Location, simplicity crucial for apps evolution: CEOs

John C. Tanner
01 Mar 2012

Location and greater simplicity will drive the next big evolution in the mobile apps saga, executives said Wednesday.

At the morning keynote session on Day 3 of the Mobile World Congress, Dennis Crowley, CEO of social networking site Foursquare, illustrated the importance of location by describing his company’s aspirations to make its app easier to use by making it location-aware.

“What we want to do is a smart version of [old Microsoft personal assistant] Clippy. This is where Foursquare is going,” he said

The basic idea, Crowley said, is to evolve from users asking Foursquare to make recommendations and locate friends to a push model where the app proactively pings users based on their location.

“If we combine all these lists and information and user data we’ve compiled with walking around and all that data comes to life, it’s a powerful thing,” Crowley said. “If you’ve seen the Harry Potter films, it’s like the Marauder’s Map – you open your phone and you can see where everyone is and get recommendations.”

Crowley said it was the difference between asking an app to find a good sushi restaurant and asking it to find a good sushi restaurant that friends have visited and reviewed.

“Or think of a navigation system where when you’re in an area and you get a list of five things you could do as long as you’re in the neighborhood,” he said. “It can tell you, ‘Hey, as long as you’re in the area, that CD you liked and wanted to buy is available at this store nearby’.”

The elephant in the room that Crowley didn’t address was privacy, which is a crucial aspect for both social networking sites and location-based services. In the case of Foursquare in particular, the sheer depth of its customer data collection means the company has to be careful to get it right the first time, says Ovum principal analyst Eden Zoller. “Any mistakes here will hit Foursquare hard.”

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