Since its beginning Gowalla has been locked in a battle with Foursquare for the check-in app market. To their credit, Gowalla is working hard to differentiate itself from Foursquare and their latest attempt at doing so is by focusing on being a location guide rather than a check-in app. You will still be able to check-in using Gowalla, but the changes in the app make it likely you will use it more to decide where you want to go before you actually arrive at a location to check-in.
When you start the latest version of Gowalla on an Android phone you see all of the guides in Gowalla, which is a compilation of recommendations for a specific location. You see guides recommended near your location, which you can think of as a source of ideas for trips near your location.
If you are in a city like me for which Gowalla does not have a guide you can still tap Nearby Spots & Lists to see recommended spots near your location. While the guides are specifically compiled by Gowalla, the Nearby Spots & Lists are generated by Gowalla users who have checked in near your location. Lists is a collection of location bookmarks shared by other Gowalla users near your location. Booksmarks is a list of your favorite locations, which you can use as a quick way to check-in to locations that you frequently visit.
One problem that I have with using Gowalla as a guide is that it has no integration with Android’s navigation or mapping capabilities. Whenever you tap on a spot you see a snippet of a map, some photos taken at the location, and comments posted by people who visited the spot. If you tap the map snippet you a full screen version of the location on a Google Map, with a push pin of the location on the map.
I tap the push pin expecting a pop-up menu of options, including directions and/or navigation, or at least the street address of the location, and none of that information appears. Instead, all you see at the bottom of the screen is the name of the location. All location guide apps on today’s smartphones must integrate with the navigational and mapping features of the phone so that users can get directions to the location.
Basically, Gowalla is trying to be more like Google Places, but is not providing the basic features that enable it be a good alternative to Places. While Places provides much more information than Gowalla, I think Gowalla is easier to use and more graphically appealing, not to mention that it has a lead over Places and Google+ for check-ins. Despite the navigation limitation, I still think Gowalla is doing the right thing by being different from Foursquare and therefore is worth keeping on my phone.