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Reinventing retail indoors, with in-store GPS – Part 4

By Matthew Gray & Mike Lu

In this series of posts, we’ve seen that the indoor positioning system (IPS) realm is home to a wide array of interesting players. Each company is trying to solve the problems of delivering ever-improving customer value at reduced costs that retailers face in today’s tech-conscious market.

Though these companies all fall under the IPS umbrella, they can be placed into more specific categories, each with their own set of characteristics, advantages, and disadvantages.  Some, as you will notice, fall under multiple categories.

Parameter Monitors

1Parameter Monitors are those that detect whether consumers carrying smartphones have entered into, are in front of, or are in specific, large areas of stores.  They mostly use existing Wifi infrastructure to perform passive detection (with the exception being Shopkick, which installs infrastructure and requires users to actively get themselves detected).

The main advantage here is that they offer a low-cost method of gaining basic consumer store-visit information. The disadvantage is that they can’t really retrieve deeper in-store behavior data.

The companies that fit in this category are Euclid, Nomi, and Shopkick.

Location Estimators

Skyhook-1These companies rely on existing infrastructure and technologies to perform “best estimates” of user locations, often using advanced & proprietary algorithms.

The advantages are that they offer low-cost deployment and quickly build up broad location databases.  The disadvantage is that the location accuracy seems to vary greatly. There is no guarantee of consistent indoor location quality.

These large location databases can be useful when seen in large geographic scales (e.g. cities) but not necessarily for specific indoor locations.

Companies in this category include Jimi 积米地图, Nearbuy Systems, Point Inside, and Skyhook.

Map Makers

3These companies often have large-scale partnerships with a broad range of locations and primarily act as data providers rather than end-to-end solution providers.

The advantage is that they have built up an expertise in indoor mapping & surveying.The disadvantage is that they do not provide any monitoring of or response to consumer behavior.

Companies in this category include Diandao, Jimi 积米地图, PalMap 图渊室内地图, and Point Inside.

Web Traffic Monitors

These companies monitor, analyze and react to customers’ in-store web browsing behavior while using store Wifi (some also have the ability to follow consumers when outside of the store).

The main advantage is their ability to fight against “showrooming” and reach out via online channels.  The obvious disadvantage is that they cannot monitor other areas of indoor consumer behavior.

The companies in this category are BloomReach and Swarm.

4

Context Aware Engines

These companies seem to take away certain aspects from all of the other categories.

Their advantages lie with their ability to combine indoor mapping, “microlocation”, detailed in-store behavior data, and omni-channel marketing to create a one-stop solution.  The disadvantage is that the setup and implementation is more expensive and time-consuming.

Companies in this category include Appconomy and WifiSlam.

5In Closing…

In this four-part series, we’ve tried to cover the business drivers, leading vendors, top start-ups, and technical/functional differentiators between competing solutions.

One thing is clear: the IPS market is a dynamic, rapidly-changing landscape that has attracted attention of the world’s largest retail and technology companies.  No less than Google made mapping – indoor and outdoor – the centerpiece of its 2013 I/O conference for developers.

New companies and technologies are coming onto the scene every day.  The race is on to see which technologies and vendors will emerge as leaders over the coming year.

Reinventing retail indoors, with in-store GPS – Part 3

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by Steve Guengerich and Samuel Hui

As we said at the beginning of Part 2 of this series, the IPS segment is heating up rapidly, given the large opportunity it represents.

Thus, we wouldn’t be surprised to see a number of new entrants, in addition to those we’ve covered in Parts 2 and 3, come on the scene soon – some perhaps even launching products during while we were researching this article.

If you know of one that you think belongs on this list, please let us know.  And check back for updates to the IPS phenomenon from time-to-time.

nearbuy-location-tracker_customNearbuy Systems provides wifi location solutions to retailers enabling location-based services that the company claims increase revenue, enhance the brand experience, and reduce operating expenses. Its innovative, patent-pending technology delivers real-time location information within three feet of accuracy for people carrying any mobile device, according to the company, using data from infrastructure that retailers already have in place.

Nearbuy’s core products include:

  • Guest wifi – to create customized welcome pages and deploy an opt-in process that makes sense for the retail environment
  • Wifi Analytics – to analyze sites and products being browsed, search terms being used, & social media activity
  • In-Store Analytics – to analyze overall foot traffic, window conversion, location of people within a store, repeat vs. first-time visits to a store, dwell times
  • NearBuy API – an open interface that providing real-time access to Nearbuy physical and online shopping behavior data and key commerce events

To date, Nearbuy has received $1.8 million in venture funding from Motorola Solutions Venture Capital, Innovation Endeavors, and Metamorphic Ventures.  Among the more prominent customers, they list baby products merchant KiddiCare, as well as refer anonymously to “Other Major Retailers.”

Nomi claims to help offline retailers leverage their existing infrastructure to gather real-world, in-store customer analytics, and they integrate with existing CRM, loyalty, point of sale (POS), business intelligence (BI), and e-commerce systems to provide better service for both online and offline customers.

To date, Nomi has received $3 million in venture funding from First Round Capital, Greycroft Partners, SV Angel, Forerunner Ventures, and individuals Ralph Mack, Andy Dunn, Sam Decker, & David Tisch.  Among the more prominent customers, they list “Baked by Melissa,” furniture merchant BoConcept, SweetGreen, and anonymous “Other National Retailers.”

