Say hello to seamless, location-aware apps: Is this the end of the check-in?

exampleGeo-social has proven to be somewhat tricky territory. While it appears that many users want to interact with their location, how and how much remains undecided. Privacy implications arise at every turn, and what exactly crosses the line into over-sharing in this segment is an important and unanswered question–all while developers are reinventing how we broadcast our whereabouts. 

Manufacturing serendipity

Location apps have been trying to introduce frictionless sharing long before Facebook attached the term to its new class of Open Graph apps. The basic concept is the same as Facebook’s: allowing people to seamlessly, very nearly unknowingly, push information about something they____. You can replace that blank with cooked, bought, want, etc. Or, you could turn that “something” into “somewhere.”

We’re beginning to see more and more apps use your smartphone’s GPS activity automatically, sending updates about where you are and connecting that to a social graph (likely Facebook) for the purpose of connecting you with people, places, and events.

One of these such apps is Highlight, which is going through a beta testing round in San Francisco right now, but is available for download via iOS. The app uses Facebook to find people you’re friends with as well as friends of friends and then notifies you when they’re nearby. It doesn’t just surface a name and location, it also lets you know what they do and what you might have in common.

highlightHighlight, and apps like it, want to inject a little bit of serendipity into geo-social, which as it stands requires human effort. What it wants to do is kill the physical check-in—that barrier keeping so many of us from actually using location apps (and yes, which others obsessively love).

hipgeo iphoneHipGeo is using this “life-recording” template as well: the travel-based app passively runs in the background to collect where you go and the pictures you take there, and then produces collages of your journeys without requiring anything from you except activation. For instance if you take a picture in Texas and then another in Santa Fe, HipGeo will seamlessly record how you got from point A to B, the images, and later provide it all for you in a rich visual design.

“I think you have a segment of people who are very comfortable with checking in, and then a segment who don’t want to take the time—and we’re addressing this,” says HipGeo chief product manager Rich Rygg. “When you look at Foursquare the check-in is centric to their model, it’s an awareness thing: ‘I’m here, and I’m checking in.’ With auto-checking in, you take someone’s location and share it immediately and that’s something that hasn’t been fully developed yet.”

You can’t be geo-social without the social

The backlash to these types of apps will depend on their degree of seamlessness, but the paranoia factor shouldn’t be as big of an issue anymore. Or rather, if it’s focused here it is very misplaced. The entire medium is opt-in, and if you want a location app you execute complete control over, you’ve got more than a few to choose from. Will it be a little eerie the first time you’re using Highlight and you get a ping alerting you that someone you don’t know (a friend of a friend) is around the corner and that he/she also likes snowshoeing and hip-hop? Probably, but by now you know what you’re getting yourself into. There’s no reason to devote any more time to this concern: we’re all allowing social, Web, and mobile platforms to access more and more of our data and this in and of itself is an issue. The various products we’re already giving this information to could potentially lead to the very same problems that doing it with location apps would. It’s a hurdle that has to be surmounted, but our attitudes about data sharing are evolving as we speak and we’re offering up more and more information freely. Moving on.

One daunting problem is what can now be known as the Color dilemma. That is, if no one is using it, it won’t work. This sounds so simple it’s stupid, but it’s actually a rather daunting issue for these startups.

Part of the reason Color’s initially hyped launched was quickly and concretely subdued was because it needed a substantial user base in order to have any effect whatsoever. When pundits and early adopters (including us) attempted to use this revolutionary new technology and couldn’t. The major draw was being able to see constant photo feeds from everyone near you – and since they weren’t there, it was just an empty app.

The new generation of seamless location apps are going to face this problem. If they want to actually connect people, they’ve got to get them there. Fortunately, all these contenders can learn from Color’s relaunch—and that means integrate with Facebook. You either have to do that or establish your own platform that has personal use aside from connecting. If you have a diary aspect, like HipGeo and Path do, then you can have significance without multi-user interaction.

So yes, there are some  battles left to be waged over fighting user concerns regarding their location data being collected, as well as getting them to want to participate in this type of social network. But the check-in is quickly becoming outdated and honestly, often-mocked (Facebook killed it for a reason, replacing with a more sophisticated format).

A little help from Facebook

So what are these complaints? The simplest of them is battery life. Initial trials of Highlight have shown that keeping it running will, unsurprisingly, drain your phone. Rygg says HipGeo, when fully functioning, will do the same, but there are settings that allow your smartphone to know when to conserve battery life and alter the degree of its location tracking.

map facebookThe evolution of these apps (as well as of smartphones) is the path to solving this complaint, and in the grand scheme of this segment, it’s a minor detail.

