Google took aim at Foursquare on Thursday with the addition of checkin rewards for its Latitude app for Google Maps, while replacing 'mayors' with "gurus" and "VIPs".
Google's location class warfare didn't stop there: there are a poor, middle, and elite class under Google's hierarchy, known as "Regulars," "VIPs," and "Gurus," respectively. Users who check in for the first time might not receive any special designation.
Users will need to update to Google Maps 5.2 via the Android Market, join Latitude, then tap "check in here" from the menu. Google said a version for the iPhone would be coming soon.
The new rewards will be rolled out - where else? - at the South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) show in Austin, Texas this weekend, where discounts will be offered at restaurants, bars, and other venues around the downtown area.
The new checkins scheme provides a sort of game-like approach to rewards, with additional checkins propelling users to new social rankings - and new discounts, to boot. "Footprint" icons let users track their progress. As an example, a restaurant could offer a free drink to a regular, free breadsticks to a VIP, and possibly a free dessert to a "guru".
Google began offering checkins on Latitude in February.
In the crowded world of location apps like Foursquare and Facebook Places, Google Latitude aimed to differentiate itself from the rest of the pack. Unlike the others which center around checking into places by tapping an icon, Latitude always tracked where you were in real-time, without any user interaction needed. Then it would share your whereabouts with your friends as you moved around. Thing is, people like checking in. So Google went ahead and added the ability to check in on Latitude, which will allow more flexibility for users of the app. A more interesting feature in Latitude is you can even choose to be automatically checked into locations, which sounds fairly ridiculous given how close many spots are to each other.
Google has been in the location game for years now, but services like Foursquare and Facebook Places have been producing buzz faster, in part based on their mobile apps. Google has had their service, Google Latitude, integrated in Android handsets for some time now, and they've finally released an iPhone app to compete with the other already established players. With 9 million active users, mostly because it's baked into their Google Maps product, they have a somewhat credible offering. So far, Latitude has been mostly a passive service that people use when looking for local search results, or browsing a map. This is a model that's much different than Foursquare, Gowalla, and Facebook Place, which are all about checking in to a specific place rather than just showing a physical location.
The Latitude iPhone app keeps using that passive model, where the app shares your location automatically with your friends, even in the background, as long as you allowed them to view where you are. You can also browse the map and see where they are in real time. It can be argued that such a passive system is the wave of the future, as people tire of constantly checking into a location app, but it sure doesn't produce the same amount of hype for the service, so it remains to be seen which service people will decide to share their locations with.
Read More | Google Latitude
Google Latitude can help you keep track of friends and family on your cell phone. Find your buds and their status on a map, then contact them with a call, IM or SMS. You have to have a compatible phone with images enabled such as Android-powered cellies, BlackBerrys, Nokia smartphones and Java-enabled devices. If you have an iPhone or iPod, there are plans in the works for those, too. Google promises privacy but you might want to think about how much you want your friends to know about where you go and when. This is a free service but carrier charges may apply.
Read More | Google Latitude