Nomi’s core products include: Nomi Listen, which the company claims provides real-time offline analytics such as window conversion, visit duration, visit frequency and device type, plus software layered on top of a retailer’s in-store wifi; and, Nomi Measure, for creating personalized and targeted marketing campaigns, improving display advertising, testing scenarios, and measuring impact of events on in-store visits and revenue.

swarmSwarm claims to enable brick-and-mortar retailers to increase revenue through real-time shopper interaction and analytics.  The company claims its customer experience is proven to drive retailer revenue through increased conversion, cross-sell/up-sell, loyalty and ability to defend against in-store price comparison.

Swarm works with Fortune 1000 and Fortune 500 retailers across all categories. If a customer logs into the free in-store wifi, their browser opens up in a special mobile website, allowing them to browse different products in the store, find coupons and deals, and also earn loyalty points for multiple visits.

To date, the company has received $1 million in venture funding from Brian Lee, Gavin McInnes, and rapper Nas.  Among the more prominent customers, they list the shoe store chain Fight Club, as well as anonymously “Other Major Retailers.”

The Swarm platform encompasses two core components: Shopper Intelligence, enabling merchants to view historical, current and anticipated shopper traffic patterns, and set goals, benchmarks and alerts to easily track ROI on their marketing and strategies; and, Shopper Marketing, which the company says provides personalized offers based on shopper attributes and intent, guarding against “showrooming” through features like automatically offering a coupon for a better deal when customer scans product on Amazon.

shopkickLastly, Shopkick claims to be the first mobile application that hands consumers rewards and exclusive deals at its national retail partners, in return for consumers’ simply walking into thousands of stores and malls.

Although it’s a stretch to call Shopkick an IPS company, because of its coarse-level of location tracking, it’s worthy of including in a scan of the players because of its market momentum and resources.

Shopkick’s core solution is a simple hardware/software offering.  For software, it provides the Shopkick Mobile App and In-store Analytics.  For hardware, Shopkick requires an inaudible audio signal to be broadcast at a high-pitch frequency that can be picked up by a smartphone’s microphone, either through the store’s existing music system or through a small transmitter.

According to company principals, Shopkick has driven $300 million in retail revenue, tracked 16 million verified walk-ins, and recorded 20 million in-store interactions. The company also says its app is the 4th most widely used shopping app after eBay, Amazon and Groupon.

To date, the company has received $20 million in venture funding from Greylock Partners, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, SV Angel, Reid Hoffman, and Citi Growth Ventures.  Among the more prominent customers, they list Target, Macy’s, Best Buy, Old Navy, Crate & Barrel, American Eagle, Toy’s R Us, Simon Halls, Exxon, and Sports Authority.

Reinventing retail indoors, with in-store GPS – Part 2

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by Steve Guengerich and Matthew Gray

As we discussed in Part 1 of this series, Indoor Positioning Systems – or “in-store GPS” – are certain to be one of the more vibrant segments of mobile investment and product development in 2013 and beyond.

If this certainty was subject to question at the beginning of 2013, all doubt was removed when Apple paid an undisclosed amount for the IPS startup WiFiSLAM before the “AngeList”ed startup had even brought a commercial product to market.

In Parts 2 and 3, we’ll provide a market scan of some of the more noteworthy companies and their products that are claiming a stake in the IPS market.

skyhookSkyhook claims to be a leading provider of location positioning, context and intelligence worldwide. Skyhook developed the Wi-Fi Positioning System (WPS). Taking advantage of the hundreds of millions of Wi-Fi access points throughout populated areas, WPS consistently provides accurate location information indoors and in urban areas.

Skyhook Wireless obtained tremendous overnight growth in January 2008 at the Macworld Conference & Expo, where Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced that the iPhone and iPod touch would use their Wi-Fi Positioning System as the location engine for Google Maps and other applications.

To date, Skyhook has received $16.8 million in venture finding from Bain Capital Ventures, Common Angels, Intel, Nokia, and RRE Ventures.   Among the more prominent customers, they list Apple, Dell, HP, Intel, Lenovo, Samsung, SoftBank, Sony, and Symantec.

Skyhook’s core product offerings include the SkyHook Location SDK (aka, software development kit) and SpotRank, which is a location intelligence service that predicts crowd densities

BloomReach claims that its cloud marketing platform maximizes its customers’ revenues – attracting unmet demand and creating better user experiences by making the most relevant products and services easier to find.

BloomReachBloomReach created the Web Relevance Engine (WRE), which analyzes one billion consumer interactions and semantically interprets the products and services on over one billion web pages daily.

The WRE dynamically adapts websites to capture existing consumer demand across search, social and advertising channels, driving an average 80% increase in non-branded natural search traffic, according to the company, as well as significant incremental revenues across their large customer base from the retail, travel and listings industries.

To date, BloomReach has received $41 million in venture funding from New Enterprise Associates, Lightspeed Venture Partners, and Bain Capital Ventures.  Among the more prominent customers, they list Guess, Nieman Marcus, Drugstore.com, All Modern, Ampush Media, and BellaCor.

