What's Apple Doing With Foursquare?

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Apple's (AAPL) "Mr. Fix-It," the guy responsible for iTunes and tweaking MobileMe so it was capable of becoming iCloud, has recently been given a promotion by CEO Tim Cook. In the reorganization that sent Scott Forstall packing, Eddy Cue gained responsibility for fixing Apple Maps as well as Siri.

So I pay attention when Eddy Cue says or tweets something.

He's not that active a tweeter, actually. Before a few days ago, the last time Cue tweeted was after the Heat beat the Thunder to win the NBA title in June. And before that, the only time he tweeted was to promote some new piece of music he was listening to on iTunes, using the now defunct Apple-made Ping service.

Well, in the last week he's tweeted twice on consecutive days. Both were Foursquare check-ins: one at Apple's Cupertino headquarters on Wednesday and the second at Madison Square Garden the next day to watch the Lakers and Knicks play.

Does this mean anything? I think so. It's quite likely Apple's looking to buy Foursquare.

Cue has had his hands on quite a few important Apple acquisitions over the years, including buying Lala from Bill Nguyen. That service eventually grew into iTunes Match and other parts of iCloud.

He's probably the Apple executive most familiar with social networks given his work with Ping and now with Siri and Maps.

Foursquare naturally fits into both of those latter Apple services. They are also going to be important to layer over any commerce services that Apple integrates with its Maps or Siri services. There have been numerous rumors that the next version of iPhone -- 5S -- to be launched in six months, will have near-field communication. That would most certainly be an add-on to Apple's brand-new PassBook offering for purchases and brand loyalty cards.

Although many have criticized Foursquare for having limited revenue generation potential in a crowded space, it has an enormous amount of local merchant data. In fact, this knowledge base is often piggy-backed on by other start-ups who don't want to re-create the wheel. Apple would be interested in them for that data and what Apple could do with it -- not for whatever revenue Foursquare is generating from that today.

Foursquare has been moving away from the personal check-in to being known as a service that tells you where your friends are, what they're doing, and giving you suggestions for where you can spend your money. All those things are very interesting for Apple -- especially remembering that Apple is going to be making a big push to get in your car as well in the coming years.

Apple already has a good partnership with Yelp ( YELP), but I don't see why buying Foursquare would threaten that.

Eddy Cue is the guy at Apple who will make the call on whether he wants to own this asset or not.

It is interesting that he's starting to use the service himself. Maybe he's just kicking the tires. But to try it out on a Wednesday at Apple and then the next day across the country in the same town as where Foursquare is based? I would guess discussions are already far along the tracks.

We'll see.

At the time of publication, the author was long AAPL.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

Eric Jackson is founder and Managing Member of Ironfire Capital and the general partner and investment manager of Ironfire Capital US Fund LP and Ironfire Capital International Fund, Ltd. In January 2007, Jackson started the world's first Internet-based campaign to increase shareholder value at Yahoo!, leading to a change in CEOs in 2007. He also spoke out in favor of Yahoo!'s accepting Microsoft's buyout offer in 2008. Global Proxy Watch named Jackson as one of its 10 "Stars" who positively influenced international corporate governance and shareowner value in 2007.

Prior to founding Ironfire Capital, Jackson was President and CEO of Jackson Leadership Systems, Inc., a leadership, strategy, and governance consulting firm. He completed his Ph.D. in the Management Department at the Columbia University Graduate School of Business in New York, with a specialization in Strategic Management and Corporate Governance, and holds a B.A. from McGill University.

He was previously Vice President of Strategy and Business Development at VoiceGenie Technologies, a software firm now owned by Alcatel-Lucent. In 2004, Jackson founded the Young Patrons' Circle at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, which is now the second-largest social and philanthropic group of its kind in North America, raising $500,000 annually for the museum. You can follow Jackson on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ericjackson or @ericjackson.

You can contact Eric by emailing him at eric.jackson@thestreet.com.

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