Overview: Location-based services
The rise of smartphones has brought real-time location data into many aspects of Americans’ lives. Some mobile services use the smartphone’s location to offer directions, targeted recommendations, or other location-specific information to the user. Other services incorporate a location “layer” into other types of functions, while still others exist specifically to share the user’s location with friends or the general public.
To date, our surveys have tracked two types of location-based services: those that use people’s whereabouts to provide location-targeted information such as directions or recommendations, and geosocial services that let users “check in” to certain locations or share their location with friends. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to delineate these two categories, as social media services incorporate location as an element of user activity and as location-centric services embrace varying degrees of social functionality.
Foursquare, a geosocial service that originally focused on location-sharing and points earned through “checking in” to locations, is now beginning to de-emphasize its system of points, badges, and social location-sharing. Instead, it is mining its previous check-in data to offer real-time location-triggered suggestions that incorporate friends’ and other users’ activities and recommendations. On its blog, Foursquare offered examples of the new approach, such as sending a user a note about a “can’t miss dish on the menu” when she arrives at a new restaurant, or suggesting “a few places that your friends love” in a new neighborhood or city.
Meanwhile, social media services like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have added an optional location layer (in many cases built on Foursquare’s API) so that users can show where they are when they post material on the sites. And many information-focused services, from activity-tracking apps to rating sites such as Yelp, incorporate location-sharing and other social aspects as well.
As of May 2013:
- Some 74% of adult smartphone owners get directions or other information based on their current location. This works out to 45% of all adults.
- Some 12% of smartphone owners use a geosocial service such as Foursquare to “check in” to certain locations or share their location with friends. This works out to 7% of all adults.
Location-based information services
Many web services and apps incorporate a user’s location in order to offer relevant information. For instance, driving directions may rely on the user’s location to offer detailed turn-by-turn directions to another location, or a to-do list app might offer “geo-fenced” alerts, such as reminding the user to buy milk when she is near a grocery store.
Almost three-quarters (74%) of smartphone owners say they use their phone to get directions or other information related to a location where they happen to be. This percentage has held steady in the past year, but the increasing popularity of smartphones means that among all adults, the proportion who say they access location-based information has risen from 41% in 2012 to 45% in May 2013.
Smartphone users under age 50 are significantly more likely to say they get location-based directions and information than older smartphone users, and college graduates are more likely to do this than adults who only completed high school. There were no statistically significant differences among smartphone owners by gender, race or ethnicity, household income, or community type.
These adoption patterns are generally similar to those we found in early 2012, though at that time whites were also more likely to use these services than African Americans, and adults in higher-income households were more likely to use these services than those in lower-income households.
As of May 2013, 12% of smartphone owners use geosocial services such as Foursquare to “check in” to a certain location or share their location with friends. This is down from 18% of smartphone owners in February 2012. For all adults, this represents a change from 10% in 2012 to 7% in 2013.
There are few clear differences in geosocial use between demographic groups, though Hispanic smartphone users are significantly more likely to use geosocial services than whites or blacks, and suburban adults are more likely to use these services than rural adults.
Finally, there were no statistically significant differences in geosocial service use among smartphone owners by gender or educational attainment.
Which geosocial services people use
For the first time, we also asked users of geosocial or “check-in” services which location services they use. We found that a plurality of geosocial users (39%) say they use Facebook, while almost one in five (18%) say they use Foursquare, and 14% say they use Google Plus; several other services were mentioned as well, such as Instagram and Yelp.