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Foursquare's updated iPhone app takes on Yelp, adds hidden turbo check-in feature

Foursquare's newly updated iPhone app signals a change for the location-based social networking service that will help better position it against Yelp, and also debuts a handy hidden feature that allows power users to check in to locations more quickly.

Released Thursday as a free download from the App Store, Foursquare version 5.5 expands the functionality of the application's Explore pane with new tools to help users discover and compare nearby establishments on the fly.

"Whether your go-to brunch spot is too crowded, or you’re walking around looking for dinner options after a movie, it’s great to be able to find places quickly," the company said. "We’ve updated Explore to show you more recommendations on a single screen, so you can compare results and make decisions faster."

By default, the Explore tab gives users a list of nearby restaurants, but more can be found by tapping the search icon in the upper left. There, users can search for a specific business name, or browse based on categories such as coffee, nightlife, arts and shopping.

The updated user interface also makes better use of rating and also features top suggestions for places in the area, along with highlights like new spots and places that are trending.

The changes put the Manhattan-based startup in direct competition with Yelp, which for years has been the go-to standard for people looking for user reviews of nearby businesses and restaurants.

Unlike Yelp, which explicitly requests user input, Foursquare's latest expansion crowd sources its data in a more unique way. Recommended businesses and ratings are based on a proprietary algorithm that takes into account check-ins, tip sentiment, and 'likes' for a particular establishment.

The additions could potentially be part of Apple's proprietary iOS Maps application in the future, if a rumor from late last year proves accurate. It was said in December that Foursquare was in preliminary talks with Apple to integrate some of the social network's data into iOS Maps to enhance the maligned product.

Beyond the expanded recommendation functionality, Foursquare's latest iPhone app update also adds a hidden feature that was revealed to AppleInsider: "Turbo Check-In."

Previously, users had to select an establishment, then on the next screen select the "Check In" button. But an unadvertised feature of the new software update allows users to simply hold their finger on a point of interest to automatically check in without the additional taps (see video above).

Foursquare has seen explosive growth in recent years, surging from 6 million users in January of 2011 to now more than 30 million people. With their iPhone, users can check in to their current locations, and the shared data allows Foursquare to provide personalized recommendations.