By Tris Hussey
Date: Feb 24, 2011
In this lesson Tris Hussey talks about how you're going to use Foursquare most of the time—your mobile device. He covers the official apps and mobile website here. The apps that other people have created can have varying degrees of quality, so they are something you should use at your own risk.
Getting the Right App for Your Device
Now that you have your Foursquare account and a few friends, it's time to start using Foursquare for real. If there's one thing that I find odd about Foursquare it's that Foursquare is the only social media tool/service that I know of where you can do less on the website through your computer than you can do on your mobile device. At first, this really, really didn't make sense to me. Why can't I check in on the website? I'm in my local coffee place, I'm already mayor here (more about this in Lesson 5), what's the deal?!
The deal is that while Foursquare could use the Google Maps API to have its main site find out where you are, it doesn't want to go in that direction right now. The game is about being out and about, not checking in with your laptop.
So, if you can't check in at the main website, what's it good for? The website is really the hub of it all. Although you can't use it to check in, you can use it for a number of tasks:
- Adding a tip about a venue or location
- Adding a new location
- Managing your friends
- Reviewing your check-in history
- Checking out your check-in statistics
- Editing venues
- Connecting your account to Twitter or Facebook
For the most important part of Foursquare, checking in, you need to have some kind of mobile, Internet-capable device (smart phone, cell phone, tablet, and so on). Like Twitter, Foursquare is, at its heart, a mobile application. It's a tool you use on the go (or going). Foursquare has done a great job of covering the major smart phones (iOS, Android, and BlackBerry devices) with native applications; you can also use Foursquare on any other devices that can get on the Internet with a mobile browser. For users in the United States, you can also use SMS short codes to check in. So, although the main website seems like a little "meh, so what," it's still important to know how the system works.
Official Foursquare Apps
Foursquare has developed its own official applications for key mobile devices: iPhones, BlackBerry smart phones, and Android-based devices. These were some of the first apps that came out for Foursquare (beyond the mobile version of the website itself).
Although you can download Foursquare for your device from its app store, an even easier way is to visit m.foursquare.com on your device and follow the link to download the version of the app for your device. The link should point you to not only the correct store, but also the correct app. There are more and more apps that connect to Foursquare, but there are only a few official apps. It's also important to note that the official Foursquare apps are all free.
All the Foursquare mobile apps work, essentially, in the same way. While there might be a feature one has that another doesn't (for example, the iPhone and Android versions have a map to see where your friends are, but currently the BlackBerry version doesn't), they all allow you to do the following:
- Check in
- Find places close by
- See nearby places where your friends have checked in recently
- Send out shouts
- Add tips and notes
- See who is at a particular venue
- See your recent check-in history
- See and manage your friends
Let's take a quick look at each of the official Foursquare apps. Rather than delve into all the features of the apps, this lesson just shows what they look like and how they work.
Using Foursquare on an iPhone/iOS Device
Of all the native apps, I think the iPhone/iOS app is the one that looks the best and has the best user interface (see Figure 4.1). This isn't to say that the BlackBerry and Android apps are less capable, but the iPhone app just seems more polished than the others. The iOS app has been around the longest. Apple's app approval process famously (maybe infamously) is stringent on the quality of the apps approved. Foursquare has had more than a year of testing on the iPhone/iOS app now, and I think that maturity shows.
Figure 4.1 The iPhone Foursquare app.
One of the coolest features of the iPhone/iOS app is the map of where your friends are (within a close geographic area). Because one of the reasons you likely use Foursquare is to go hang out with your friends, it's a nice touch to see how close some of them actually are to you (see Figure 4.2). If you've ever been out and about and just wondered if any friends were in the area to grab a coffee or a snack, the map feature is perfect. Just tapping the map icon gives you a view of who is in the area. Zoom in and out as you would on any map application on the iPhone/iOS. You can tap a person's picture to see where they are and who they are with. And if you wonder where the hot spots are for lunch or going out after work, a quick look at the map gives you a pretty clear indication. Well, at least as far as your friends are concerned.
Figure 4.2 An iPhone map showing nearby friends.
Like most other iPhone/iOS apps, with the Foursquare app, things happen when you drag or slide your finger on the screen. For example, with the BlackBerry and Android apps, to refresh your list of friends or places close by, you use a menu. However, with the iPhone app, you just put your finger on the screen and drag down. When you see Release to Refresh, you release and...you get the idea. Will the iPhone/iOS version get all the coolest features first? Probably not. As all the apps are improved, a new feature might be put into the next app that is updated; then the other apps will follow suit.
Using Foursquare on a BlackBerry
Depending on your BlackBerry, to use the Foursquare app, you might use touch or the trackball to navigate around the various parts of the app. The BlackBerry app was one of the last ones developed and has been frequently updated since its first private beta launch. Believe me, as is often the case with such software, the first private betas were nothing to write home about. I think it was the lack of a decent Foursquare app for the BlackBerry that kept me from using Foursquare much at first.
