Killer Tech for Phones

At the tail-end of the Mobile Retailing panel at NRF, I was asked "what will this panel be discussing next year at NRF 2011?" I gave a quick answer that I think merits further explanation. From a mobile technology perspective, especially with reference to the iPhone and similar devices, I think we're in in our third generation of "killer tech" (similar to killer apps).

Brightkite_Augmented_Reality_Campaign.jpg

For me, the mobile phone wasn't really interesting until I could combine the PDA functions of email, calendar, and contacts with the convenience of a phone. So I was underwhelmed until my first Blackberry, and then i was immediately addicted. When I switched to an iPhone, it was a prettier version of the same basic functionality, albeit with greater access to 3rd party applications. But I was soon impressed with three waves of tech.

1. Location-based Services
The first killer tech of the iPhone was anything that used GPS. I never got lost with Google Maps, and there were a few apps that helped me find nearby restaurants, gas stations, and even friends. I recently saw an interesting app for Android that counts-down the time to your scheduled departure for an appointment/meeting/event, taking into account your current location, the distance and traffic to your destination in real-time. Yowza! uses your location to find coupons from nearby stores.

2. Computer Vision
The next killer tech, which made its way onto the scene last year, is computer vision. For years we've been able to take photos and email them around to friends, but now apps can finally "see" what's in the picture. Walmart's app lets you take a picture of your living room and determines the best size TV for the space. Tesco's app let's you photograph a wine bottle's label to get additional information on the wine (and prices of course). RedLaser let's you scan a barcode using the phone's camera in order to get additional product information. We embedded RedLaser's technology in our proof-of-concept iPhone app, Shopping Assistant, which I talk about in this video.

3. Augmented Reality
I think 2010 will be year when augmented reality takes off. This technology is made possible for phones that have GPS, a camera, and a compass. Yelp, an app that provides reviews for stores and restaurants, was the first to release a mainstream AR app for the iPhone. Now Brightkite is partnering with BestBuy to offer advertising on its AR app. Imagine standing in front of a shopping center and using your phone's video camera to pan across the storefronts to see reviews, promotions, and store hours. Wired Magazine recently published their 7 Best Augmented Reality Apps.

Taken a step further, imagine using an AR app within the store to immediately see additional product information, promotional videos, and get access to coupons. OK, now fast-forward a few years and replace the phone with a wearable computer. Now fast-forward a few more to use AR contact lenses. This will someday significantly change the way advertising reaches people.

What do you think we'll be talking about at the NRF 2011 Mobile Retailing Panel?

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David Dorf, Sr Director Technology Strategy for Oracle Retail, shares news and ideas about the retail industry with a focus on innovation and emerging technologies.


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