Why Google Latitude Never Really Caught On

The Latitude application was released as Google’s answer to the ‘check-in’ craze about two years ago. It comes packaged with most Android phones, and everyone with a Google account is automatically a member. However, despite millions of people having this application on their devices, I’ve never seen people ask for Google addresses so they can ‘add you on Latitude’.

There is rarely talk about it online either, and the entire project seems to be on its way out with so many competitors being far more popular. But why?

Nobody Wants to Share That

I’ve never understood the whole check-in craze. Besides opening yourself up to special deals at coffee shops, or adding the very slim possibility that someone you know will burst in off the street to say hello, you gain nothing from it. All check-ins seem to do is act as free advertisement for the place you are checking into (if published to Facebook, say).

I can see why it is occasionally useful on social networking sites when you want to show people where you are, perhaps to aid them finding a meeting point. Other than that, I don’t understand why anyone would want to tell dozens of other people their every move.

Several Other Services Already Exist

The biggest reason Latitude hasn’t got widespread usage is that Facebook’s check-ins update your location history, and let you tell your friends what you are up to. Latitude updates your location, but that’s it. Why would people want to use Latitude when far more popular services (which your friends are therefore likely to already have) are beckoning you to join them?

Something else that makes Latitude feel like a toy instead of a useful program is that it’s nothing more than an overlay for Google Maps. It isn’t really an application or service within itself. Although other location services also use Google Maps, most offer more than that – Foursquare also lets you become a Mayor of a venue, or earn trophies, for example: a small incentive to keep on using it. Latitude offers no reward of any kind.

Latitude is nothing more than an overlay.

It Stops White Lies

Latitude’s regular automated check-in may seem like a neat feature at first, but it certainly welcomes problems. Put yourself in the shoes of a smartphone user who has gone to buy his wife some jewellery. He has told her a little white lie, perhaps that he has gone to the pub with his friends for an hour or two, when in fact he is roaming around jewellery shops to find something lovely for his wife. The wife hops on her phone or tablet while he is out and sees that his location has been updated far away from where he said he would be. I’m sure you can imagine the situation that would arise.

You’re probably sitting there thinking that if they cared that much about not getting caught they should have turned Latitude off. Well yes, they should have done, but it is easy to forget about things running in the background – especially when there are no notifications. Facebook and Foursquare requiring manual check-in may seem a bit laborious, but it prevents misunderstandings. An automatic check-in feature may seem snazzy, but I’ve found that most automated features on smartphones have a habit of coming back to bite me later.

Final Thoughts

Besides allowing you to see your friends (who have also enabled Latitude) on a map, this application doesn’t do anything. Facebook lets you add a statement to your check-in, as does Foursquare, but Latitude calls this a status update, which is separate from the actual check in.

I can’t think of any good use for Latitude, and it seems to be a toy of an application because of this. It may be a cool idea but serves no real purpose. Due to this it was never widely taken up, and I expect it is on its way out, either to stagnate or to be pulled by Google and replaced with something else.