Foursquare Rethinks iPhone App To Focus On Search, Discovery

Foursquare’s search engine gets more screen real estate in the newest release of the app, signaling how important discovery is becoming to the company.

Foursquare, the location-based service, has significantly evolved since exploding in popularity at SXSW years ago. Only last month, cofounder and CEO Dennis Crowley was once again at the Austin festival, taking the audience through the startup’s journey, from being known for check-ins and gamification to badges and mayorships to tips and to-do lists. But Foursquare has reached a new level of sophistication and maturity, as Crowley described at this year’s SXSW. Now, it’s all about search and discovery.


Today, the company will introduce a new version of its iPhone app that streamlines the app’s user interface and refines its purpose. Following cues from its recently redesigned Android app, Foursquare’s new release prioritizes Explore, the service’s recommendation engine, over its other traditional features. This version of the app makes search and discovery on par with seeing where your friends are checking in. “With the new launch, we’re focusing on making recommendations front and center,” says Andrew Hogue, Foursquare’s head of search. “It’s always ready when you need it.”

Foursquare has always been known for check-ins, but the service’s secret sauce will always be the location data hiding underneath those check-ins. When you check in to a restaurant or bar or bowling alley, for example, Foursquare will learn your tastes and interests: Do you like tapas? German bars? Coffee spots? Hogue deems this “feedback crucial,” saying, “the more you put into Foursquare, the more you get out of it.” Hence the app’s redesign, which brings search to the main screen not only to boost its usage but to show more users the power of Foursquare’s discovery engine. Now, instead of having to click to separate tabs to search for locations or see what your friends are up to, the experiences are combined.

“We’ve removed the tabs at the bottom, so you can easily search in Explore with the search bar along the top,” Hogue says. “We’ve added recommendations to the main screen, so you’re not just seeing what you’re friends are doing near by but you can also see what’s trending, lunch recommendations, and new places that may have recently opened.”

That Foursquare’s search engine is gaining so much screen real estate signals how important Explore is becoming to the company. Not long ago, it was Foursquare’s check-in button that was arguably the most important part of the app; now, its search box will likely attract the most thumb clicking. “I don’t think this means that check-ins aren’t valuable–I think it’s still really important obviously for us to know where you are and what you like in order for us to provide those really relevant recommendations,” Hogue says. “But search is becoming an important part of the app.”

Discovery is just as important in this rethought experience. “I think there’s something to be said about search that’s anticipating your needs,” Hogue adds. “We’re trying to push out things like lunch recommendations to you at 11 a.m. when you’re starting to think about lunch, without you having to ask for them. That type of anticipation is a really powerful way for search to work.”

It also has serious potential value. And with Foursquare reportedly looking to raise a new round of funding–and investors forever looking for new streams of revenue–Foursquare’s redesigned app is a step in the right direction.


About the author

Austin Carr writes about design and technology for Fast Company magazine.