February 1, 2011 | by Andrew Kameka
Location is big business. Mobile is big business. Taking advantage of both? That’s gigantic business.
That’s why no one should be surprised to hear Google make a major update to its Map application that includes more check-in information for Google Latitude. While Maps has previously revealed Latitude positions, version 5.1 now connects “location with places” by making it clear where your friends and family turn up.
Google now features what are essentially live check-ins. Once a user visits a known location, Latitude automatically checks-in (this feature can be turned off or applied only to select venues). When the user leaves the location, they check out so friends automatically know if you’ve moved along to the next bar or decided to head home. For anyone who has ever gone to a coffee house based on a Foursquare or Gowalla check-in, only to discover their friend has moved on, you’ll be able to have updated information that will prove very valuable.
Latitude can also provide notifications that remind users to check-in. This is something that I’ve wanted in Foursquare for Mayor battles, but Latitude will focus more on giving users a friendly nudge if they want to obtain special status through Google Places (Regular, VIP, or Guru).
Android 1.6 is required to use the latest features of Maps, but anyone should be able to see that Google’s new ventures are a direct shot at being more competitive with Foursquare, the most recognized and “mainstream” of check-in service. Google reports that there are 10 million active users of Latitude, which bests Foursquare’s recently-reported total of 6 million members, but Foursquare is talked about more.
The push for check-ins – along with integration to Google Places and perhaps future import of Deals – could make Google much stronger in the location game. There’s a built-in advantage since Maps can come pre-loaded on Android devices and do not require seeking out a new account like Foursquare or Gowalla. But the incumbent is never guaranteed a win, so Google will have to keep advancing its services. And it will based on this quote from Joe LaPenna, Google Latitude software engineer.
“Checking in from Latitude is just one step in helping you connect the places you go with the people you care about. We believe in letting you use or share your location however you like, and we’re working on making location and check-ins useful in more places—across Google and the web.”