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How Foursquare accurately predicted how many new iPhones Apple would sell

Apple sells a lot of iPhones every year, particularly during the opening weekend of sales for a new model.

With this year’s iPhone 6S, Wall Street analysts predicted that Apple would sell around 12 million new iPhones during its launch weekend. More hopeful estimates pegged sales somewhere between 12 and 13 million.

Foursquare, an app that helps people find places to visit, also made a prediction — the company said Apple would sell between 13 and 15 million new iPhones during its launch weekend.

And Foursquare was right: On Monday, Apple announced record iPhone sales for the 6S to the tune of 13 million.

How did Foursquare, an app that’s more commonly associated with finding a place to eat dinner rather than perform market research, nail how many new iPhones Apple would sell?

It mined foot traffic data from its millions of users to determine how many people would visit Apple stores around the world. To date, Foursquare claims to have logged 7 billion check-ins from users at over 65 million places around the world.

Foursquare and Swarm appiTunesThe main Foursquare app finds places for you to visit, while its standalone Swarm app lets you connect with friends around you.

“At Foursquare, we have access to the world’s largest database of information on the foot traffic of people around the globe,” Foursquare’s Jeff Glueck wrote in a Medium post last Thursday, the day before Apple started selling the iPhone 6S. “This is a seriously powerful dataset, and every day it grows stronger, more accurate and more insightful about human behaviour.”

To make its prediction, Foursquare examined foot traffic at Apple stores leading up to the launch weekend of the iPhone 5, 5S, and 6. It was able to do this because its app tracks users’ locations to deliver tips based on places they visit (“Near the East Village? Try the fried chicken sandwich at Momofuku”) and analysed its findings alongside Apple’s public sales data.

1 tMvRSHrP5FIUX10tHC77bQFoursquareiPhone sales match up quite nicely to the influx in foot traffic to Apple stores logged by Foursquare over the years.

“For each launch, visits to the Apple stores spike in the week leading to launch day with a major spike on launch day and shortly thereafter,” wrote Glueck. “Over the last three years, foot traffic has increased by 200 to 300 per cent on launch days over the average Friday.”

By extrapolating the trend into the future, Foursquare predicted that foot traffic to Apple stores would increase by 360% vs. a typical Friday. That led it to predict that 13-15 million iPhones sold that weekend.

Now if only Foursquare could find a way to predict the winning lottery numbers.

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