I was recently inspired by Joel Burslem’s, House Hunting On the Go blog posting. A lot of folks have voiced their desire for having MLS search tools designed for their mobile devices. Since I had some spare time last weekend, I went ahead and designed a mobile version of Real Property Associates’ web site. If you’re curious to see the final results, I encourage you to visit http://mobile.rpare.com and let me know what you think.
Ironically, as I was reading the post’s comments, I personally agreed most with Greg Tracy’s assertion (of Blue Roof fame), that his clients didn’t really care. The experience on a 3 GHz computer, with fast & reliable network connections and a 21″ LCD monitor is far more compelling, than the experience on a 200 Mhz Phone, with slow & intermittent network connections and 2″ LCD screen. I suspect a typical real estate consumer probably doesn’t care about mobile home search capabilities because they typically only look for homes for a few weeks every 5 or so years.
[photopress:mobile_zearch.jpg,full,alignright]Despite my reservations, I realize that real estate professionals are often very mobile and generally look for houses every week of the year. Since my customers are real estate professionals first and real estate consumers second, I suspect that my semi-pessimistic outlook is due to the fact that I’m not a mobile professional myself. That and the mobile web’s predecessor, WML, leaves a bad taste in my mouth like the New Coke did.
Mobile devices are a challenge to design for because the CPUs are slow, the browsers aren’t usually as powerful as their desktop equivalents (although Opera for Windows PocketPC currently smokes Internet Explorer Mobile), the screens are small, the network speeds can be glacial, and the user input mechanisms are slow and cumbersome. That said, having the whole MLS (w/ photos, static maps & Zillow Zestimates) and the office employee directory (w/ email addresses & photos) in your coat pocket is pretty dang slick, despite all the limitations.
Disclaimer: I designed this site for devices that support HTML and have screens that are 240 pixels wide. Since newer smart phones (Samsung Blackjack, Motorola Q, etc) and PocketPC’s have “big” screens and high speed networking, I decided that was the smallest device I wanted to support and still have the features I wanted. If you use a device with a smaller screen, you may be scrolling around more than you’d like.
So, what features would you like to see in your mobile real estate apps? Do you prefer text messaging apps (like Zillow Mobile) over real mobile web apps? What kinds of mobile devices do you plan on using to access mobile web apps? Is the future bigger, PDA like phones (like Windows Mobile devices, Blackberry, and the upcoming Apple iPhone) or smaller, more limited devices like the ubiquitous Motorola RAZR V3? Do think this trend will take consumers by storm or be restricted to professional use only? Would you pay extra for this technology if your MLS or IDX vendor offered it? Have you bought your .mobi domain names yet?