I’ve been delving into local search applications that have been specifically designed for iPhones and have been struck not only by the sleek designs of the apps but also by the micro view they offer on how the directory business in general has been unfolding. Directories have moved from traditional rigid category-based search experiences to sleeker search sites and have recently moved heavily into vertical directories incorporating user generated content and other social media.
On the traditional side of the spectrum are tools that act as pocket yellow pages. AT&T is a good example of this type of application.
Launched by Avantar, a sister company to Yellow Pages Directory, the app has a number of features including:
• Auto location detection
• Map & Directions
• One tap location modifier
• A contacts area to “bookmark” businesses
• Tap to call
Firmly rooted in the tradition of the directory user experience, the consumer is still faced with fields to fill. Granted, the bolder tap opportunities make the experience a bit easier but for some reason it still feels like the search experience of old.
Remember the first time you held an iPod? Do you recall the slight confusion surrounding the wheel? How long did it take before you realized “wow, this is a better way”? Well, the newer generation of applications is all about this shift in navigation.
One example of this can be seen with the Where To application. Where To is owned by German based FutureTap and while it is based on the same data exchange as any other directory, the app’s unique proposition is a sleeker, more intuitive user experience. It's currently powered by Google Maps but is moving towards enhanced listing data. So the difference between this offering and that of the traditional yellow pages offering is this:
• Find whatever you want without any typing
Finally, I’ve been watching the vertical directory frenzy manifest itself at the app mall. Applications are popping up that specialize in finding anything from Doctors to Burger Kings. Admittedly, I’ve asked myself (more than twice) if these applications have any future. Do consumers want multiple applications on their handhelds to find products and services that were once contained in one access point?
One vertical that seems to be experiencing significant lift here is the travel/restaurant business. Free apps like UrbanSpoon, Local Picks and Yelp are developing some attention. Even the pricey ($29.99) Zagat app seems to be gaining some users.
In the local mobile landscape the obvious user behavior will always win and the categories of growth will undoubtedly reflect these behaviors. I’m not saying that vertical apps don’t have a place in app land but doesn’t it make more sense for consumers to use one app that streams specialized data from the verticals into one access point?
To finish the analogy between traditional yellow pages and their evolved apps, independent publishers started producing competing books and delivering them to consumers. In some areas across North America, consumers have to chose between more than two yellow pages books!
When surfing randomly through reviews of applications (all applications including games and gadgets), the reoccurring theme on a negative review is "don't waste the space...". I think the app mall is starting to fill up with fragments of utility that users may find interesting for one fleeting search...