Is the mobile web the next big thing?

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 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?

20 thoughts on “Is the mobile web the next big thing?

  1. I notice you featured Rich Barton’s own home there in the illustration, and Zillow Board of Directors member/RPA owner/seller’s rep Gordon Stephenson’s listing. Brilliant example of cross-marketing Robbie!

    I have Supra software loaded onto my TREO and it automatically downloads the entire MLS onto my phone every night. I also use the phone to access keyboxes, and I can also see who’s entered my own listings that way. When someone accesses my listing, their contact info gets beamed into my phone and it even prompts them for feedback. Pictures would be nice, as long as it didn’t make the service so slow as to be unusable. I also download a roster so I can instantly contact other agents, either by phone or by email. Not sure if I know of any buyers who would actually use such a service, but I use mine every day.

  2. I’ve been contemplating recreating my blog for mobile devices but am not too sure potential visitors would be using their phones to view my site. Right now, I’m thinking the ROI will be low. But, maybe they will so I bought a .mobi domain…just in case.

    Anyway, that’s a nice looking app you created for RPA.

    Marlow, the NWMLS also has a mobile based website so agents don’t need to subscribe to the download. It’s at – the one drawback is that it doesn’t include condo unit numbers.

  3. My wife and I drove around a lot of neighborhoods just getting a feel for home styles, but couldn’t look up the price of homes for sale at that time (2004) without getting in front of a computer. If I could look up a listing by address, and get some specs on the house, that would be great.

  4. Marlow, I also read Greg Swann’s Passive marketing can swing sale post this week. 🙂 Besides, if my lowly blog post will help sell Rich Barton’s home and make my client happy, then I’m all for it.

    I’ll have to see your TREO one of these days (probably Inman SF connect if we don’t meet before then). How long does it take to download/sync the MLS? If Galen’s impressed, it must be cool.

    Ben K, I suspect most hard-core mobile bloggers, just use mobile feed readers instead of web browsers. Then again, I’m not of them, so it’s just a gut feel. BTW – Thanks for the compliment. My favorite feature is the static Google maps when you click on the address. 

    One of the problems with mobile development I have is that most phones can only use proprietary cell phone networks, which makes exhaustive product testing expensive. I’m currently using a PocketPC over WiFi and I’m hoping that it isn’t that much different than the cell phone experience would be. If there was only a Firefox for PocketPC…

  5. I’m not sure how long it takes to download the MLS, as I have it scheduled automatically for 3am. But a couple of times when I’ve had to do a manual sync, it took about 3 minutes, but then I only do the listings and not the roster. Also, I limit the listings to just the Seattle metro area, not the entire state-wide MLS. I use the same phone to gain access to locked homes. The phone uses infrared to unlock the keyboxes, then automatically records my access into the box and hence, into the house. And, like I said, after accessing the keybox, the system sends a prompt on my phone for me to enter feedback about the house. For instance, Gordon can see exactly what I think of Rich Barton’s home, just by reading the feedback I left when I visited last weekend! If he uses the same software on his phone, he can read it there. Even if he chooses to use a keypad instead of a PDA/phone, he can access the info via his PC using GE Security’s Supra KIM system, which we all use for MLS access to sync our keybpads & keyboxes.

  6. You guys on the coasts are so far ahead of us technology wise. If I could get my treo to unlock the supra boxes I could lose part of the “arsenal” on my belt. Anyone seen my grappling hook???

  7. I have the MLS on my TREO, but I rarely use it because when I’m out with clients we have a list of homes we’re seeing and I bring the MLS printouts with all the information on it.

    The only time my wife or I (we both have MLS on our TREO’s and we’re both Realtors) us our mobile MLS is if a buyer lead calls us about a certain home and we need to look it up while we’re away from a computer, but that’s rare also.

    I think the idea of having the MLS information on our phones is great, and it’s nice for those times you do use it, but it’s really not that big of deal.

    Consumers look for a home for a few weeks and then they don’t care about home info again for years, so I don’t think they would encumber their phones with software so it needs to be internet driven, and compatible for the teeny tiny phone screens on mobile devices. I don’t care how great your resolution is on your new mobile device- it’s tough to see details or a home on a 4inch screen.

  8. Pingback: Where should the MLS end and the IDX begin? | Rain City Guide | A Seattle Real Estate Blog...

Leave a Reply