Thursday, July 21, 2011

Lesson #68: Mobile Apps & Location-Based Services

Mobile apps and location-based services (LBS) for smart phone users have been the rage for the last couple years, and rightly so.  People have their phones with them all the time, and over 350,000 app developers are fighting for their attention in the iPhone app store alone (and over 250,000 in Google's Android market).  Because smart phones are GPS enabled, users are tapping into many location-based services that previously were never imaginable as a consumer, or as a marketer.  The goal of this lesson, is to highlight a couple of my favorite "next generation" mobile applications, to help stimulate thinking about ways you can take your business mobile.

In the beginning, mobile apps were largely built as a mobile version of a company's website, for users to take with them while they were on the go, away from their desktop PC.  This included apps for news/information, maps, video, photos, music, social networking, e-commerce, games, travel, business tools, etc.  This generation of apps was all about convenience for people on the go.  Examples include checking-in for a United flight with United's app, getting a map for your current location from the Google Maps app, making a real-time tweet with the Twitter app or getting reviews on a near-by restaurant on Yelp.

The current generation of apps, is all about targeting offers and services based on a smart phone user's location.  As an example of how businesses are evolving their apps, Groupon is less concerned with showing you the same daily deal from their website, and is more concerned that Groupon Local is showing you real-time deals to stores and restaurants that you are in close proximity to, based on the GPS signal from your phone.  Below are a couple other really interesting case studies.

Last summer, I was one of the mentors to Fango, a startup within Chicago's Excelerate accelerator program.  Their app was really a great use of mobile technology, allowing you to order your hot dog and beer while in a sports stadium from your phone (avoiding lines and missing the game), and having it delivered right to your seat based on your GPS location.  Very cool!  But, as we studied their business, even bigger market opportunities emerged for mobile ordering and delivery, in industries they had never previously thought about.  As an example, hotel guests could pre-order their room service meals from their phone, to having it waiting for them in their room upon arrival at the hotel (and not lose an hour waiting for room service if ordered when they returned).  Or, long haul truckers could pre-order truck parts from the road, to have them waiting for them at the next supply depot (instead of losing valuable driving time waiting for parts had they ordered when they arrived at the depot).

Another interesting example is Aisle Buyer.  The Aisle Buyer app not only delivers you timely and targeted offers while you are still shopping in a grocery store (better than Catalina Marketing that spits out coupons at the register after you have checked out), but it also allows you to check-out real-time while you are shopping.  So, as you are putting items in your cart, you scan the items bar code with your phone app, and drop it in a shopping bag.  No longer do you need to unload your cart at the register, wait in long check-out lines or deal with slow baggers.  When you are done shopping, the app charges your credit card and you walk right out the door with no hassles at all.  Nice!

Another example is Geotracker, an app from Venture DNA, that offers GPS-enabled tours of the national parks.  Based on the location of your car within the national park, the "tour guide" app describes the various sites you are currently looking at, at that exact point within the park, and provides driving directions to the next point of interest.   And, Uber, will have a private sedan sent to your exact GPS location within five minutes of your request for a taxi. 

As you can see from these few examples, mobile technologies and location-based services are really improving the user experience in a wide array of uses and industries.  I challenge you to take a critical look at your own businesses, to see how mobile apps or location-based services can dramatically improve efficiencies for your business, and more importantly, for your customers' businesses.

Please re-read lesson #36 on Picking the Best Technology For Your Startup, as it discusses various ways to build-out mobile apps.

For future posts, please follow me at:  www.twitter.com/georgedeeb.

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