BloomReach’s core product offerings include: BloomSearch, which enables relevant content to get discovered via natural search driving traffic and revenue, helps build a better web site for search users and search engines, and accelerates the effectiveness of existing SEO efforts; and, BloomLift, which improves revenue and profitability of online advertising by dynamically routing to (and optimizing) landing pages for greater relevance.

euclidEuclid claims to deliver actionable shopper insights to brick and mortar retailers…think “Google Analytics for offline retail.” Providing real-world metrics like Engagement Rate, Visit Duration and Visit Frequency, Euclid helps retailers optimize the performance of their marketing, merchandising, and operations.

With simple setup and an easy-to-use web dashboard, according to the company, national chains and local boutiques alike can boost traffic, engagement, loyalty and revenue. Built on a commitment to protecting individual privacy, Euclid’s technology provides only aggregated, anonymous insights. Euclid’s aspiration is to redefine retail decision-making, as it says, “from the stockroom to the boardroom.”

To date, Euclid has received $23.6 million in venture funding from Benchmark Capital, New Enterprise Associates, Harrison Metal Capital, and Novel TMT Ventures, as well as individuals Elad Gil, Michael Calbert, & Jason Spero.  Among the more prominent customers, they list Philz Coffee, as well as refer anonymously to other “Top 100″ retailers in various categories, including specialty apparel, department stores, auto parts and home improvement.

Euclid’s core products include: Euclid Analytics, which through plug-and-play wifi sensors, enables merchants to learn how many people visit a store, when they enter, how long they stay, when and if they return; and, Euclid Zero, which measures in-store behavior using existing wireless infrastructure from wifi providers Aerohive Networks, Aruba Networks, Fortinet, and Xirrus.

In the final installment of this series, Part 3, we’ll cover a handful of smaller companies, plus one notable retail “first mover” in mobile that could quickly become an IPS leader.

Reinventing retail indoors, with in-store GPS – Part 1

RMS-nav

by Steve Guengerich, Editor

Often, it is the simplest ideas that are the most powerful – and, frequently overlooked.  Take indoor GPS.  For several years, outdoor-oriented, Location-Based Systems (LBSs) have been the center of attention for mobile apps.

Yet, the reality is that 90% of our daily activity occurs indoors – in offices, shopping malls, apartment buildings, department stores, and more.  Now, a new generation of hardware/software solutions – referred to as Indoor Positioning Systems (IPS) – will soon come to market, changing the way we shop and live.

google-venturesSaid Don Dodge, a Google Ventures advisor, late last year in Venturebeat: “Indoor location will be bigger than GPS, which only works outdoors. In 2013, you’ll use your smartphone to find the exact store aisle location for every item on your shopping list.  With indoor location, you can find people, products, or services plotted exactly on a floor plan with walking directions to get there.”

Dodge continued: “You could receive coupons, advertisements, or free offers for products based on where you are in a store. Imagine playing indoor location games like capture the flag, tower defense, or other games based on real-life indoor locations. There are thousands of applications in many different market segments that will be built using accurate indoor positioning technology.”

ByteLight“This is a space that’s heating up a lot right now…there’s an instinct that [LBS] is going to be a really big deal for smartphones in the same way that GPS was a really big deal for [navigation],” said Dan Ryan, founder and CTO of indoor positioning company ByteLight, as reported in a recent article.

Ryan continued: “In the future, you can imagine a situation where you walk into a retail store and your phone leads you to a particular product. Or maybe you pull out your phone in front of an exhibit you like at a museum and it pushes you some content about that exhibit. The whole idea of geospatial-aware computing has everything to do with making computing more relevant and more useful.”

esriAs Simon Thompson, ESRI’s director of global business solutions, said: “It doesn’t matter if it’s a Walmart, a Target, a bank, or a car dealership; everyone’s changing their business model to…[match] the right people to the right product in the right place.”  LBS [both indoor and outdoor] also allows businesses to create new revenue streams by selling in-app advertising and identifying more business opportunities.”

In China, IPS-centric solutions are starting to come to market, with offerings like Appconomy’s (艾普科美) IPS-based Retail Marketing Suite, as well as Widtu (点道室内地图), Palmap (图渊室内地图), and Jimi (积米地图).  Outside of China, there are a number of companies claiming IPS roots, although most of them are at best IPS-lite, if not outright mislabeled.

In Part 2 of this series, we will cover some of the more noteworthy of these non-China domestic providers.

A Made-in-China Event for a Made-in-America Industry

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by Steve Guengerich

Global. Mobile. Internet. That about says it all, doesn’t it?

When we first attended the Global Mobile Internet Conference (GMIC) in Beijing this past May 10-11, we were eager to see how “global” the event was.

We’ll have to say, for a relatively young event, we were impressed – and we attend *a lot* of events!  Selfishly, among the few things that we wish we’d seen was more participation from US companies and English-speaking entrepreneurs.  You can read the trip report of firsthand observations, key learnings, etc. from our sister company, Appconomy, Inc.

However, we were sufficiently impressed with the event that when we learned the producers – the Great Wall Club – planned to hold their inaugural event in the US a full year earlier than we had been expecting, we wanted to help support it.

And, thus, we’re pleased to say that Appconomist has joined a number of other media, association, and promotional partners to create awareness of the event and encourage you to strongly consider putting the GMIC-Silicon Valley (#GMIC-SV) on your calendar for this October 19-20.

