The latest round of app updates from major media companies finally seems to have gotten the memo about intimacy and devices. The recent update from the Weather Channel, for instance, visually acknowledges the weather conditions in your area with a suitable splash page image. Google Now, of course, wants to turn my trusted search app into an early warning system for all aspects of my life. And now the new version of the venerable business directory YP rolls out a totally revamped version that turns the old paradigm of the Yellow Pages into something genuinely conversational.
"Mornin.' Big Day Planned?" it asks me at app open, although I am not sure what that majestic mountain image dominating the home page has to do with Labor Day in the relatively flat Wilmington, Delaware environs. Perhaps there is a backstreet around here I missed. The second-person voice of the app may be a contrivance and a kind of faux machine-made conversation that has less impact over time. Or it could be us edging away from the machine and information ages into a robotics age as we anthropomorphize computer services.
Time will tell how we want to relate to increasingly "intelligent" machines that can harvest more detailed information about us from just a few interactions. They get the time of day right in this effort to make an app that feels personal, human, locally and temporally aware. The new app invites a voice search with a prominent microphone icon in the query box. I like that the new app recognizes not just business types and names, but even acknowledges personal yens. It will search local menus if I ask about a certain dish. I wish it were smart enough to recognize movie names and complex commands like "open restaurants." But its customizable home screen allows you to add your own business searches as shortcut buttons and shows you the current lowest price for gas nearest you. A My Book section holds bookmarked listings for easy re-lookups. The app succeeds in making the local directory app stand out from the two main rivals on my deck, Google's general search and Yelp's review-driven directory.
But the app also suggests the direction toward personalization that mobile needs to take. On the Web, people sought and landed on "destinations." That is a faulty paradigm for mobile. These metaphors somehow reflected the static, desk-bound situation from which digital media evolved. We were "out on" this "web" of "sites." You were a "visitor" to virtual places.
Consider how mobility invites us to abandon these metaphors of the Web to adopt more helpful and productive ways of thinking about content. In this environment, you don't land on content destinations. On devices YOU are the destination for content. When you tap an app, the publisher should be "visiting" you.
This is a distinction with a real difference. Over time a mobilized Internet puts the onus on the content provider to acknowledge the circumstances and the needs of their host, the user. Personalization is not a convenience or a feature. It is a necessity. It should be table stakes for the next generations of apps.