google_insideSince the days when Bluetooth-enabled campaigns promised to unlock location-based deals for mobile users, the promise of “SoLoMo” has been a lusty one. Marketers still see it as the Holy Grail – walk past a Starbucks, get a coupon free coffee. But it has never been fully realized, even as Foursquare has made great strides in getting us accustomed to receiving discounts based purely on where our butts are planted.

A just-announced partnership between Google and Scoutmob could, however, shake up the location-based deals order once again. Thanks to an integration with coupon-delivering Scoutmob, Google’s location-based FieldTrip app is about to become a lot more enticing.

Foursquare remains the leader of location-based offers, and founder Dennis Crowley bullishly predicts that its revenue-per-user will one day fall somewhere in between Facebook’s and Twitter’s. But there is a barrier to getting deals via Foursquare – you have to open the app and check-in to do so.

Ambient location-based services such as Highlight and Glancee, which was acquired by Facebook, are trying to solve that issue by running in the background, but as our own Erin Griffith pointed out during South By Southwest last year, they’re huge battery sucks, and not particularly useful if you don’t happen to be surrounded by thousands of other users. Even Foursquare apparently thinks it’s too early for ambient location, which is why it hasn’t done much to push its Radar feature.

Foursquare has since managed to withstand direct assaults from Facebook and Google, who have both launched location-based services and offers-based products in the last couple of years. But Google’s kind of low-key partnership with Scoutmob could provide the strongest challenge to Foursquare’s dominance of mobile- and location-based services yet.

In September, Google’s Niantic Labs launched the Android-only FieldTrip (it’s coming soon to iOS), which runs in the background on a smartphone and delivers “cards” of information to users that provide context on wherever they happen to be. That information could be related to the history of an area, the design of a building, or reviews of a restaurant, to name a few examples. It’s similar to how Google Now works, so don’t be surprised if you one day soon see FieldTrip integrated into the predictive service.

Scoutmob is playing right in Foursquare’s patch, except with FieldTrip it doesn’t need you to check in, or even for you to be aware that you’re using it. It specializes in providing location-aware coupons and rapidly-expiring deals on local food, coffee, and shops. (Update: A Foursquare spokesperson has got in touch to point out that Scoutmob also delivers deals through Foursquare, which uses its Explore function to suggest deals according to places you’ve checked in at in the past.)

At first glance, this development seems like bad news for Foursquare, but there’s a fair chance the FieldTrip integration isn’t going to be exclusive to Scoutmob. FieldTrip’s door could also be open to the likes of Foursquare, Zozi, Strayboots, or other companies to strike a similar deal. (I’ve emailed Google to try to find out if this is an exclusive deal and will update this post if I get a response.) And this, by the way, is a very rare partnership for Google, which prefers to acquire startups rather than team up with them. (Update: I’ve since learned that Google is open to working with new partners for FieldTrip.)

If rumors of a partnership with Apple Maps pan out, Foursquare might even be able to come up with some sort of competitive product of its own.

Another challenge for Foursquare, however, is that it has to function as an app that must be downloaded and clicked on, whereas FieldTrip behaves as if it’s part of the phone’s operating system. That means FieldTrip has a Google Now-like power to become a default part of a user’s mobile behavior, something that I have previously argued will be part of the solution to the problem of “app overload.” Foursquare doesn’t have that luxury, and it will face the further struggle of competing against a company that owns a powerful Maps app, one of the most used and important utilities on any smartphone.

Last night, Michael Carney wrote about how location is so far a missing piece of the Google+ puzzle and suggested that a startup like GonnaBe might be a good acquisition for the Mountain View giant. Well, we might already have found that missing piece.

While Google Places is still attempting to make its mark and take down Yelp, a newly Scoutmob-empowered FieldTrip just might be the company’s ticket to the top of the location leadership for mobile.

[Picture by Hallie Bateman]