Cool iPhone 3G Apps, Radical Local/Mobile Search

Posted in Local Search, Mobile Search

[Editor’s note: This post is our continued dissemination of content from this week’s  SearchEngineStrategies San Jose search marketing conference, where aimClear had 3 correspondents providing our readers notes and articles. The following is from our friend and blogger-associate, Charlene Jaszewski:]

Mobile and Local are tied at the hip, but up until recently the tools weren’t up to the task. But with advent of the iPhone however, all that is changing.

Besides making iPhone a great productivity tool (not to mention GORGEOUS eye candy), Apple has opened up third party application development.

This SES San Jose session demo-ed a few of the existing and up-and-coming applications taking advantage not only of local search, but also of the iPhone’s unique capabilities.

The panel was moderated by Michael Boland, Senior Analyst of the The Kelsey Group and the speakers were: Ethan Lowry, Co-founder, UrbanSpoon, Scott Dunlap, CEO, NearbyNow, Ryan Sarver, Director of Consumer Products, Skyhook Wireless, Siva V. Kumar, Founder & CEO, TheFind.com, Sonia McFarland & Head of Business Development, Yelp.

The iPhone is awesome.
I have been a Mac girl from way back in the 80s in high school and I’ve been an iPhone convert from the beginning.

The iPhone [in author’s opinion] is THE best smart phone that exists, for several reasons – one of which is “true web browsing.” There’s no browser emulator – like Blazer on my old Sprint Treo. I’m a chronic Googler and after a few desperate attempts I never touched Blazer again. Now, with my iPhone there are days when I don’t even open my computer. I make constant use of Google maps to orient myself in my new home of New York.

I should note to users who may not be familiar with iPhone that there is a difference between using the iPhone to view a website that has been “optimized” for the iPhone, and downloading and using an iPhone app. For example, urbanspoon.com has an iPhone-optimized website if you view it using your iPhone. However, it lacks the cool iPhone-specific functionality I’ll talk about later if you don’t use the iPhone APPLICATION (which is free!)

The big plus of the iPhone is: it knows where it is. Once you know where you are, you have a reference point to find other things. Local stores want to tell your iPhone where they are. New applications are allowing them to do that.

But first, what is Geo-Location?
Geo-location is a fancy word for locating where you are on the planet.

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you know that the new iPhone 3G came out in July. The big deal about it is that it is running on the 3G network, and has GPS functionality. Global Satellite Positioning = GPS. The iPhone talks to satellites to find out where it is. Now, other phones had had GPS before (Nokia), but the rest of the hardware wasn’t…well, it wasn’t the iPhone.

GPS is great, but unfortunately, it can be slow (can take a minute or more to “boot up”) and it doesn’t work everywhere (if you are in a dense urban location tall buildings make it hard to get a lock on you). Happily, the iPhone has dual mode functionality – where GPS doesn’t work, it uses wi-fi positioning, based on SkyHook technology. Ryan Sarver from SkyHook talked about the technology behind SkyHook.

SkyHook technology, around since 2005 does one thing: produces location latitude and longitude from wi-fi positioning.

Wi-fi positioning is analogous to GPS. Wi-fi positioning makes use of wireless access points for reference. You know when you turn on your computer and you now see all those wireless networks that are locked so you can’t hop onto them? SkyHook doesn’t need to get “on” to the wi-fit network – it just uses their presence to help triangulate your position. It’s faster than GPS (can locate in a quarter of a second) and it’s pretty darn accurate too (within 20-30 meters).

SkyHook employees are out in their cars finding wi-fi access points in the US, Europe, and Asia. There are about 56 million of them at present (and increasing all the time). Trouble is, SkyHook still needs density for the wi-fi positioning to work (how dense?) It works best in urban areas.  He then showed a map of Manhattan, with red dots showing every wi-fi access point they’d mapped. I swear it looked like a swarm of ants.

So wi-fi positioning works great for iPhone in urban areas, what about rural? Well, that’s where GPS comes in. GPS is great at finding you in wide-open areas. So, iPhone has you covered no matter where you are (and you don’t to know anything about this underlying technology either, iPhone uses whatever technology is the fastest to find itself). What do you do with all this power?

iPhone is first phone to offer true location-based services. Ryan went through the iPhone App Store and found that of the 1000 apps currently there, 30 of them are location-based.

