Foursquare has given the Verge an exclusive look at its new branding and application, the first major update the company has revealed since it split its service into two parts earlier this year. The new application is nothing like its predecessors: it has a new icon, a revised color scheme, and a purpose that couldn’t be further from the Foursquare app introduced at SXSW in 2009.
The update follows repeated efforts by the company to leave behind its past as a check-in utility to focus on helping people discover new restaurants, bars, and other attractions. Splitting the old application in two, which gave people who enjoyed the check-in aspect of the service a new destination while shifting the main application’s focus to discovery, was a big part of that rebranding effort.
Revealing an entirely new application that looks nothing like its predecessor, what with its funky new icon and a revised user experience, should help show Foursquare’s commitment to its new focus. It also shows just how difficult it can be for a company to reinvent itself, even when it’s working in a similar market and has an established brand, without abandoning the past. That is especially obvious given the reaction to Swarm, the check-in application, and Foursquare’s seeming disinterest in bettering that product to please users who only care about check-ins.
David Weekly, a project manager at Facebook, summarized his feelings about Swarm in an open letter published to Medium earlier this week. (And no, you can’t get much more modern than being a project manager at Facebook complaining about a check-in application through an open letter published to Medium, but that’s another problem.) As Weekly wrote in his post:
Swarm sucked. It crashed. All. The. Time. On iOS. On Android. It introduced extra steps before checkin, force-prompting me to say something witty or attach a picture. It was slow. It hung. It consumed lots of data. And I couldn’t go back. Well, most of the time. Every once in a blue moon, when the gods of your mystical gatekeepers permitted, I could steal a date with the old Foursquare and succeed in checking in at a place. But then most of the time, I would get the bizarre notice: “You can’t check in via Foursquare. You must use Swarm.” A product that willfully refused to perform its core task. A pencil unwilling to write.
Foursquare told the Verge that some of these problems are going to be fixed now that the updated version of its main application has been released, but it’s clear that Swarm isn’t a priority to the company — its focus has moved on to discovery, and it almost seems like the check-in service is something the company feels obligated to offer rather than something it actually cares about. (Now I’m gonna get an email from someone claiming that’s not the case in three…two…)
The Verge reports that people are checking-in with Swarm more than in the past, but Pando’s Michael Carney who uses it frequently says that the application often feels like a ghost town, even when he’s visiting San Francisco which should be one of its busier markets. This suggests that it must be an “active minority” that are responsible for any increase in check-in activity. I’m used to seeing such emptiness whenever I use Swarm or Foursquare out in the boonies but San Francisco is another story entirely. Does it really matter if people are checking-in more frequently if no-one or few people are able to see it or the host application sucks?
With Foursquare switching its focus to discovery, the answer is, not really. The new core application will have a “Swarm” button included to allow users to check-in with the tool if it’s installed on their phones. But besides that, the company now clearly cares less about where you’ve been then where you want to be.
You might be wondering how Foursquare is going to figure out where people should go if it’s not emphasizing the check-in aspect of its service. The answer: it’s going to ask users for permission to track their location as they live their daily lives, allowing the company to fill its application with data on movement patterns and trending locations without having to bother users to checking-in.
Perhaps the company should have used the bee logo for Foursquare instead of Swarm — after all, it’s the main app that’s going to be turning your smartphone into even more of a bug than it was in the past.