AOL today released its new beta of mobile search. Congratulations to rockstar developer Alan Tai and product manager Farhan Memon. Alan did much of the initial prototyping on his own time while we worked to get approval.
I pushed the strategy on this, so it would be inappropriate for me to review it. See Om’s blog for more details.
I’ve long believed that you need to design for the medium. Shovelware didn’t work when we were first trying to put content on the Web; it won’t work now. The old version of AOL’s mobile search took the same 10 Web results you would get on a Web browser and shrunk them down to fit a mobile screen. That didn’t work.
People are in a different state when they’re mobile. Most people aren’t going to do research for a term paper or browse real estate listings on their cell phones. (Not least because most of the sites won’t work well when shrunk down to fit a mobile device.) The new mobile search is designed around answering the questions that people are most likely asking when they’re out and about: What’s the weather like? What’s the phone number for the local pizza place? What time is the movie starting?
Then there are the issues of limited screen space and difficulty in entering data. Time to answer is especially critical in mobile. This product was designed to get people answers to common mobile queries as quickly as possible.
Among the top complaints among restaurant customers are screaming babies and cell phones. Now you can combine the two.
My friend Jonathan mentioned that he wanted to capture the dulcet sounds of his five month old for posterity. I suggested that he make it into a ringtone for his Nokia N95. (Unlike most American cell phones, this European phone lets you use your own custom ringtones.)
Hear the resulting ringtone on his baby blog.
I just hope he doesn’t make it into a ringback tone.
I made my visit to the Temple of Jobs yesterday, reaching the Apple store on Stockton Street about 9:30 p.m. The live van for the local NBC affiliate was parked outside waiting for the 11 p.m. newscast.
Inside, the store was relatively empty except for the big crowd around the iPhone display.
What was sparking the crowd? There were working iPhones set out on the counter.
Unlike most wireless carriers that put out dummy, nonfunctional phones, these were real. They were loaded with music, so you could test out the iPod features. You could use the Web browser. Watch videos on YouTube. You could even – gasp – make phone calls!
People were calling their friends — “Guess what, I’m calling you from the iPhone?” They waited patiently as the person in front of them explored the nuances. Every once in a while, someone would walk by proudly holding an iPhone bag.
Wireless carriers can learn a lot from Apple about launching products. Sure, most product launches won’t ever get the wall-to-wall media coverage that iPhone did. (Including a countdown the day before on CNBC ticking away the minutes until the iPhone launch.) But it’s a lot easier for people to get excited about a product when they can interact with it rather than have to imagine what it’s like.
Looking at my Facebook account today, there at least three people who reference having an iPhone, including one who “is worried her boyfriend loves his iPhone more than her.”
NewTeeVee reports on the launch of YouTube mobile.
Now you can kill time watching YouTube videos anywhere, assuming you have a phone that can display streaming video. You should also have an unlimited data plan, lest you have to hold up a Brinks truck to pay your cell phone bill. Just go to http://m.youtube.com. (The link also works from a Web browser.)
YouTube previously had an exclusive deal with Verizon Wireless.
The current version of the service is limited to selected videos. You can’t log into your account and show strangers videos of your kids or access your playlists. According to the FAQ, “We have a selected library of videos on the mobile website. We try to make the best videos from the website available on mobile, and we are working hard to add more content.”
The videos were intelligible on my Samsung A900, though noticeably worse than the same videos on the Web. The quality will suffice for killing a few minutes before a flight.
I’m not a coffee drinker, so the Starbucks brand means exactly one thing: no free WiFi.
I was walking through Georgetown yesterday and grumbled (and shot this picture) as I walked past the Starbucks on M Street in my quest for a place to work. Starbucks WiFi is provided by T-Mobile for $9.99 a day or $39.99 a month.
I can’t think of a national chain that means “free WiFi” the same way that Starbucks means “pay for WiFi.” In this region, the Cosi chain has free WiFi.
A few blocks further, I found a cozy patio at Cafe Tu-O-Tu (a play on DC’s area code). Not only did they have free WiFi, the space was much nicer.
I’ve written before about the WHERE platform, a location-based service platform that allows developers to create custom location applications. Now just about anyone can do it, with very little technical knowledge.
You go to Google’s My Maps, plot your points and then go through a simple process to create your widget. (Behind the scenes, WHERE is using KML, which is becoming the de facto standard for identifying locations.)
I was easily able to create widgets that allow you to find the nearest Metro station in the D.C. area, the restaurants reviewed in Tom Sietsema’s 2006 Dining Guide, my own guide to my neighborhood and a list of restaurants I want to try. You can see my custom widgets in the phone at right. (The links take you to the Google My Map; if you’re a WHERE user and want a link to the widget, email me. Unfortunately, there’s not yet an easy way to publish them.)
The widgets even include photos. If you come across Clarendon Ballroom in my guide to Clarendon, you could pull up a picture of it on your phone, along with my review.
WHERE also supports a CSV import, so groups or people that have existing databases of content they want to use can just upload the data instead of first plotting it on a Google Map.
Right now the widgets aren’t live. For example, if I add or change information in my Clarendon guide, I have to recreate the widget. Even though that process is simple, it shouldn’t be necessary.
More on: maps, gps, Google
Google announced that they’ve added more public transit information, including schedules in select markets.
Google points to a map of Zurich to illustrate schedule information. Click on one of the tram icons. In some cases, you must then click on the “View upcoming departures” link. It’s unclear whether this is just schedule information or real-time data; it looks like it might just be schedule. This also works in Portland, Ore. (I really wish generating a URL with the “Link to this page” button would preserve the state of the info balloons.)
I still want to see Google incorporate real-time information, similar to what is available from the WMATA for the DC Metro system.
Throughout the country, Google has added the lines served to transit stations.
You can also search an area for a station. For example, here’s a search for “Metro Center station”. That alone is nice, but it gets better. I often go in to DC to have lunch with friends who work near the McPherson Square station. Here’s a map of restaurants near McPherson Square.
Of the online map providers, Google has done the best job of making maps about more than just driving. Some public transit agencies and companies like NextBus have been offering information on their Web sites, on the phone and on the platforms. But its the distribution power of Google that’s going to bring this to the masses.
Unfortunately, the transit information isn’t yet available on Google Maps Mobile. The killer app for transit information is really on mobile devices.
More on: Google, maps, transit