Is real estate’s mobile tipping point about to arrive?

People really don’t want to look for property on a pain-in-the-neck mobile device with poor usability, difficult buttons, a small screen and annoying software.

But all that will soon change. Let me say right now that this post isn’t just more mindless iPhone hype. I don’t think I’ll spring for an iPhone as soon as they become available, but I have no doubt that the iPhone and probably Android, the Google phone software, will finally make real estate search and sales mobile-ready activities.

For the last several years, realestate.com.au has tested partnerships with mobile phone providers. In my opinion, they have never been very successful. I heard that Telstra shut theirs off without even telling realestate.com.au because there was so little traffic that it didn’t make a difference.

When the 3G iPhone hits Australia’s sandy beaches, things will be different. People love using it, and they love using it for stuff they never loved doing on their phones before. Even looking at property listings with 27 photos is a breeze on this device that fits in your pocket.

WHAT’S OLD IS NEW AGAIN
It’s not that the iPhone does anything that you can’t already do on another mobile phone. But just like Apple computers are intuitive and a pleasure to use, the Apple phone makes all those formerly painful mobile phone tasks into a joy.

A researcher named Charles Le Tocq believes the iPhone has pushed the mobile phone market past a “tipping point” for capabilities.

Here are two more examples of the difference between the iPhone and other mobile phones. iPhone users in the UK surf the internet on their phones far more than owners of other smartphones. The Financial Times reported that 60 per cent of UK iPhone customers were sending or receiving more than 25MB of data per month (equivalent to 7500 e-mails), compared to 1.8 per cent of users of other smartphones. (via MacChat)

And, Marissa Mayer, a legend in Silicon Valley and Vice President of Search Products & User Experience at Google said that Google Maps traffic increased by 40% to 50% almost overnight after the iPhone was released. “It’s clear to see that people are switching off their computers and switching on their cell phones,” she says.

Let’s break this down: the iPhone boosted Google Maps because it was so easy to use that suddenly people were interested in mapping things on their phone.

Or, as Jeff Jarvis blogged over at the Guardian, “Everything that the computer, the web, and the browser have done to content … is now in the palm of your hand. Everything you can do on the web you can do with media on the iPhone, anywhere, any time.”

Jarvis, along with Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams, also feels the iPhone is the first portable device on which newspapers are easier to read than print papers. Think about that. It’s got “phone” in its name, but it’s so enjoyable to use that it is better than print and than existing electronic readers.

All of these benefits apply just as well to real estate. But there is one more. For real estate, one of the most important features of the iPhone is its ability to imitate GPS by triangulating from nearby mobile phone towers to determine your location. This capability was recently released in the USA, and I hope this will be available in Australia when the iPhone debuts here.

The iPhone creates an opportunity for real estate web portals and agents to serve people in a medium that they suddenly want to take advantage of. Whoever doesn’t take up the opportunity risks having someone else grab the market and whatever revenue goes with it.

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About Dave Platter

Dave does PR in real estate and technology.

8 Responses to Is real estate’s mobile tipping point about to arrive?

  1. Mark Cohen March 10, 2008 at 5:10 pm #

    The stranglehold that the Telstras of the world have on accessing their mobile clients is not quite right. One could compare it to ISPs making it difficult for internet users to use websites outside of the ISPs’ own sites.

    I agree with your sentiments regarding the iPhone. I spent an hour playing with one recently and I was really impressed with the usability. As I say, I think there’s a bit more to change in the mobile internet landscape though. I was recently at a Microsoft conference called Mix in the USA. The newer Windows Mobiles I saw there are rapidly closing the gap in usability between themselves and the iPhone.

    Also, Microsoft and Nokia are rolling out Silverlight, which will ship with Nokia devices and Windows Mobiles. Silverlight is in a sense a competitor to Flash. Silverlight opens up the mobile web to your average web developer – which will be great once the Mobile providers can be coerced into fully opening their platforms up and letting us all play in their gardens.

  2. Dave Platter March 10, 2008 at 5:15 pm #

    Thanks for that, Mark. I hope you’re right about the Microsoft and Nokia. The iPhone is starting this revolution but it would be a shame if other phone makers don’t offer devices that are also so easy to use.

    That should mean more options and lower costs for those of us reaching into our pockets to buy one.

  3. Peter Ricci March 11, 2008 at 12:36 pm #

    I doubt many people go for the SMS alerts, but if a property system were to be successful it would have to be very accurate, people don’t have the same time on a mobile phone to view through listings, or they don’t want to spend the time.

    So if I were to receive listings on a phone I would want to pinpoint the properties I want and only receive these listings.

    As for certain agents going by the wayside, it is an evolutionary cycle, many will be left behind if they do not stay up to date with the important technology advances, mapping, rss feeds etc

    Silverlight is a great example of what is coming and as a person who dislikes flash unless it is used effectively it may well place some pressures on Adobe to lift their game.

    As for the iPhone, it is brilliant to use, and has an intuitive interface, but it is pretty backwards in some other areas such as 3G. Updates are imminent and this should improve that offering.

    Getting mobile providers to come together for anything will be pretty difficult, but if the market forces it to then they will.

    For me the future is the TV and not the mobile, but that’s just me, I have been wrong countless times before.

    I still get calls from WAP propviders touting their wares and benefits to agents and )yawn) that has been proven to be a flop.

    The Tv hinges on there being one great set top provider AppleTV and Microsoft Media Centre with movies, tv shows, music, property, jobs, cars, classifieds etc.

    Property listings to a set top box, configured to my choosing, with videos, voice-overs and then we will see something if done correctly take off.

  4. Campbell Corser March 11, 2008 at 1:28 pm #

    I remember trying to use realestate.com.au 3 mobile version and found it hard. The iphone is sure to shake things up but I believe the majority of Australians (baby boomers in particular) view the phone as just that… a phone – My parents are high fiving each other after sending a text message. Simon Baker doesn’t seem to be in love with the iphone as much as some though.

  5. Dave Platter March 11, 2008 at 3:07 pm #

    I saw Simon’s comments on the iPhone. I’m going to ask me if he wants to unload it at a good price. I’d be happy to take it off his hands. 🙂

    Probably he was having trouble with the email because our office uses Exchange. I won’t tell him until after he sells me the phone, but Apple announced last week new software to integrate the iPhone with Exchange.

  6. Nick March 12, 2008 at 12:44 pm #

    I don’t think people will use the internet to search for houses for some time to come. Its just too slow, too cumbersome, too small, too expensive… and I’m a technocrat

    PS: The first honest review of the iphone I’ve seen:
    http://www.thebestpageintheuniverse.net/c.cgi?u=iphone

  7. Nick March 12, 2008 at 12:46 pm #

    PS: I meant the internet on their phones BTW. Jesus I sound like an IBM executive “I think we have a global market to sell at least 5 Computers”

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