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UrbanSpoon with Ethan Lowry

Urban Spoon – THE hot iPhone App of the Search Engine Strategies Conference!

It seems that someone at every SES session I went to was all foaming at the mouth about UrbanSpoon, so it was nice to see a proper demo of it! Ethan Lowry of Urban Spoon called Urban Spoon “the great discovery engine for local search.” Now, I’d of course narrow that to “discovery engine for food,” but who’s splitting hairs?

Urbanspoon is focused on helping people find a place to eat. They are have been around for a year and a half, they cover 70 cities, and they have a million unique visitors. They combine:

  • location
  • price
  • city/neighborhood
  • food type
  • reviews (from bloggers, and restaurant critics!)

Take a Gamble On Your Meal

Here’s how it looks, and how it works.

urbanspoon

  1. You download the app to your iPhone.
  2. You either let iPhone find the city you’re in, or you tell it where you are.
  3. On the “slot machine” you can use three spinners to input info: neighborhood, food type, and price. You can lock any/all of those spinners to narrow your results.
  4. Once you’ve set the sliders, SHAKE the iPhone (it uses the accelerometer). The spinners go just like a slot machine, and CLINK there’s your results!

Now, the result isn’t completely random. It skews to better-reviewed restaurants. Also, there’s’ only one result. If it’s not what you wanted, shake it again to get another suggestion. Obviously, if you want to be presented by a bunch of choices, this app is not for you (try YELP!) but if you like a little kinesthetic interaction when picking your meal (and cool sound effects too!), Urban Spoon is great fun.

When you get your result, all the info you need is there: phone number, map, hours, reviews.

There’s also a social networking component – you invite friends and compare recommendations.

I used it to find lunch today!

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NearbyNow Mall Navigation App/Is It Me? with Scott Dunlap

mall navigation nearbynow

Ok, now we’re getting into the killer shopping app. There are sites on the web that will tell you where you can buy a product. There are sites that can tell you where you can buy it, and whether that product is in stock at the moment.

NearbyNow’s Mall Navigation application sucks down some steroids gives you an application that shows you a mall map, sales in every store in the mall, and a product search – what stores carry that product.

If you want that product, you can click “CHECK STORE INVENTORY and a CONCIERGE (!) will call that store to not only verify that it’s ACTUALLY in stock, but tell them to hold it for you! And then sends you a cute little email or text message that tells you he’s done so. Guess who pays for this service? If you answered, “me” you would be WRONG. You get to use this service for free. Merchants pay a nice chunk of change to get iPhone-addicted people like you to get led directly to their store/merchandise – because people who own iPhones on average have 40 to 50 times more disposable income!

(see this YouTube video to see the Mall Application in action).

This application will be killer come Christmas (it is slated to be released in September/October 2008).

Is It Me?


Oh dear. Now we’re getting into a seriously addictive application. Is It Me? is an iPhone application that lets you take full advantage of the iPhone time-wasting capabilities. Let’s say you’re in a mall, and you see an awesome dress. You want feedback from a friend as to how much they like it for you. Trouble is, you are all alone. What do you do? The 2006 answer would have been, “call them on the phone and describe it to them in a futile attempt to convey its essence.” In 2007, you would send a cell phone pic to them and wait for feedback. It’s 2008, and what you can do now is, using Is It Me?, take a picture with your iPhone, send it to a group of friends, and let them VOTE ON IT.  You can also enter information on where you saw the item (store list is supplied through geo-location). That way, your friend who is envious of your style sense, can go to her local mall and get the exact same thing!! Or, even order it online! Genius.

Note, this functionality isn’t just for clothes, I’m sure lots of folks are going to be using it for, “is this guy hot??”

Note that people you send these things to do not have to have iPhones (although there is more fun functionality to use on the iPhone – as seen in this screenshot.

Is it you voting page

Is it Me? Is another branded app from the NearByNow folks, available in the September/October 2008 timeframe.