GMIC-Silicon Valley is themed “Connecting Global Innovators” and features a terrific line-up of speakers and panels on the shifts, challenges and opportunities for mobile innovation in growing markets.

In addition to the main program, the producers are featuring a couple of parallel tracks of mobile programming and competitions, to provide more hands-on appeal to mobile developers and entrepreneurs: the AppSpace/appAttack and the G-Startup SV.

Speaking of mobile designers and developers, Appconomist is giving away 20 free Developer (Expo) passes worth $50 each.  Although they are probably more valuable to those readers who are within a daily commute of the San Jose McEnery Convention Center, where GMIC-Silicon Valley is being held, all are welcome to claim one.  To get one now, click this registration link – hope to see you there, in a month!

What Apps Mean to a Digital Politico

In the standard political narrative that has solidified over the past decade, new media politics began with the Howard Dean campaign, “meetups” and MoveOn.org, then flowered with “Netroots” solidarity in 2008 with the presidential victory of Barack Obama and his campaign’s groundbreaking Obama ‘08 app.

With the 2012 election cycle approaching, that story looks likely to take complex new turns as mobile marketing, locational apps, and established 2.0 platforms are adopted and mastered across the political spectrum, left and right.

Meet ElectNext

Keya Dannenbaum is one of the techno-idealists caught up in the current third wave of digital politics. A campaign veteran now in the MBA program at Penn Wharton, Dannenbaum and a partner have launched ElectNext, a forthcoming political “matching platform” for both browser and mobile platforms. ElectNext (@ElectNext) will connect individual voters in state, local and primary elections with candidates based on their issue preferences.

As an application that targets local voters and highlights local issues, the start-up is a case study in how agile mobile computing will play a major role in voter preference as more voters and media consumers adopt social media and smartphones.

The portablity, utility and growing ubiquity of smartphones guarantees a mobile extension for ElectNext’s beta phase browser application, slated to launch for the 2012 cycle.

As Dannenbaum states,“ElectNext shows you the candidates who most align with you and allows you to pre-select your ballot.  So of course you should be able to take those selections into the voting booth with you, most sensibly on a mobile platform.”

Dannenbaum, 29, began her involvement with politics as Associate Finance Director in Los Angeles for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 nomination bid.  She followed that stint with 18 local-level races in two years.

“We were all over existing – and I emphasize existing – social media in 2008,” remembers Dannenbaum. “The translation to politics is pretty obvious.  A friend-to-friend contact will lead to much stronger conversion than calls from a phone bank or a blast email. This social power was most prominently demonstrated in fundraising, in which small amounts solicited through social media were game-changing. And whether it’s correlation or causation, the campaign that did this best won.”

Like the obvious utility of social media for politics in 2008, the apparent “game-changing” power of smartphones is more of a demographic force than a techno-utopian future forecasting. According to media monitor comScore, 65.8 million Americans own smartphones this year, which is up from 42.7 million the year before.  And that’s a little over half the number of Americans who voted in the 2008 presidential election.

Let the Sunlight In

Washington, D.C.’s Sunlight Foundation (@SunFoundation) and its technology project, Sunlight Labs(@sunlightlabs), have gained notable attention for producing apps aimed at arming both citizens and road warrior political professionals with an ongoing data stream from Congress.  Their suite of Congress-streaming apps, Real Time Congress for iPhone and Congress for Windows and Android devices, have seen wide adoption.

Sunlight was also the architect of the fascinating, if gimmicky, mashup app designed to allow smartphone-wielding citizens to view the impact of stimulus package dollars through an augmented reality interface powered by Dutch-made augmented reality platform Layar (@Layar).

Sunlight’s Congress applications are designed as part of a dozen or so offerings intended to stoke public engagement and government transparency.  But their utility for information-hungry political junkies and operatives is readily apparent: the apps provide updated e-mail addresses for congressional staffers.

Sunlight Labs also sponsors Apps for America, a contest allowing entrants to make use of Sunlight’s APIs and datasets to create apps focused on congressional accountability.

Geo-Location

As in so many other markets, locational smartphone applications will provide the disruptive force in politics. Dannenbaum cited the personal, local and word-of-mouth nature of political engagement as a catalyst for the coming adoption of GPS- and check-in-based mobile applications in campaigns

“As you drop your kids off at your neighborhood public school and notice that the building is literally falling apart,” said Dannenbaum, “or as you meet your friends for after-work cocktails and get into a heated discussion over our intervention in Libya — these are everyday moments that inform your views on the issues you care about.  So the platform on which to express those views and get the information you need to act, or really vote, should always be accessible.”

And what does an app that lets you weigh in, on-site, about a crumbling school sound like?  It sounds like geo-location, of course.

According to CNET, ComScore reported last month that 16.7 million mobile phone users, i.e, 7.1% of all U.S. mobile phone users, used a check-in service over the first three months of this year.  Seventy-six percent of the mobile phone users who “checked in” did so from smartphones, and 58.5% of check-in users were between the ages of 18 and 34, versus only 30.1% of mobile phone users at large. This broad, engaged swath of check-in users is likely to be as enticing to campaigns as it is to marketers.

