I just had a conversation with a journalist in the Multi-Family space about mobile apps. The conversation was very focusing for me and helped me to coalesce some of the ideas my team and I have been working on.
Again, a little history is helpful. In 2001, while I was at Cendant, we acquired Galileo. At the time Galileo was one of 4 GDS’s in the world. When we acquired the company it had just launched an industry revolutionizing SMS based booking engine. Essentially you could search and book travel using your SMS enabled cell phone. The technology was cool, unique, forward thinking, Expensive and almost entirely Unused. I think that in 2002 I personally flew more flights than we sold through that interface as a company. We learned that people with cell phones were more likely to call a travel agent than try to navigate a cryptic booking path on their device.
Fast forward to 2009. The dominant mobile search tool in the apartment industry is the free digest sized magazine coupled with a cell phone. It is an “app” that gets delivered millions of times to millions of consumers every month or two. It has an extraordinary adoption rate, is intuitive and is useful. While we will be creating iPhone apps (in the works), Android apps, CSS configurations and web designs for mobile browsing, sms based searches etc., the status quo will be hard to beat. It will do everyone some good once mobile device experience beats the paper+cell experience as we will kill less trees, burn less gas delivering books and have a lower expense base for the same number of leads – it just will take time and effort to get there.
We are not Luddites. We recognize the power of mobile apps, and are focused on using tools to create a different kind of experience than you can have with the existing products. For example, how can we depart from the search/find/contact paradigm that works so well in print? Can we use the tools on the phone, like the camera, the voice recorder, the email integration or the GPS to deliver an experience that is more valuable than paper? Recast in that light, the problem is really compelling and really interesting. The Galileo product never succeeded because there was an analog option that it was trying to replicate but could not significantly trump. If we know that we need to beat our own magazine and not our competitors apps, we can deliver something truly revolutionary.