Commentary

Random Acts Of Seamlessness

"You're grumpy," my wife complains.

"I am a critic. I get paid to be grumpy."

"Well, you're married now, so you can't snarl at everything -- and everyone."

"I don't recall that being in the vows. I didn't sign up for gaiety."

"Watch, it, there! What makes you happy? You just got new home theater speakers, so now we can hear every leaf rustle in 'Avatar.' Did that make you happy?"

"Well, it has got a subwoofer that is going to bug the hell out of the neighbor who already hates us. I like that."

"OK, you know you took that in the wrong direction. You need to remind yourself of the little things that make you happy. It is supposed to be a mood enhancer."

OK, so consider this column a bit of therapy -- focusing on the little things in mobile media now that make me happy.

HBO Go: Far and away the best TV anywhere execution I have seen, and a real value-add for HBO subscribers that is likely to keep them on the farm. I have access to all seasons of all the major HBO shows on demand, synchronized across iPad, iPhone and even Google TV. This is Netflix but with a finer interface, all premium product and exclusive like advanced viewings of new episodes. Now we are starting to see TV companies leverage mobile in ways that are sure to affect their bottom line. I don't even watch HBO itself very much anymore on TV. But the richness of this app will make me think twice before canceling.

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Google: Take a look at the current state of the mobile Google experience. The basic interface comes with Places shortcuts to food, drink, ATMs and gas, etc. The localized search results have a map designed to stay on the top of the screen while the listings scroll beneath. And as each listing is highlighted, any image associated with the location is superimposed in the lower corner of the map.

This is an incredibly smooth and streamlines mobile search experience from what was available just last year. Dropdown menus give you even more direct access to directions and other resources. It is fascinating to watch search on mobile start to revive the more directory-like structure that started the model at Yahoo 15 years ago. In many ways I find the Google Web experience easier to use and more relevant than the app model (at least on iPhone).

Codes that Deliver: I have already written in recent columns about how 2D codes and other means of using mobile to bridge physical and digital worlds are starting to make sense. The basic awkwardness of code snapping too often is compounded by weak results for the user. I am not sure why MMS hasn't played more of a role in mobile marketing in the U.S. generally, but it can be a more seamless way to circumvent the usual app go-between when snapping and sending.

Ocean Spray today is launching a cross-country mobile tour where they will visit fairs and events around the country and sport signage with a SpyderLynk SnapTag code. AT&T, Verizon and Alltell users can just take a standard camera shot of the tag with Ocean spray logo and send it by MMS as they would any photo to a friend. Arguably, punching in a five digit shortcode is no better than having to root through your apps to find the damned QR code reader or download that Microsoft Tag app. But it does let the marketer know you can receive in return an MMS.

In this case, in seconds I got a pretty attractive image of a smoothie accompanied by a full recipe idea. I would call that a good use of creative, providing value as a result of a natural mobile phone activity that doesn't feel so much like jumping through a marketer's hoops.   

Killer Time-Killer: My favorite new totally pointless use of mobile time is ChaCha's app. The human search engine, which answers direct questions from users online and via text, has turned its answer machine into a wonderful way to engage radically random information. The latest iteration adds a Near Me feature that gives you all the questions being asked from people in your area, in real time. In some cases I can glean some genuinely useful news here, like local events, but the real fun is just trivia fishing. To make it more engaging, the app also parses the recent answers into topical categories.

"There, don't you feel better?" my wife asks as I try to reel off a few things about life I enjoy.

"Warm puppies? The sound of light rain falling on slate roofs? The loving smile of my new wife? Mocking instant feel-good therapies my wife hears on Dr. Oz?"

"OK, ya know you just bought yourself tofu burgers for dinner."

"I just got the Kubrick film collection on Blu-ray. Can I crank up 'Clockwork Orange' on the new speakers? I think our neighbor might like a bit of 'Ludwig Van' surroundsound street-brawling. That would make me happy."