Dannenbaum’s insights reflect these developments in the world of geo-location mobile. “While I think the biggest next wave of innovation in politics will be social, there is a lot still to be done with location,” she continues. “We’ve seen hints of what is possible, most prominently in Get Out The Vote.  I was really taken in 2010 with the Voting Information Project and FourSquare mashup, whereby people could look up their polling place, check in when they arrived and get a limited-edition ‘I Voted’ badge.”

The Atlantic reported last year on that FourSquare project, which brought its flagship “check-in” service to voting booths with the “I Voted” project.  This endeavor piggybacked on the civic-minded Voting Information Project (@votinginfo), a partnership between the Pew Center on the States and Google to map every polling place in America.  Google and FourSquare have made strides in providing services to campaigns in recent years, a move that has won them goodwill from the government and, in Google’s case, dibs on a slice of the billions in media dollars spent every election cycle.

Two canvassing programs, one on the right and one on the left, give us a peek into the kind of power locational technology can bring to a campaign.  First, was a canvassing app from the Democrats’ political wing, Organizing for America, according to a 2010 report from Politico.

Second was Walking Edgeaccording to another Atlantic report, a similar canvassing app used for Republican Scott Brown’s successful campaign to take Senator Edward Kennedy’s former seat in Massachusetts.  The app allows campaign workers to track, in real-time, the address and political proclivity of voters in a given precinct.  This feature allows for far more organization during massive door-to-door canvassing and “Get Out The Vote” operations.

The adoption of geo-location apps by campaigns for internal use, combined with the extension of location-based services for voters, points to voter-focused locational apps as the next frontier for political apps in the 2012 cycle and beyond.

Fund-Raising

Lastly, no discussion of digital politics would be complete without at least a passing mention of find-raising, especially as the US presidential primary season begins gearing up for later this year.  The fund-raising topic actually commands a more complete, separate overview of its own, given the variety of mobile options on the horizon and the President’s own campaign leadership goal of raising $1 billion for the 2012 race.

For now, one team worth keeping an eye on is the group from Rally.org,  This team developed a highly publicized social fund-raising platform for campaigns with its initial venture Piryx.  With Rally.org, many of the same principals have reconstituted the Priyx team, promising technology that is even more mobile-ready, with an all-star cast of investors – including, Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, and Mark McKinnon, the founder of Maverick Media and a political advisor who has served both Democratic and, more recently, Republican officials.

Are you involved in local or national politics, either as a volunteer or staffperson with a political campaign?  What mobile apps have you found to be most valuable?

Trends in Mobile Video: From Blip.tv to Big Brands

by Steve Guengerich

More than three years ago, Apple CEO Steve Jobs famously said “people don’t read anymore” in a New York Times article about why he believed the Amazon Kindle reader was a flawed device.

While he may have gotten the context wrong (since it appears recreational reading and Amazon’s Kindle have turned out to be pretty popular), perhaps Jobs’ observation ended up ringing true in reference to our distaste for reading on mobile devices.

In place of reading text, viewing video has surged in demand.  And with this surge, a number of companies have emerged to position themselves for significant roles in this booming medium.  Here are some of the trends we foresee:

1. A mobile video network “land grab” is underway, but consolidation is inevitable

Most people are familiar with the major video networks for entertainment programming, like Netflix and Hulu, which have emerged and made strong mobile footprints.  But there are also significant alternative networks, largely relying on user-generated content and niche programming.  These networks include Justin.tv, Blip.tv, and video “big kahuna” Youtube.

There is clearly an advertiser interest in these new mobile video alternatives, partly in search for new, hot viewer segments and partly due to a freeing up of corporate cash to invest in more promotion.  Nielsen confirmed, for example, that global ad spend was up nearly 9% in Q1 2011, with television (across all media) ad spend up the strongest, at a nearly 12% increase over the same quarter in 2010.

Ultimately, though, media consolidation is expected at some level for a couple of reasons.  First, they have the advantage of vertical and horizontal integration of media to make advertising attractive.  For example, even though the players have changed since it was first broadcast 10 years ago, it’s fascinating and instructive to view the advantage of scale dynamics behind media consolidation, as portrayed in the PBS Frontline series on “The Merchants of Cool.”

Second, the major networks are getting savvy about mobile.  For example Viacom’s BET Mobile has had a successful run experimenting in deep, immersive experiences for program viewers, like the mobile app they produced in support of 106 and Park.  While conventional TV is still several multiples beyond mobile device viewership – reaching 100 million households in the US per day, versus just under 25 million total mobile devices viewing video during 2010 – the gap is expected to close rapidly with the coming onslaught of larger screen tablets.

2. The market for Do-It-Yourself mobile video is hot

There is an insatiable demand for new, mobile-ready video content.  Part of this phenomenon comes from a “Youtube generation” of prosumers (producers & consumers) that has far more choice for viewing unique, new content that fulfills their personal interests.  Symbolizing this user-driven desire for novel content, the browser add-on and app Stumbleupon was recently documented to have generated more web traffic

Training Choices for App Development

by Paige Cattano

The U.S. Department of Labor reports that close to 300,000 new software development jobs are expected through 2018. Similarly, in their article “Mobile App Talent Pool Is Shallow,” The Wall Street Journal notes a Dice.com survey with findings that 31% of companies reported app developers’ salaries increasing at a higher rate than usual.

It seems clear that if there were ever a time to learn the ways of mobile app development, the time is now.

