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Why the mobile industry is like real estate

Let’s take a moment today to focus on mobile.  It’s a medium that we all use every day to the point that we don’t really even think about it anymore.  And in spite of its pervasiveness and its massive global reach, the mobile phone is really the weapon in your technology arsenal that’s the most intimate – I know people who sleep with their phones and wake up to them chiming!

Yes, Twitter is getting all the buzz these days, but you’re kidding yourself if you think it’s ever going to have even a fraction of the impact of the mobile industry as a whole.  The amazing communication and collaboration that social media tools enable are only the tip of the iceberg when you consider a world where everyone has a powerful computer in their pocket at all times.  Of course, what magnifies this power exponentially is the fact that these tiny computers know where you are at all times, and just as importantly, have access to the internet and a rapidly increasing stable of applications to let you know about everything that’s around you, especially when you don’t know, yourself.

This particular post came out of a great conversation I had with Jonathan Dunn of Vortex Mobile following this month’s Mobile Monday, this past… well, Monday.  We had just seen a presentation on all the many possibilities of mobile but felt as though the concept of location-based technology wasn’t the focal point it should have been.

Sure, the presentation covered all the typical points that make mobile a strong medium, but it’s a list we’ve seen before:

  • The mobile market reaches 4 billion people globally
  • A phone is a computer in your pocket with access to the internet
  • Communicating with people wherever they are is one of its great strengths
  • Promotion on mobile can drive consumers to other mediums and to physical locations
  • Mobile can has the capability to reach people on a local level

What makes all of these points truly significant is when you bring in applications that take advantage of location.  The iPhone has really been the pioneer in this space with Urbanspoon, the popular restaurant-picking app, being one of the most well-known examples of exactly what I’m talking about.  While I do not own an iPhone, I enjoy food, so I’ll use this as my example.  Urbanspoon is a leading download in the app store because it takes advantage of all five of those strengths of the medium at once.  And does so in a way that uses the importance of location to make itself invaluable to users.

Proves my point and finds me food - what a great app!

Proves my point and finds me food - what a great app!

Let’s look at those strenghts again, through the lens of what makes Urbanspoon a “killer app”:

  • The mobile market reaches 4 billion people globally – and they all need to eat
  • A phone is a computer in your pocket with access to the internet – which can access information on every reputable restaurant in most metropolitan areas in the world
  • Communicating with people wherever they are is one of its great strengths – this is particularly true when someone doesn’t know exactly where they are and are looking for something
  • Promotion on mobile can drive consumers to other mediums and to physical locations – like a restaurant, especially when they’re hungry
  • Mobile can has the capability to reach people on a local level – which makes the app valuable to tourists as well as people looking to experience something new in their own community

Clearly, Urbanspoon’s use of location strengthens all that’s good about the mobile platform.  Now just imagine what happens when there’s an Urbanspoon for everything!?!?  Looking for a quick place to park when you’re late for a meeting?  There’ll be an app for that.  Hoping to check out some good local musical theatre on vacation?  There’ll be an app for that.  Ran out of gas and need to walk to the nearest station?  Out fishing and hoping to learn the hotspot on a new lake?  Wanting to see where your friends are out for after work drinks?  I think you’re getting the point…  When mobile truly reaches its potential (and we’re not too far off) any time that you’re anywhere and you need any information that’s specific to your location, you’ll have it at the touch of a button.  Or possibly a shake.

Of course, the other key to utilizing location, is search.  And when we think search, of course we think Google. With the world’s most valuable brand meticulously mapping of our world down to the smallest detail with StreetView, and developing their open Android mobile platform, don’t you think it seems like these guys are seeing this opportunity too?

So when you dive into mobile, please remember that what while it may be a market of 4 billion, at the same time it’s actually the most personal, niche market of all.  If you’re looking to make a buck in this space I’d advise you too take a page out of the real estate agents handbook and think location, location location.

Some day, when I’m looking for a parking spot on Queen Street, I might just thank you.

  • Sionne

    Good observations, Andrew…and I liked your Real Estate reference since location-based services definitely appear to be the Holy Grail of the Mobile category these days. As a matter of fact, localized Search info – accessed from both desktops as well as mobile Web browsers – is another very *hot* area too. So clearly there is a market opportunity in connecting those (businesses) who want to be found with those (consumers) who are searching.

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