Foursquare’s new Swarm app will entertain a segment of Foursquare’s user base, but adds some complexity to what has been a simplified mobile experience.
Some people like variety and cherish the idea that a user can be presented with many choices all at once, while others think that too much of anything is a terrible idea. Take Samsung’s Galaxy S line, for example: there are a number of iPhone users who review Samsung smartphones and don’t seem to like them. iPhone users have grown accustomed to a main screen, few settings options, and a basic camera that, although excellent, doesn’t leave much room for customization. iPhone users love the idea that when they unwrap their iPhone for the first time, they have more memory storage than say, a Galaxy S user. iPhone users prefer to have memory space to download the apps they want – without Samsung’s software additions. They don’t want Samsung’s software, and they don’t need it. One main iPhone screen (not several pages, as you’ll find exist on a Samsung screen) works just fine for them.
At the same time, however, there are some Galaxy users who love Samsung’s software additions and think that the company is moving in the right direction with its software ambitions. The reason that consumers are split over phone preferences concerns the idea that sometimes, what the company achieves (or doesn’t achieve, take your pick) is in the eye of the beholder – the consumer on the other side of the smartphone display.
Facebook unveiled a Nearby Friends feature sometime ago within Facebook’s core app, but Foursquare decided to chart a different course: the company has now split its location-checking services off from its core Foursquare app by way of Swarm. Swarm is designed to do what Facebook’s Nearby Friends app does: it helps you find friends that are in a proximate location, contact them, and make plans to get together if the time is right. Like Facebook, Foursquare doesn’t want you to think that your privacy will be invaded – so don’t worry about someone walking in on your marriage proposal to your girlfriend or your business dinner with a coworker.
As with anything, there are those who approve the decision and those who don’t. There are, however, some factors to ponder as one comes to settle on whether or not Foursquare’s decision is beneficial or detrimental. First, there are a number of app companies today that are “unbundling” their services to offer users more of a fresh mobile experience. Facebook didn’t introduce a new Nearby Friends app yet, but something tells me that the feature’s popularity may inspire a standalone app at some point in the future – much like Facebook’s commitment to Facebook Messenger. Google decided recently to take its features within Google Drive and create three new apps: Google Docs, Google Sheets, and Google Slides. Granted, Google Drive is a fine app for these things, but Google seems to believe that giving you three apps (as oppose to tight app integration) may encourage you to use its services more than you have in the past.
Aside from the fact that “everyone’s doing it these days,” there are pros and cons behind the rising mobile trend of app division.
What’s so good about app division?
What’s so wonderful about app division, you ask? In a word, user-friendliness. Think about Facebook’s Nearby Friends feature. I read a number of tech sites that explained how to get to the feature on the iPhone, but few explained how to access the feature from an Android smartphone. I had to have an entire tour of Facebook to find a feature on my Nexus 5 and, when I did, I discovered that iOS and Android have somewhat different Facebook app designs. This doesn’t hurt, but it seems to complicate things for users of both operating systems. I use both Android and iOS on a daily basis.
App division does, however, increase user experience. If a feature is buried beneath a stack of other features, will the user ever enjoy the experience? No. This is the reason why most high-end Android smartphones come with your camera, phone, messaging, and contacts apps on the main screen. Samsung was once accused of having an experience that was too difficult for first-time users, so the company created an “Easy Mode” to help newcomers adjust to its TouchWiz UI. The goal of mobile is user-friendliness. Similar to what Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said this week at F8, if users don’t trust an app, they won’t use it. Part of the trust factor concerns an ease-of-use experience. If a user thinks the app is too complex, he or she will likely go to the app page, read the description, and search for an easier app to download.
In the same way, Foursquare doesn’t want to lose your business to Facebook. Facebook may not have made the wisest decision to place its Nearby Friends feature in the core Facebook app, but Foursquare has learned from Facebook’s mistake. Its new Swarm app won’t overwhelm the user like Nearby Friends may overwhelm most Facebook users who hardly know where their settings are in the core social media app.
There is another benefit to app division: users can now create a more customized experience than ever before. An individual who wants to use Foursquare’s new Swarm app but doesn’t necessarily care for the core Foursquare app can decide to delete the core app and stick with the Swarm app, only. Now, users can choose between the apps they want with the features they want, leaving the apps with features they don’t. Users often download apps that they use for a short period of time (and then abandon), but Foursquare’s new experience may ensure that its users return to the app day in and day out. The last thing you want to do is create a mobile app that quickly becomes irrelevant. User-friendliness is an essential factor in the world of mobile.
What’s so bad about app division?
Okay – with every good benefit comes a terrible drawback, and Foursquare, like Facebook, will have to face future criticism with its eyes wide open. App division, ironically, while simplifying user experience, complicates user experience, as well. Now that Foursquare has created Swarm, Foursquare users who’ve adjusted to one app will now have two apps to download and install: Foursquare’s core app for excellent leisure locations as well as Swarm. If someone is a new user to Foursquare this year and has yet to hear about Swarm, what will his or her experience be? The new user will download Foursquare (after hearing about this amazing app for so long), thinking that they’ll get to perform location services in the app. Later, they’ll find out about another app they have to download in order to access their friends’ proximities. In other words, mobile users will now have to download an additional app (or two apps, for first-time users) to have the entire Foursquare experience.
App division brings divided services for mobile users, but it also consumes more space on a smartphone or tablet. Let’s talk about Foursquare’s rival, Facebook: Facebook has the core Facebook app as well as Facebook Messenger. If it decides to remove the Nearby Friends feature from the core app and make it a standalone, Facebook will then have three apps that comprise all of its services. All three apps have a certain amount of memory they consume when downloaded. It may not hurt much, but it will hurt users in the end.
Google now offers its services in four apps (Google Drive, Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Slides) not to mention other services such as Google Hangouts, Google Keep, QuickOffice, Google Maps, YouTube, Google +, Google + photos, Google Camera, Feedly, and then the Play Store, Play Movies, and Play Music apps. Foursquare has yet to become as “app-divided” as Google, but who’s to say that the company won’t stretch its wings at some point in the future? One app may divide into two, but who’s to stop two apps from dividing into four, or four into sixteen – and so on? Of course, infinite regress doesn’t exist, but the point of this illustration is to show that app division for the sake of user-friendliness can (and will) spiral out of control. Each new app requires future updates, which will consume more and more of the user’s internal memory storage. With more apps and additional app updates, users will see more of their memory storage gobbled away – all for the sake of user-friendliness.
In short, app division provides some benefit for the user, but mobile companies benefit most. App division allows them to take care of bug fixes and enhancements in a faster fashion – something that may trump whether or not you’re aware of the two-app, three-app, or multi-app mobile experience. Snapchat, a Foursquare rival, seems to disagree with the app-division approach, as it has bundled both text messaging and video chats into its standalone Snapchat app.
What do you think? Is Foursquare on to something with its app split and new Swarm app, or is this new app division trend something of a mobile app war between social media companies?