So just what is the best way to gain the skills and experience to get work in this burgeoning industry? With as many options as there are opportunities, choices range from self-study to weekend bootcamps to year-long programs. Here are some of the best bets.

Self-Study, DIY

There is an unquenchable thirst for new and better apps in the core public marketplaces, like Android and iTunes, not to mention the demand by large enterprises for in-house, industry-specific mobile apps, in which they are intensely investing and executing mobile plans.

From the perspective of the major mobile OS platform makers – Apple, Google, Microsoft, and RIM – the more app developers there are, the more apps there will be.  And, when it comes to growing a new market, there could be nothing better than for the consumer to also become the creator.

Thus, the platform makers are inclined to be very supportive, or at least take a laissez-faire approach, towards the availability, throughout the web, of a vast number of free self-study guidesDo-It-Yourself tutorials, and developer communities.

Through these self-help resources, proficiency in app development can be gained at little or no out-of-pocket cost. However, it will require a great deal of persistence and focus. With nobody directing your efforts or tracking progress, the time it will take to become an expert depends on your motivation and commitment level.

An array of information resources makes this route a doable one, but carefully consider the amount of time required – nights and weekends over many months.  Most self-taught mobile developers are quick to emphasize the importance of creating a portfolio of apps – with apps they have personally developed, available in app stores or marketplaces – and documenting the experience in order to better convey your abilities to a potential employer.

In addition to DIY resources available on the web, there are several vendor-sponsored, self-directed developer programs from which to choose.  While these programs can add to the cost, they have the benefit of vendor support, a community of like-minded students with which to share questions and compare examples, and a pipeline of built-in demand for the skills acquired.

For example, Appcelerator’s Titanium Training and Certification program builds participants’ mobile app development skills through classroom and on-demand options. Classroom-taught courses run $1,995.00 for two days, while self-paced online video series cost $595.

By contrast, for a mix of training resources and do-it-yourself learning, Apple offers a wealth of technical resources and testing mechanisms through the iOS Developer Program for only $99 per year.

Bootcamps, Workshops, and Independent Trainers

No degree requirements are needed to develop apps. In fact, with recent changes announced by Apple, trends point toward relaxation of app approval, as well as increasingly clear-cut reasons for app rejection.  There are sure signs that the intensity of activity and competition is only increasing, as the transition to mobile accelerates.

These market forces obviously bode well for the job prospects of anyone seeking to jump into an industry that is short on supply.  In the article mentioned earlier, for example, The Wall Street Journal notes the lack of app developers compared to the huge increase in demand for them. This rise in demand has heightened salaries, with the average falling around $76,000 trending up to $150,000 per year.

Software recruiters and HR managers likewise indicate that the relative newness of careers in mobile app development has somewhat relaxed the normal expectations for experience in the field.  This means that inexperienced mobile engineers frequently receive the same pay as engineers with up to ten years of other programming experience who are just entering the mobile field.

Nonetheless, there is a certain degree of comfort that recruiters and hiring authorities still place in candidates who can claim some aspect of formal training in the field.  This is where independent providers come in, offering a menu of training classes, workshops, and bootcamps.  In an effort to keep up with the demand, these training providers – operating in their own facilities or delivering their courses on the road – are growing in popularity.

For example, hands-on training can be obtained in a mere three to five days from vendors such as On3 for $2,495. The home-base classroom is inDenver, CO; however, private training for teams or online training can be requested.

Another example is Future Media Concepts, which offers courses in Android App Development for both new and experienced developers. Three days cost $1,650 and five days cost $2,650.

There are many, many more providers, with new classes popping up every week.  Because this field is relatively wide open, it’s important to do your due diligence on the class and provider you are considering.   Check with past graduates’ experiences and, when possible, review the instructors’ backgrounds to understand their credentials.

College Degrees and Certificates

Although degrees in mobile app development remain rare for now, the popularity of the field has begun to make an impact at numerous colleges, with options on the rise, ranging from single courses all the way to full, degreed programs of study.

The for-profit school Rasmussen is the first college to offer a degree specific to mobile app development with an Associate’s Software Application Degree available, as well as aBachelor’s in Computer Science. Both degrees require various classes that cover learning the basics of Java and programming, then advance into the development of mobile applications to be included in a graduate portfolio.

Lower-level courses at Rasmussen are $375 per credit and average around $35,000 total for an Associate’s. Upon completion of the two-year program, students can continue to pursue the Bachelor’s portion, which averages $71,550 for all four years.

In the non-profit, state school category, San Diego State University and the University of California San Diego appear to be the two research institutions offering mobile app development certificates, at the moment. ACertificate in Web and Mobile Applications Development can be obtained with 12 hours of coursework at the post-baccalaureate level from San Diego State.

For those with experience in programming, UC San Diego Extension offers a professional certificate in mobile application development with small class sizes and hands-on, career-focused training. This one-year professional certificate requires the completion of eight courses and costs $1,400 per course.

Even more choices are available, when it comes to colleges offering an elective course or two in mobile app design and development.  For example, mobile courses can be found at colleges across the country, including MITNYUStanford, and others.  A large majority of lectures from these courses may be viewed, streaming for free, as iTunesU podcasts.

These courses, and the colleges offering them, have quickly become student favorites and are hot spots for many employers looking to hire developers. Apart from their popularity, the skills gained in these courses seem to be proving of merit as well, as evidenced by one example where a student-produced app earning $275,000 in a Google-sponsored contest.

