Location-based iPhone apps are getting more involved and more social for users. Two iPhone apps in particular have caught our attention—Foursquare and Gowalla—for their recent updates. The game-like apps let you mark the locations you visit, reward you with points, and let you share your experience with friends.
Your locations and your friends
Let’s start with some of the similarities between the two updated iPhone apps. Both Foursquare and Gowalla look to make communication between friends an easier task, with improved mechanisms toward sending public and direct messages to friends within the iPhone app itself. Foursquare has emphasized the "Shout" button, which enables you to send a message to friends without having to check in. Gowalla has made direct contact with friends more streamlined, now bypassing Twitter for messaging purposes.
Both Foursquare and Gowalla have also made it easier to learn of different venues through your friends’ networks, as well as enabling access to venue details from friends’ streams. The Gowalla update is more involved than Foursquare’s, as it now shows the bookmarked locations and trips of friends.
Another useful addition to Gowalla is the ability to upload photos, which tie into the improved social functions of the iPhone app. While browsing photos, you can view your friends’ pictures, as well as those pertaining to a specific location. With the newly added ability to view location details and reviews, Gowalla’s updates are catching up to the full-features set of Foursquare.
Foursquare’s visual enhancements
Though the social aspects of the updated Foursquare iPhone app are important, most of the changes for Foursquare’s updates are actually visual. The color scheme of the app has been modified, using green as an accent color to draw your eye towards a certain action. Icons are now being used to indicate the categories of locations, helping you better organize your thoughts and actions.
Foursquare also fleshed out its Web site usability, making it easier to connect your mobile activity with your online account. Access your history from the Web site, which offers a snapshot of what you’ve been doing while out and about. This links back to your friends’ activity as well, as history filters let you see from where your friends have checked in.
SXSW and beyond
The timing of these subsequent iPhone app updates is no coincidence—the SXSW conference came days after Foursquare and Gowalla rolled out their updates. As one of the largest conferences in the nation, SXSW is a great opportunity for these iPhone apps to test out their new features on a ready and willing crowd. Both Foursquare and Gowalla have badges specific for SXSW, giving attendees some great ways to interact with the iPhone app -- and each other.
As the race toward mobile app dominance continues, Foursquare and Gowalla both look to their updates to both entice new users and keep the users they already have. This is particularly important for Foursquare, as the app walks a fine line as an accepted app in the iTunes App Store.
Some of the app’s improved features, such as additional direct contact options for venues from within the iPhone app, seemingly compete with the iPhone offerings, which can sometimes get an app banned from the iTunes App Store. Within the past week, Foursquare did indeed turn up missing from the iTunes App Store, though it returned just in time for the SXSW conference.