When Two Apps Are Simpler Than One

If there’s one entrepreneurial mantra that Steve Jobs taught us, it’s this: Simplify!

Complex products fail. The complex MySpace lost to the simple Facebook. The simplicity of Snapchat, Instagram and Dropbox transformed them into world-class products. Tumblr famously cut a feature when it added a new one, always keeping the interface clean as hell.

Foursquare, in its current iteration, isn’t simple. It has multiple functions. Is it a social check-in app? Is it a restaurant search app? Is it a location discovery app? Frankly, I didn’t know, and it turned me off from using it as much as I could have. I haven’t used its discovery features as much as I should have. I keep being told its discovery mechanisms are amazing.

That’s why I love the move Dennis Crowley and the Foursquare team made yesterday. They split Foursquare into two apps: Foursquare and Swarm. Foursquare is the discovery portion, while Swarm focuses entirely on the social check-in aspect. It even has a feature I’ve wanted for a while, which is the ability to check into a general location, like a neighborhood.

More importantly though, Foursquare’s core app is now all about local discovery and search. It won’t be hindered by the complexities of having users go through two, three or even four different flows. It makes Foursquare more directly competitive with Yelp. And while I have lots of great friends at Yelp, and I quite love the product and how useful it’s been in my life, competition is always a good thing for sparking new innovation.

Splitting the apps into two makes the user experience far simpler for both sets of users. I suspect Silicon Valley will quickly be swarming, while Foursquare will make faster inroads in cities and with local businesses. If Swarm succeeds, Foursquare can spin it off or set up two teams. If it fails, it won’t kill Foursquare.

Sometimes simplifying means taking out lots of features. And sometimes two apps are simpler than one.

P.S. — While we are at it, can I just say I love how The Verge tells stories? It’s absolutely one of my favorite news sites.

Screenshot via The Verge.