Whether you choose to enroll in a college program, go the route of independent training, or learn on your own, the mobile sector appears to be one of those rare industries at a moment when anyone, at any age, can take part in it and build a solid career.  Considering research company Screen Digest’s estimate of nearly $4 billion in 2011 app sales, along with their projections that the global mobile market will rise 81.5% this year, now’s the time to invest in you!

App Trends in Hotels & Lodging – Part 2

by Steve Guengerich

In part 1 of this series, we addressed projections for the hotels & lodging sector of the hospitality industry, along with the first two of five trends. In part 2, we finish with three additional app trends driving the sector.

3. Doubling down on loyalty programs with apps

Whereas Trend #2 covered risk mitigation strategies, among them being re-use of one’s code base for mobilized web apps, a place where industry leaders are investing for strategic differentiation is their loyalty program apps.

In particular, they are keen to have these apps become part of what one firm referred to as the “customer journey wheel.” The goal is for the loyalty program apps to be the hub for most, if not all, of their guests’ interactions, including:

  • the search for / shopping among and / locating of their hotel or lodging destination
  • booking / confirmation at that destination
  • pre-stay planning
  • day of travel activities (reservation confirm, directions, changes in arrival time, room preferences, etc.)
  • property arrival

The question firms are asking themselves is: how can it make each step in the wheel better or more memorable, leveraging the loyalty program app?

Once guests are on the property, firms are experimenting with ways to use tablets, like IHG’s Concierge app for the iPad. The belief is that the tablet provides a more immersive, tailored experience with the device’s larger screen, enabling guests the opportunity to explore more amenities and the hotel brand to make better commendations.

In addition to providing apps for the individual leisure and business traveler, brands are also working on ways to be more appealing to group travel managers – whether an amateur, coordinating the planning for a family wedding, or a professional travel planner. The Hilton’s Guest List Manager (GLM) app is a step in this direction.

4. NFC will be big in the US – very soon

Across the board, hotel & lodging industry leaders agree that NFC (short for “near field communications”) is quickly coming to their US business with the only question being “just how big” it will be?

The managers we interviewed are big believers in the “mobile wallet,” like the Google Wallet offering, pointing out how behind in mobile, digital payments the US is compared to other countries and their operations there.

Not only do they expect NFC to play a big role in substituting in for conventional credit card and cash transaction, but – relating back to the previous trend – they expect to also integrate NFC payments using guests’ loyalty program points… even further incentivizing customers to use their loyalty apps as their one-stop hotel/lodging app through which they run all possible transactions.

But, using NFC doesn’t stop at payments. Another example of an innovative way companies are piloting NFC technology with their apps is to use them as mobile room keys. In the same way that preferred rental car customers can go straight to their vehicle, NFC would enable guests to go straight to their rooms.

While the attraction of this mobile amenity is the time-saving, hassle-avoiding conventional check-in process at a front desk, there are drawbacks. Aside from perceived security concerns that one’s phone could be hacked or hijacked, enabling intruders to enter a room, there is the capital investment required by individual hotel properties to retrofit rooms with the additional door hardware.

5. There are major savings opportunities in back-office apps

While the majority of the mobile app activity we found was on the customer-facing, bookings & revenue enhancing side of the business, we also found some intriguing pilot projects and niche apps that were yielding value on the in-house, back-office side of hotel/lodging operations.

For example, one mobile app we encountered involved outfitting the housekeepers for a very large property (more than 1,500 rooms) with iPads and an app-based tracking system that enabled them to operate a far more precise, real-time status of their inventory management. Housekeepers could quickly note check in, cleaning complete, required room maintenance, etc. Early indications point to a clear payback for the system of approximately $250,000 in saved supervisor time (hourly labor rates – covering more in the same or less steps taken) and better inventory turn for arriving guests.

Another pilot app involved a novel use of mobile technology to address a higher incidence of perceived customer security concerns with a resort property covering fairly large grounds (more than 3,000 rooms on over 150 acres). Using RFID tags placed in lighted and unlighted sitting areas throughout the property, they developed a security guard check-in system requiring that the guards physically walk the property.

When the guards would come within registered range of the RFID-enabled locations, a mobile device they were carrying would be sensed by the tags. Further, by programming the routes so that they must be walked within defined periods of time, the firm was able to use the physical presence of their security personnel to improve guests’ perceived safety.

Paraphrasing one manager’s view of these apps, the operative word is “accountability,” reinforcing good employee work habits through a system that is reasonable and achievable and bringing value to the company through improved customer satisfaction scores, when everyone is doing their job.

Are you a frequent hotel or resort guest? Do you work in the hotel, lodging, or hospitality industry? We’d love to hear your thoughts, as well as recommendations for best apps.

App Trends in Hotels & Lodging – Part 1

by Steve Guengerich

While it has had its challenges in recent years like every other sector of the economy, the hospitality industry remains a very big business. And the largest sub-sector sector of the hospitality industry – the American hotel and lodging – is estimated to represent about $130 billion in annual sales in the US alone, across nearly 4.8 million rooms and 51,000 properties.

