Mobile Patriotism: Noted With Pleasure

by , Jul 2, 2009, 1:30 PM
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As we move into the July Fourth holiday weekend, I am determined to shed my recent grumpiness over crappy mobile Web pages, ham-handed 2D code executions (I got a lot of mail on that one!) and the weirdness caused by tossing Google AdSense into any old mobile app.

There is in fact a lot that makes me smile about mobile marketing and mobile media right now. Just not so's you can tell. Here then, for a holiday respite from my usual crankiness, I join the legions of cheerleaders for a patriotic weekend of mobile boosterism. No whining. No complaining. No dangerous and seditious anti-mobilism. I have gotten with the program. Here are things that make me proud to be a mobilista.

Fluent Mobile is a great experiment in mobile news aggregation. Available now in the iPhone App Store and later in other app markets, the portal assembles the top news from major brands like CNN, BBC, NY Times, etc. but it does so in the mobile context. In other words, it works like a mobile browser into the mobile-formatted articles from these providers. Like Google News, the app aggregates around stories, so you can see several related links off of a given item.

The beauty of the app is its speed. It pre-fetches a lot of content and keeps you in content that is streamlined for mobile. The aggregated news retains the provider's original branding and even their advertising. Fluent Mobile only monetizes the index pages and doesn't overlay ads onto the news brand's pages. The company tells me it plans fee-based versions with higher levels of personalization. As a user, I am curious to see whether I prefer an aggregated approach to mobile news like this or the more brand-specific blends offered by the individual media outlets.

Zoovision is an undiscovered treasure. Actually, I understand that this video portal does have a considerable following, but I rarely hear it mentioned in mobile marketing circles. It carries both CBS News and CBS Sports but also maintains a marvelous trove of trailers, anime, podcasts (video and audio), music videos, and even old films that have fallen into public domain. If you are looking for a campy respite with "Teenagers from Outer Space," this is the place. The collection is eclectic and deep. Mediaholics looking for a real time-waster can find no better place.

The new Zillow app is astonishingly powerful, a good illustration of the power of information when put in the right place at the right time. Zillow is the real estate site that offers estimates of property values anywhere and aggregates recent sales records and new listings. For people looking to sell or buy, it has become indispensible. The mobile app can use GPS to find your location and literally give you estimates and sale listings from where you stand.

I was sitting in my parent's living room telling them what their house and their neighbors' houses were estimated to be worth, along with charts showing price fluctuations over the last decade. My father almost had a cow.

The marketing possibilities here are endless. Zillow's back-end behavioral tracking online can tell from anonymous activity whether someone is ready to buy, sell or remodel (even project their timeframe) and can target ads accordingly. Those ads aren't evident yet in the app, but the prospects are exciting.

WolframAlpha got a bad rap early on because it didn't prove the Google-killer the press wanted. In fact, this unique search engine has a lot of promise for mobile. The WAP version really does deliver answers, not links -- if you know the right questions. Plug in "pizza + zip" and it doesn't know what you mean, but "pizza" delivers a nutritional information label. Enter two company names and it assumes you want to compare their financials and renders earnings charts. This structured information search engine is hobbled by limited sets of data for now, but its native ability to determine what you really want to know and deliver it on a single screen holds a lot of promise for mobile search.

And finally, is John Carmack a genius or what? The programmer of the legendary Doom and Quake game engines blew me away several years ago when he turned the initial chapter of the Doom first-person shooter into a turn-based role-playing game for phones. It was hands-down the best mobile game I had played. This week, he double-barrels me with his take on iPhone gaming, Doom: Resurrection. He puts the gamer "on a rail" by moving him through the first-person game world and letting him control the aiming reticule by reorienting the iPhone. You have to tap quickly on power-ups as you pass them as well.

The game play is wholly unique, and the interface is stunning. You can dodge incoming missiles with a tap and save and quit easily. The game achieves what few other mobile titles have -- real tension. Carmack is someone who genuinely thinks about the platform he is on and then rethinks game design accordingly. The high $10 price tag? Cheap. I am wondering what larger lessons about mobile interface design we might learn from this master.

And I will have time to ponder such niceties as I try to beat Doom over the long weekend. See, I made it through an entire column without whining. But my daughter is bringing her boyfriend over to visit this weekend, so the mood won't last long. According WolframAlpha the Neanderthals left the planet ages ago. How did my 17-year-old manage to dig one up to date?

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