Google Updates Latitude to Enable Check-ins, Tightens Grip on Local

It's about time. Google finally added check-ins, as well as competitive levels, to its location sharing service Latitude. In the two years since Latitude was introduced in February of 2009 the "LBS" segment has changed dramatically. Rather than just location sharing, LBS became about game dynamics, leaderboards and local deals. Latitude has looked very "flat" by comparison.

From a functionality standpoint Latitude saw itself more or less left behind by Foursquare, Yelp and others. Yet Google Latitude reportedly has 10 million "active" monthly users on a global basis -- more than any of the other LBS apps. Despite this claim I find it hard to believe that there's anything more than perfunctory engagement with Latitude.

To remedy that Latitude is becoming more tightly integrated into the Google local product suite with check-ins and other functionality. Indeed there's a kind of "master plan" emerging for Google with its local apps. Latitude has also added loyalty categories that mirror Foursquare's "mayor" and Yelp's feudal-nobility designations (Dukes, Barons, Kings):

You can also check in at a favorite place to earn special status there; you’ll see if you’ve become a “Regular,” a “VIP” or a “Guru” on its Place page. Keep checking in to hold onto your status or reach the next level.

Latitude's new features (on Android) include automatic check-in and check-in notifications if you're manually checking in:

  • Notifications: Turn on check-in notifications in Latitude’s settings and get a notification to check in at a nearby place once you arrive. Never forget to check in again.
  • Automatic check-ins: Choose to automatically check in at specific places you designate, and you’ll be checked in when you’re there. You can talk to friends or finish your bagel without fumbling with your phone.
  • Check out: Once you leave, Latitude knows to automatically check you out of places so friends aren’t left guessing if you’re still there

The iPhone version of Latitude doesn't yet permit check-ins but will soon, according to the Google blog post.

On Android Latitude isn't a separate app, it's a layer or a piece of functionality built into Google Maps. What's also interesting about the addition of check-ins is its integration into Google Places, which is more "organic" than launching a distinct Latitude app and specifically checking in.

You can anticipate that Google will be integrating coupons and offers here in the relatively near future to create incentives for consumers to visit local businesses -- and check-in. The data generated from all these check-ins will probably be conveyed to business owners via Google Places analytics, thereby closing the loop between the online offer and offline redemption. 

 

Google is more tightly integrating its products in local-mobile (HotPot, Latitude, Places, Maps/Navigation) and "leveraging the synergies" between and among them. For this reason it will be increasingly difficult on Android in particular for third party publishers to compete. 

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