Coming into 2011, industry outlooks indicated that the lodging industry was poised to have a big year. For example, nearly 9 out of 10 respondents of anannual DLA Piper survey described their 12-month outlook at the beginning of the year for the US hospitality industry as “bullish,” nearly tripling the bullish sentiment from 2010.

Industry analyst firm iPerceptions confirmed this bullish outlook was merited in its recent Q1 2011 Hospitality and Tourism report, indicating that “With a strong economic resurgence under way, …luxury brands are benefitting from the increase in discretionary income and corporate travel budgets more than any other tier.” Further, that “2011 will be a year of opportunity for hospitality brands to differentiate themselves from the competition by offering products and services that their competitors do not.”

In addition to being a big business, indeed the lodging industry is a progressive, highly competitive business. And the fact that consumer use of social media and mobile technology has become increasingly common the past three years in guests’ purchase and communications patterns hasn’t been lost on the major brands and hospitality holding groups.

Thus, it should be no surprise that more than 70% of the managers from industry leaders – including Best Western, Choice (e.g., Comfort andQuality Inns), Hilton, International Hotel Group (or IHG, owners of theHoliday Inn and other brands), Marriott, and Starwood (e.g., Westin andSheraton) – confirmed that TripAdvsior and other social media, includingTwitter and Facebook, have changed the way they interact with guests.

In response, smart phone and tablet apps and mobile infrastructure are now among the major strategic investments the leaders are making. A series of interviews by The Appconomy with hotel and lodging insiders – both industry analysts, as well as tech and non-tech managers at the brands themselves –yielded the following trends influencing mobile investment.

1.  The race is on to accommodate changing booking patterns

“Mobile is a significant channel for us now,” said one chief information officer (CIO). “We are experiencing triple-digit growth, similar to what we experienced during the dot-com boom when the web started to reach an inflection point in growth.”

Some of the growth is new, but many attributed increased activity in the mobile channel as a shift of business from other channels. Further, regardless of the channel, guests still place a phone call as part of the booking process half the time.

Data about the changing booking patterns varied. One said that nearly 50% of bookings were coming within 48 hours the guest’s arrival, a significant reduction in the time between reservation and stay; likewise, another indicated that 49% of their business is now walk-ups

Yet another indicated that 60% of its bookings were now made the same day versus 10% same-day bookings in prior years. To help them understand this shift, this firm was conducting deeper research and usability testing with two guest personas, in particular: the “distressed traveler” and the “unplanned traveler.”

The bad news / good news of this shift in guests’ booking patterns is:

  • Bad: technical difficulties increased from 14% in Q4 2010 to 18% in Q1 2011 for visitors who came to make a reservation and encountered booking problems. Further, business travelers continued to have difficulty finding specific information related to their stay, such as conference room details, maps/distance to meeting locations and shuttle service
  • Good: Better mobile apps are clearly part of the solution to remedy these difficulties. In fact, one interviewee predicted that, because of improvement with mobile apps, the percentage of reservations made with hotels within 5 square miles of a mobile user’s location would quickly surpass 80%

With the help of more robust SMS engines and higher-speed devices, bandwidth, and storage solutions, most expect mobile apps to become the dominant booking platform for hotels within years.

2.  Mitigating the technology platform risk is challenging with mobile

The pace of change in mobile has been so great, that making significant investments has been challenging without unintentionally increasing risk. In response, lodging industry leaders have adapted a number of strategies and tactics to mitigate the risk of moving forward with their mobile plans.

Some like Marriott and Starwood have relied on third parties, like Usablenet, to develop and operate their mobile apps.

However, Usablenet and other outsourced platforms like it are being increasingly judged “out of gas.”

In place of these third-party platforms, the trend with chains has been to re-launch with a new, mobile platform over which they have greater control and ability to obtain and review customer analytics, optimize the experience, and manage portfolio of apps and their target devices.

Likewise, companies are hiring and developing greater expertise in-house for mobile app design and development. They still rely on third parties for specialized knowledge or to kick-start projects to get a fresh perspective, like using design agencies to generate ideas for a new mobile user interface.

Ultimately, though, more firms are seeing their mobile projects judged by fiscal and other performance objectives – especially, booking and revenue. Thus, an app has to move the needle sufficiently on those objectives to merit work, regardless of the source of the talent t to build it.

To anticipate which apps are likely to move the needle furthest, as well as help it to avoid being too far ahead or behind in its mobile initiatives, one firm relies on in-house task forces to research, analyze, and contribute recommendations.

It uses one task force for evaluating the impact of the mobile revolution broadly – involving IT, business, and operations leaders – while is uses another task force to look at emerging technologies and channels in a more fine-grained analysis, focusing on evaluating those mobile trends that appear “just around the corner.”

Another strategy to mitigate risk used by some lodging leaders with mobile platforms has been to adapt a reusable, lighter-weight, mobile-web code base for their various individual hotel brands. You can see this approach in practice with the individual branded apps from IHG and Choice, for example.

At the same time, the majority of firms are focusing their attention on native apps for their core loyalty programs that they hope to increasingly serve as the hub for a majority of their customer interactions over time.

These apps – deployed natively for iOS, Android, Blackberry, and Windows, phone and tablet – are increasingly seen as doorways for providing superior information and options to customers, while also producing analytics and the means for customer retention and value for the firm.

Look for part two of this series later in the week, continuing with hotel and lodging industry mobile trends.