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Thefind.com with Siva Kumar

Thefind.com is a shopping comparison site that also has customize content, much of it in the “lifestyle” category (i.e. fashion, etc.).

TheFind: Where to Shop is a “location aware” application that enables users to search for products they want to buy and then simply view relevant stores on interactive maps pinpointing local retail locations (identified by “store icons”) near their current physical locations (identified by a “location icon”). The location information is determined using GPS or other positioning methods of the iPhone platform.

Thefind.com is location-based shopping, showing users not only where a retailer is in the customer’s area, but also product availability price, and also cross-checking online pricing for items (!!). Then again, just because ebay has your item for a dollar cheaper isn’t likely to override your desire to have the item NOW. You can also reserve an item for in-store pickup.

Thefind.com has over 250 million products, and works with “big-box” retailers as well as small boutiques.

Thefind.com is live on the web now, and their iPhone app has been submitted to Apple for approval and will hopefully be available in September for download.

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YELP

yelp iphone interface

YELP is another site I use myself. It’s a local review site with local content, provided by local users. It has a huge and loyal community network. I have friends who have their entire social calendar filled by YELP activities. Yelp is not just food (in fact, only 1/3 of their content is food-related).

Yelp already had an extremely strong website chock full of user-generated content, it was just a matter of figuring out which functions were the most important for users of the iPhone app.

The features that made it:

  • Find: enter search terms (food, service, neighborhood)
  • Near: Current location  (or enter it in)
  • Filter criteria: distance from me, price, whether open now
  • Map
  • Restaurant/Service info (phone, address, hours)
  • User Reviews

In the future, you will be able to write reviews on the iPhone, add pictures, and use more social info.

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IPHONE DEVELOPMENT INFO

  • How many people are using location-based services for iPhone? The Metrics are exploding since app store opened – but out of 1000 apps there are about 140 location-based apps.
  • How easy is it to get iPhone app developed? The iPhone app approval process is rigorous. You HAVE TO adhere to their UI requirements or you will be rejected outright. For example, if you add an extra icon in a plae not usual for iPhone. And it will be harder next time to get something approved. But, if you follow all their rules and you get extremely lucky, approval process can be as short as 48 hours. Apple also prefers apps that take advantage of iPhone’s unique capabilities – for example, the accelerometer.
  • How do you get things developed? Who are the famous iPhone developers? Answer: we don’t know, everyone wants to know. We do know: Objective C is the developer’s language iPhone uses, and it’s not the greatest.  (Charlene note: As someone shopping for an iPhone developer for some apps I have in my head, there are lots of rogue app developers, and from what I’ve heard – at least in New York – many of them are willing to work on projects where they take a cut of profits, and dont’ require being paid up front. Good news if that’s a model you’re comfortable with.)
  • Where are your revenues coming from?
    • Skyhook: made a deal with Apple in Jan 2008
    • UrbanSpoon is an ad model, but iPhone app has no monetization right now
    • Nearbynow is 90% lead generation money – stores pay them to send customers to their stores – it’s the offline equivalent of Google clicks.
    • Find.com – CPC, CPA, CPM
    • YELP: ad-supported model, so no monetization on iPhone yet

And now the important stuff: the panel’s favorite iPhone apps:

  • Michael Boland: COWBELL (I downloaded this – AWESOME!!)
  • Ryan Seaver: URBANSPOON (and NOT from the UrbanSpoon guy!)
  • Ethan Lowry: LABYRINTH
  • Scott Dunlap: TEXAS HOLDEM
  • Siva Kumar: MAPS
  • Sonia McFarland: SHAZAM

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Charlene Jaszewski is head honcho over at Smartypants Group, and helps small business and technology play nicely together when she’s not writing articles like this one. She is also addicted to her iPhone and needs a support group pls thx.

  • Marc Grabanski

    Labyrinth is fun, but Super Monkey Ball takes the cake for me!

    Thanks for the round up on local search apps. Apps using GPS to find surrounding things is certainly in it’s infancy.

  • Marty Weintraub

    @Marc: We agree: Super Monkey rocks! It’s nice to see you in these threads. Thanks for stopping by.

  • Elmo Randall

    SkyHook does not need to get on to the wireless system it just uses their existence to help triangulate your place.