INQ just revealed that its so-called Facebookphone is getting a location-based services layer supplied through Foursquare, with the check-in game deeply embedded in the OS. This move adds all sorts of additional powers to the phone without requiring running an app, and it's a real coup for Foursquare.
This tech mashup is all about lowering barriers to engaging in these services, and getting consumers using them almost without realizing that they're taking part in the new check-in/rewards craze. The barrier is already pretty low, merely requiring tapping an app on a smartphone homescreen—but as Foursquare's posting notes, the new deal means "deep OS-level integration of Foursquare sharing and recommendations" without "even firing up the app," because it's all there integrated into the UI. INQ's news release drives the point home: "The new integration uses the Foursquare API to recommend nearby places to eat, drink and shop based on your location and past check-ins, along with check-ins from your friends and other members of the Foursquare community," presumably through the same "live streams" on the homescreen that INQ uses to display its tight integration with Facebook in these phones.
It's a powerful and tactical move that will please many current and potential INQ phone owners. But it does force us to ponder two questions: What does Facebook think of this, since it too is pushing its own location-based services? And, is this move to going to further erode notions of user privacy, since the social networking, sharing, and location-based apps are almost transparent?
The first question is a tricky one. We know Facebook would love to corner large parts of the location market, and it's been making more and more moves to expand the power of Places. Having a "rival" location service capture core functionality on what had been dubbed "Facebookphones" may sting. The second issue is one that'll have to play out over time. Apple (and Google, which provides the Android OS that's being hidden further and further behind the main user experience on devices like this) have attracted high-level government attention for location-privacy infringements. The INQ device is set up so you can check in using Foursquare or share a personal photo via Facebook almost without thinking about how much data you're transmitting into the good—and bad—corners of the Internet. That may put it in a tricky spot.
[Image: Flickr user St_A_Sh]