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Is it game over for mobile check-ins?

With Gowalla and Loopt going the way of the Dodo and foursquare planning a revamp with more of a focus on providing relevant content, mobile check-in applications might be on their way out. 

When mobile check-ins arrived on the scene a couple of years, there was significant fanfare about the possibility to build loyalty. While foursquare continues to be used by major marketers for unique mobile engagement efforts, the company?s decision to revamp the app as well as the acquisition of and imminent shutting down of both Gowalla and Loopt suggest that the broader promise of standalone mobile check-in apps has not been fulfilled.

?The consolidation in the check-in space is not a surprise,? said Josh Martin, director of app research for the global wireless practice at Strategy Analytics, Newton, MA.

?Ultimately though, the services never evolved far enough to become independent offerings,? he said. ?Instead, the check-in was more a feature of a service than a service unto itself.

?For anyone interested in check-ins integrating the capability into an app to track user loyalty and understand metrics associated with shoppers/users is interesting but as we said long ago the check-in could be the next loyalty card. It is not going to be the next Facebook.?

Foursquare did not respond to a request for comment by the press deadline.

Infrequent use
Foursquare cofounder Naveen Selvadurai recently announced he is leaving the company after three years.

Additionally, the company is reportedly revamping its apps to focus more on content consumption after noticing that many users are not checking in but instead turning to other features on the app. The change was reportedly announced by CEO Dennis Crowley at the recent South by Southwest conference in Austin, TX.

In addition to check-ins, Foursquare will increasingly focus on how to leverage the data it has acquired about users to provide relevant information. In February, foursquare launched Explore, which provides information about places that users? friends have visited.

Foursqure is not the only check-in app in flux.

Gowalla was acquired by Facebook late last year and the social networking giant recently announced it would shut down Gowalla as it looks to integrate geolocation throughout its offerings.

At one point, it was expected that Facebook would eventually play a bigger role in check-ins but that has failed to happen. Facebook recently ended its Places and Deals features although it is still expected to make location a key feature going forward.

Just last week, Green Dot said it would acquire check-in app Loopt to enhance its prepaid debit card offerings and will eventually shut down Loopt.

Broader location services
One of the challenges faced by check-in apps are questions around their ability to keep users coming back repeatedly.

Foursquare has tried to address this with features such as badges and other rewards for users who check-in regularly at certain places.

However, a recent report from Forrester Research shows that while consumer awareness of geolocation apps has risen in the past couple of years, the percentage of users and the frequency of use has remained about the same. Approximately 30 percent of consumers are familiar with these apps but only 1 percent use them at least once a month and 2 percent use them less than once a month, according to Forrester.

Another challenge check-in apps are facing in increasing competition as location-based services become a more integral part of a growing number of offerings in the mobile space.

For example, Twitter now posts locations from mobile tweets, Google Latitude offers check-in features and Apple has the Find My Friends app.

Also, retailers are increasingly integrating check-in capabilities directly into their own branded mobile apps.

There is sound reason behind the need for geolocation apps. Many consumers are interested in sharing their whereabouts with a select group of friends while marketers view being able to target users based on their location as a key targeting method for increasingly the relevancy of their marketing.

Forrester?s research shows that all online adults are increasingly using location based features on mobile devices and expects that attempts to enhance check-in apps to be more context-relevant and social could provide greater use and better opportunities for marketers.

However, it appears that increasingly check-ins will not be a standalone feature but part of a more robust offering either from third-party mobile services or from branded offerings.

"Beyond this niche apps, Forrester believes a layer of location is seeping into other digital experiences, including more general purpose social networks like Facebook and other applications such as the retail app shopkick," the report said. "We predict that location will no longer be a specialized services but, rather, embedded into all mobile activities, making location-based marketing a key tactic for marketing in the future."

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York