6 comments about "Random Acts Of Seamlessness ".
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  1. Dean Collins from Cognation Inc, July 7, 2011 at 3:31 p.m.

    I like your wife....she sounds good for you.

    SnapTag though...puhlease...image recognition via MMS i couldn't put together a more ugly combination.

    Hate to be the neighbour downstairs but if you didn't get paid to to right about SnapTag you may as well......

    I cant stress how poor image recognition works with real world use.

    The reason this is a fail comes down to door knobs. yep thats right door knobs.

    When was the last time someone showed you "how to use" a door you hadnt seen used before? thats right you dont, you see a door knob and you know what the UX will be.

    The issue with image recognition is unless you can guarentee every print/object/surface in the world is linked to your database when people pull out their scanner and it doesnt work a few times they are going to feel like idiots.

    People understand the "practise" of using QR codes, pull out phone/scan/get result - same as door knobs.

    SnapTags solved that problem by putting a "logo" telling people its a SnapTag.....this is an idea some guy created as a solution loooking for a problem....i hope MediaPost paid for your MMS charge.

  2. Dean Collins from Cognation Inc, July 7, 2011 at 3:32 p.m.

    wooops write even.

  3. Noah Wieder from SearchBug, Inc., July 7, 2011 at 3:42 p.m.

    HBO Go... yes, it's great, especially on my iPad. I almost cancelled HBO since my TIVO can't handle HBO on Demand via Cox cable card - Lame... But alas.. HBO Go makes up for the lack of HBO VOD.

    Better than Netfilx you say.. um.. sorry, I disagree.
    Nice interface on the iPad, Check
    Rich content, Check
    Beautiful look, Check
    Keeps track of episodes I've watched, Nope
    Let's me sort my Queue (watch-list), Nope
    Let's me rate or like shows and recommends others based on my preferences, Nope, and not likely

    Need I say more? HBO Go is nice, but has plenty of areas to improve. Netflix is the leader. If Netflix had HBO content, I would use Netflix app over HBO Go. Just my two cents. ;-)

  4. Steve Smith from Mediapost, July 7, 2011 at 4:17 p.m.

    @Dean

    Well that will teach me not to be grumpy. ;-)

    I have found image recognition working on defined material like magazine ads and a 2D logo code like this to be pretty accurate and easy. I am not sure I get your problem with the MMS route.

    I hated the original method of emailing the image. In this case at least I liked the quality MMS/SMS combo I got in return, which again, felt much more seamless than a a QR bump to a mobile web URL or the app store. But I eas commenting more on the content delivered and its route, both of which I think are better than most of the QR code follow-throughs I have seen.

  5. Steve Smith from Mediapost, July 7, 2011 at 4:23 p.m.

    @Noah.

    I didn't actually say that HBO Go is better than Netflix. It has things Netflix doesn't. And honestly, even after a few tries the app interface in the Netflix apps should be better. I really did mean it was the best TV Everywhere app, not the best all-video app.

    Agree on all the social stuff in Netflix, and I would never cancel it in favor of HBO...never.

    But my apps do track the episodes I have watched, insofar as they drop me back in the one I was last watching and line up the next in the series. I am working my way through the Wire at long last and it keeps me moving forward through the episodes, albeit with some hiccups.

  6. Erik Butler from AdGent Digital, July 12, 2011 at 5:28 p.m.

    Hi Steve. Long-time reader, first time commentator...

    Regarding Tags / MMS, I agree with your sentiment that it's a slightly lesser path of resistance but a significantly more robust experience.

    We're doing the same thing in that we allow consumers to take a picture of an MS Tag, text it in and receive an MMS. However, we have the ability to compress a video of up to 30 seconds and deliver it as an MMS text.

    This provides a 'wow' factor to a brand campaign and allows for multi channel consistency. With our MMS compression, a brand can use a commercial on TV and the web, and now deliver the same clip via MMS directly to consumers' phones.

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