September 12, 2013, 11:23 AM

More smartphone owners rely on location-based services, but fewer check in

74% of smartphone owners use a location-based service, Pew says.

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Most smartphone owners use their devices in connection with their location to get information or offers, but the fad of “checking in” at restaurants and bars to let friends know you’re there seems to be fading, suggests a report released today by the Pew Research Center, which conducts surveys on Internet-related topics.

74% of U.S. smartphone owners, those 18 and older, told Pew in a May 2013 survey that they have used their phones to get directions or for other purposes related to their location, such as setting up a reminder to buy milk next time they’re near a grocery store. That’s up from 55% in May 2011 and steady with 74% in a February 2012 survey. However, Pew notes, the continued growth in the number of U.S. consumers with web-enabled smartphones means 45% of U.S. adults had used a location-based service as of May 2013, up from 41% in February 2012.

However, “checking in” to let friends know your location—made popular initially by Foursquare and later copied by the Facebook and Google Plus social networks and others—is losing favor. Only 12% in the latest survey say they ever use a service like Foursquare to inform friends of their location, down from 18% February 2012 and the same as the 12% who said so in May 2011.

“Taken together, these trends show the ascent of location awareness and the role it might play in the life of users—and the technology companies that are scrambling to provide more alert-style applications that tell people who and what is near them,” writes Kathryn Zickuhr, author of the report entitled “Location-Based Services.”

Consumer familiarity with location-based service has implications for merchants. 15% of retailers offer location-based mobile apps, according to a survey early this year by consulting firm Ltd. and IBM Tealeaf, a provider of technology for improving customer experience on e-commerce sites. And one in five consumers said in a survey this year by that they would respond to offers from nearby stores that they receive via their mobile phones.

While smartphone owners are increasingly familiar with how to use of their location to get information, Zickuhr notes that previous Pew surveys also show that many consumers have turned off location-tracking features due to privacy concerns. That includes 46% of teenagers who use mobile apps who said in a September 2012 survey that they had turned off location tracking for fear other people or companies would access that information. In April 2012, 35% of adult cell phone users said they had turned off location tracking on their phone.

The current survey also showed an increase in another behavior: consumers tagging their posts to social networks with their location. In the latest survey, 30% of adult social media users said they had set up at least one of their social network accounts to include their location, up from 14% who had ever done this in 2011.

The Pew report is based on a survey conducted by Princeton Survey Research Association International from April 17 to May 19, 2013. The firm contacted 2,252 U.S. adults aged 18 and above by landline phone and mobile phone, and conducted interviews in Spanish as well as English.

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