Foursquare has been making some moves. Yesterday at Mobile World Congress the social-local application announced it would be using predictive technology to suggest new places for its users to check out. It’s also looking into new partnerships, and has set its sights on more completely cornering the location market.
And today it announced a “little” change for its platform: it will be ditching Google Maps in favor of OpenStreetMap. “Starting today, we’re embracing the OpenStreetMap movement, so all the maps you see when you go to Foursquare.com will look a tiny bit different (we think the new ones are really pretty),” Foursquare said via its blog. “Other than slightly different colors and buttons, though, Foursquare is still the same site you know and love.”
Foursquare explains that while it’s been using the Google Maps API since its beginning, it’s happier to promote crowd-sourced, open data. Foursquare also says Google’s pricing was the original impetus for finding a new solution, but that OpenStreetMap combined with MapBox’s map design application ultimately fits the company best.
This isn’t the first platform to leave Google Maps, and it won’t be the last. Google’s been attempting to claim some stake over the geo-social space for itself, an effort it’s increasingly pouring resources into. Moving its maps technology elsewhere means Foursquare is taking some users and support (and money) away from Google. Foursquare’s users might seem like a drop in the bucket compared to the amount of outside integration Google supports, but the application is growing fast and it’s a smart business move to go a different route. Others have taken this route as well: AAA’s TripTik travel app will move to Bing Maps this fall. Last month, MapQuest launched its mobile APIs to attract outside integration.
Why a number of big app makers are looking for smaller platform APIs and more Google Map alternatives is obvious: location search is happening via apps. A new comScore report reveals that 49-percent of smartphone and tablet owners are using apps to find local information – and you need a map to do that.
It’s not all good news, however. As users, Google Maps is comfortingly familiar. We’ve gotten incredibly used to its interface and using it is second nature for most of us. If we know anything about the average consumer, it’s that change doesn’t come easy. Garmin knows that better than anyone: about a year ago, the GPS service decided to switch from Google Maps to Bing Maps. Now Bing Maps have come a long way since then, but at the time it wasn’t able to give users precisely what they wanted:
“Garmin, I’ve been extolling the virtues of Garmin Connect to every runner I meet – simple to use, very intuitive, and beautiful to look at. This afternoon, after seeing the new Bing maps, I may have to stop spreading the Garmin Connect love. The Bing Maps text is difficult to read, and the graphics look terrible. A drastic step backwards [sic] for Garmin Connect.”
There were pages of complaints and users were displeased about the change to say the least. A year later (yes, a year), Garmin finally responded by making it optional for users to choose Bing Maps or Google Maps.
As more and more apps begin to search for alternatives, however, those non-Google options will start to step up their game and deliver better products. Choices are good for the user but only when the quality is there: nobody wants location apps to start ditching Google Maps just because they fear its competition. Foursquare is a big, big name in the social-local market, though, and its leading the way could signal attitude changes and positive growth in mapping services. There’s certainly plenty of motivation to tap this market.