Can Foursquare save Apple Maps?

By Nathaniel Mott , written on December 18, 2012

From The News Desk

Foursquare might be getting ready to teach Apple about mapping and places of interest, according to the Wall Street Journal. A new agreement would see the two companies sharing data, giving Apple access to some of Foursquare's 3 billion-plus check-ins. That could help Apple avoid some of its Maps problems in the near future.

Maps is a bit of an oddity for Apple. The company has publicly admitted that the service has problems, has pointed customers towards alternative solutions, and relies on third-party offerings, like the excellent Embark NYC, to fill holes in its utility. Despite these faults, however, Apple Maps does have something that other services don't: exclusivity.

Apple Maps cannot be replaced as the default mapping app for iOS, meaning anyone who uses Siri or apps not optimized to tie in with Google Maps will be sent to Apple's solution.

This makes any improvement to Apple Maps a welcome change. Partnering with Foursquare and its massive database could give Apple quick and easy access to sorely-needed local data. And Foursquare? Well, Foursquare could get in front of Apple's customers, demolishing that whole "having to download the Foursquare app" barrier to using the service.

And, as my colleague Hamish McKenzie wrote yesterday, Foursquare may need that engagement. The company's Explore-focused redesign is promising, but users may be growing weary of the check-in fun. Some tie-in with Apple Maps, whether it's a simple check-in button or perhaps deeper integration, could pump even more data into Foursquare and allow it to further improve Explore.

Unfortunately, as with everything, a partnership is never as simple as it may appear. Apple has already partnered with Yelp (another app threatened by Google Maps) to provide restaurant details and reviews, so it would be tasked with choosing between Yelp's review-based suggestions or Foursquare's popularity-based recommendations. Or maybe Apple really only wants to know more about the street-level, and Foursquare's other features will be ignored entirely.

I hope that isn't the case. Both Apple's Maps and Foursquare do a poor job of recognizing my neighborhood, so the extra data may simply provide a ton of overlap and, in the worst-case, confuse Apple Maps even more. (It's worth noting that Google Maps doesn't do so well in my neighborhood either, missing many of the restaurants and moving a Rite-Aid to the opposite side of the street.) Lose, lose, lose.

So, yes. A partnership between Apple and Foursquare could help both services, and would certainly be a big "get" for the New York-based startup. If Apple finds a way to blend Yelp and Foursquare together to create a restaurant and business tour de force, it might inch a bit closer to Google's offering. But right now it seems that partnering with all of the services threatened by Google Maps is a Hail Mary that may simply delay the inevitable.