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Location Battle, Round 2: Foursquare and Gowalla both update iPhone apps!

In this corner, with a big head start, a huge userbase, and tons of features, it's ... Foursquare! In this corner, with millions of dollars in funding and a great-looking new design ... Gowalla!

By now, most people know that Gowalla and Foursquare have been going blow-for-blow in the location-based social gaming fight. Despite entries from Google, Yelp, and (soon) Facebook, these two services have the strongest iPhone apps out there right now. But if you're only going to sign up for one, which one should you pick?

Both Gowalla and Foursquare have their plusses and minuses, so read on for a comparison of their new iPhone apps (which both updated on Tuesday ... ooh, drama!) and decide for yourself.

Gowalla

Although Gowalla is the (relatively) new kid on the block, it's actually more fun than Foursquare in a lot of ways. The design is gorgeous, and you can pick up and drop various objects when you check in at a location. This aspect of Gowalla makes it more like an actual game than Foursquare.

Signing up and finding friends is a snap with Gowalla, as it lets you search your address book and a bunch of other social services to add people you know. It also seems to have a larger location database than Foursquare. For example, Foursquare has the zoo in my city, while Gowalla has each individual exhibit.

Gowalla also includes a "trips" feature that Foursquare doesn't have. You can set up lists of locations for your friends to visit. Trips really aren't that big a deal, and they don't seem to be publicly searchable (yet?), but they're good for setting up pub crawls and other group events.

Gowalla doesn't have "mayors," or any kind of comprehensive leaderboard. It does have a leaderboard for each individual location, and it offers the ability to see who else has checked in there, viewed as a sort of activity screen. The main drawback of Gowalla is something you might see as an advantage: there's GPS policing, so you can't "cheat" by checking in at a location when you're not nearby. The only problem is that you have to remember to check in when you're within roughly 70 yards of the spot, or you lose your chance.

On the other hand, the GPS for Gowalla seems to be a lot more precise than Foursquare's. During my test run, I could literally watch the distance to my destination count down as I approached. Gowalla also told me which direction I should be walking, and showed a mini-map to guide me. User experience knockout!

Foursquare's not down for the count yet, though ...

Foursquare

I think of Foursquare as the more social of the two apps. When I want to find my friends for a night out, I turn here instead of Gowalla. The slick-looking recent update adds a contact list, which makes locating your friends a snap, even if you have tons of them.

Foursquare's game aspects don't run as deep as Gowalla's. You can become the mayor of a location by checking in there more often than anyone else, and earn badges by visiting specific types of locations. Foursquare has always placed emphasis on encouraging people to explore cities, rather than taking the "game" angle. A lot of venues have started offering specials to Foursquare players, especially repeat visitors and mayors. If you're looking to use a location app to facilitate real-life social interaction, this is the app for you.

You can also read and write "tips" about the venues you visit. I've seen everything from menu recommendations to the all-important bathroom keycode posted as Foursquare tips. Especially in larger cities, tips are an invaluable aspect of the Foursquare experience.

Who Wins?

That depends on you. If you're looking for a social game, emphasis on the GAME, you're going to want to check out Gowalla. If you're looking for a social game that emphasizes the SOCIAL, you want Foursquare.

Of course, looks matter, too! Check out our gallery of the newly-updated Foursquare and Gowalla iPhone apps, and make the call yourself.

Gowalla versus Foursquare: who rules location on the iPhone?

Tags: checkin, features, foursquare, gowalla, iphone, location, location-based, reviews, SocialNetworking

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