. As of right now, it is mainly used as a hub for digital coupons, membership and gift cards, movie tickets, and boarding passes. Apple isn’t actually processing payments through Passbook, but one way they can is by offering local deals through it. Paper coupons are so yesterday and that space is in need of disruption. A solution built right into the iPhone would be beneficial for users and Apple.

Foursquare already provides deals at local businesses by a simple check-in at eligible places. By acquiring them, Apple can use existing partnerships to offer users with deals. In addition, it would create one more way for the company to monetize the over 400 million active iTunes accounts with credit cards while reinventing the coupon.

Bottom line

Apple doesn’t need Foursquare the app, but instead the database and technology it offers. If Apple were to acquire the company, it would provide a significant competitive advantage over its competitors in the future.

Author: Parth Dhebar

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  • http://twitter.com/jonmilani Jon Milani

    The reality is that Apple bet on the wrong company. Yelp is substandard, and as a result the products that rely on its data are subpar, too. Where Apple integrated Yelp, it would have been far better off integrating Foursquare.

    The bigger issue, which I think you hint at, is that Apple just doesn’t have enough of the data-driven web culture. As a result, anything it does involving the web tends to be less than optimal (and in cases like Maps or MobileMe, terrible failures). Apple should acquire Foursquare for its data, but more importantly for its culture.

    (The case for Twitter acquisition could be made for the same reason, although Twitter would carry a terrible premium.)