Unlike the iPhone/iOS version, the BlackBerry app has keyboard shortcuts you can use when using the app (see Figure 4.3)—things like f for your friends' recent check-ins or p for places near you. On touch-centric devices (like iPhones and many Android-based devices), having keyboard shortcuts is rather superfluous.
Figure 4.3 The Foursquare home screen on the BlackBerry.
I used the BlackBerry version for months, because I had a BlackBerry with me as a phone. It's a decent, solid app, so don't think that BlackBerry users are missing out. Foursquare has done, I think, a good job at trying to make sure that all its official apps work intuitively, quickly, and as smoothly as they can (depending on the device). One thing that is rather challenging on the BlackBerry is the shear number of different devices, screen sizes, and input methods (keyboard, touch only, keyboard and touch). This makes developing an app that works great for all devices and users difficult. As for features like maps, BlackBerry owners will have to be patient. There's a lot of people, including myself, that have been asking for it. It'll happen sooner or later.
There is a special section of the Foursquare support forums for the BlackBerry app: support.foursquare.com/forums/189989-blackberry-faq.
Using Foursquare on Android-Based Phones
The native app for Android-based devices looks much like the BlackBerry app (see Figure 4.4). However, like the iPhone app, the Android app has the map of friends feature. While both the iPhone and BlackBerry have prominent Check In buttons, the Android app does not. To check into a location on an Android device, you need to tap Places, find where you are, and then select to check in there. I think this is an unnecessary step that will be streamlined at some point.
Figure 4.4 The Foursquare home for Android.
Because you can often use Android devices either with or without a keyboard, how the app works on your particular device might depend on how you hold the device. Experimenting on a tiny (it even has mini in its name) device, I found the Android device to be slick and fast.
With the Android version, if the application is open in the background, it doesn't keep checking for its location until you bring it front and center. Not a big deal? Searching for the location and using the GPS all the time will suck your device's battery dry faster than a 10-year-old on a milkshake. It's a nice touch that the developers of the Android version threw in to help save battery life. Nice. (The iPhone app works this way, too, but the BlackBerry version doesn't.)
For more info on the Android app, check out the FAQ on the Foursquare site: support.foursquare.com/forums/189990-android-faq.
Over time, I've noticed that the three native applications are getting closer and closer together in terms of looks and functionality. By the time you read this book, you might be wondering what I'm talking because by then the applications might be essentially identical.
Third-Party Foursquare Apps
Like many other web-based applications today, Foursquare offers programmers an API they can use to develop their own apps for Foursquare. Third-party developers have made apps for Palm devices, new games based on Foursquare, and apps specifically for the iPad (but not an official iPad app). There's even an app to help you avoid your ex while you're out on the town. Like all other applications built by fans, some of the ones for Foursquare are good, and some aren't. The important thing to understand is that some of the apps are there to support other devices (such as Palm devices), while others are there to extend Foursquare to do more interesting things.
One of the growing areas of focus is expanding Foursquare's game aspect. Maybe you'd be interested in an app that would let you check into a location with a special "scavenger hunt" app for other prizes. How about a self-guided tour app that would allow you check into the stops along the way and then to get an audio program about the location? Such apps are possible. Hmm, maybe I should start working on my own app for coffee places of Vancouver....
Using the Basic Mobile Website Instead of an App
Instead of using a platform-specific app, you can always use m.foursquare.com. When I first joined Foursquare, there wasn't an app for the BlackBerry (official or not), so I did all my checking in on the mobile site. It isn't gorgeous, but it is certainly functional. Sometimes the simplicity of the mobile website might be just the thing you need (see Figure 4.5).
Figure 4.5 The Foursquare mobile website might be plain and simple, but it just plain works.
From the mobile website you can do all the basic Foursquare tasks. There are few images, as you can see, so it loads quickly even when you don't have the greatest connection in the world. I have to say, though, that it's one of those "better than a sharp stick in the eye" kinds of tools. It works. It's not pretty, but it works.
Checking in via SMS (U.S. Only)
I've saved the most basic way to use Foursquare for last. Not only is it simple and basic, it also works only in the United States. The method I'm talking about is sending an SMS to Foursquare.
If you don't have a mobile device that can get online—for example, if you have a regular cell phone without Internet access—you can send a text to 50500 with a message like "@ Main Street Theatre! Catching a great flick" to check in. In the next lesson, you see why this could be a hit-or-miss way to check in. In Lesson 5, you learn the ins and outs of checking in, and you'll see why having to guess at what a location is called could be a problem. (Like, for example, "Starbucks" because there could be several "Starbucks" even within a few blocks of you!)
Foursquare created or supported several "official" apps for the three most popular types of smartphones available: iPhones/iOS, BlackBerry, and Android phones. Though the official apps might look a little different from each other, they function in essentially the same way. You can also download and try one of several third-party, unofficial Foursquare apps that can add other elements of fun to using Foursquare. Lastly, if all else fails, you can always go to m.foursquare.com and use the mobile website to locate software for your specific phone.