What could prove to give these seamless check-in apps a helping hand is the Facebook Open Graph. It’s a big step for the lifestreaming trend, where users are constantly creating and sharing content about everything they do. The ease with which users are going to slide into this on Facebook is going to translate to other social applications, including location-based ones. Facebook offers a good assessment of the collective hearts and minds of social users, and while there’s been backlash to the Open Graph, we’re already seeing its success play out.

Integration with Facebook will probably be a natural step as well. At the moment, the new class of apps for Timeline are limited—but the new version of Color is included there. It’s now an auto-video streaming app, where you broadcast quick, soundless videos and livestream them to friends so you both experience the same thing at the same time.

We want to collect, create, and share more and more content, with as little effort as possible. So while the geo-social segment has been plagued by mounting problems, this next generation of apps  is quietly and innovatively finding the solutions. 

Product Review

The Nuimo Click’s self-powering control convenience is cool but costly

Smart home devices might be clever, but needing your phone to use them is not. Senic’s Nuimo Click is the set of physical buttons that your smart devices are missing. But these smart, self-powered buttons aren’t cheap.
Social Media

#ThrowbackThursday is only the start: Instagram hashtags for every day of the week

Not getting your hashtag fill with #ThrowbackThursday or #ManCrushMonday? Here's a list of some of the more popular Instagram hashtags, so you can outfit your next post with the proper tag, regardless of what day it is.

How to start your online business in 6 simple steps

Making the right choices now can greatly impact your success down the line, and the last thing you want to do is spend your energy revisiting old decisions instead of growing your company.

How you can share your best gaming moments with friends on the PS4

Check out Digital Trends' quick guide to everything you need to know to save your outstanding PlayStation 4 gameplay moments, share them online, and transfer them to your computer.
Social Media

You can now share saved Facebook posts with a Pinterest-like collection tool

Facebook collections can now be shared with friends if you also want to allow them to contribute to the list. Facebook is rolling out an update that allows users to add a contributor to their collections, or lists of saved Facebook posts.

Broadway actor tells Kanye West to get off his phone during opening night

Theater actors can get understandably upset when they spot someone in the audience fiddling with their phone instead of watching the show. The other night that audience member was Kanye West, and he got called out for it.
Social Media

This event topped Facebook’s biggest moments of the year — again

As the year comes to a close, Facebook is looking back on what users discussed most over the last year. For two years in a row, International Women's Day topped the list. So what else is on the list?
Social Media

This band owns Twitter, according to list of top accounts and tweets for 2018

What was the biggest buzz on Twitter in 2018? Twitter's 2018 Year in Review highlights the biggest tweets, accounts, and hashtags. The most-tweeted celebrities, movies, TV shows, athletes, politicians and more in Twitter's 2018 trends.
Social Media

What do yodeling and Kylie Jenner have in common? YouTube’s top 2018 videos

In a true nod to the variety found on YouTube, the platform's top 10 list of videos from 2018 range from celebrities to sports, from perfectly tossing a picture frame on the wall to a kid yodeling in aisle 12 at Walmart.
Home Theater

It took Tom Cruise to raise awareness of this troublesome TV setting

Tom Cruise, in an unexpected PSA tweet, asks you to turn off motion interpolation on your TV, but stops short of how to do it. Here's more on the topic, along with links to a guide on how to rid your TV of the dreaded "soap opera effect."

Make a GIF of your favorite YouTube video with these great tools

Making a GIF from a YouTube video is easier today than ever, but choosing the right tool for the job isn't always so simple. In this guide, we'll teach you how to make a GIF from a YouTube video with our two favorite online tools.

Amazon scouted airport locations for its cashier-free Amazon Go stores

Representatives of Amazon Go checkout-free retail stores connected with officials at Los Angeles and San Jose airports in June to discuss the possibility of cashier-free grab-and-go locations in busy terminals.
Social Media

Snapchat facial recognition could soon power a new portrait mode, code suggests

Digging into Snapchat's code suggests a handful of upcoming camera features, including a portrait mode. The feature appears to use facial recognition A.I. to blur the background. The code also suggests an updated camera interface.

Google+ continues to sink with a second massive data breach. Abandon ship now

Google+ was scheduled to shut its doors in August 2019, but the second security breach in only a few months has caused the company to move its plan forward a few months. It might be a good idea to delete your account sooner than later.