Some of the best user interfaces being created today are on mobile devices. I often find myself reaching for my cell phone instead of my laptop when I need a hit of information. Common tasks such as looking up a business, buying movie tickets or checking email are often faster on mobile devices.
The best example of this is the Happy Hours app. Launch the app and after a few seconds it will show you the nearest happy hour specials sorted by distance that are going on right now. No input required.
Why are mobile interfaces better?
Access to sensors such as GPS. The Happy Hours app on my phone knows where I’m at. On the Web, at best it can guess what city I’m in.
Limited screen real estate. People often feel the need to fill whitespace. Nothing else to put there? How about some more remnant ads? With mobile, there is less whitespace to fill.
No SEO. The app itself doesn’t have to be filled with links for search engine crawlers. At least half of the GoTime.com home page (the company behind the Happy Hours app) is links for crawlers.
As smartphones proliferate, integration with mobile devices will be a key part of the offline retail experience. While many businesses offer a simple store locator, Target’s iPhone and Android apps and mobile Web site tie much deeper into their stores.
Among the key features:
Weekly deals. Browse through the current week’s specials by category.
Product availability. Scan a bar code or enter a product and it will tell you whether the item is available online or in stores. If it’s in store, availability is displayed along with the aisle that it’s located in. No more wandering through the store trying to find something. (In all of the times I’ve tried it, it hasn’t been wrong.)
Payment.* If you have Target gift cards, you can enter the information and store it on your phone. When you’re ready to pay, pull up the bar code on the screen and show it to the cashier.
Gift registry.* Look up a gift registry and find item locations.
*Not available on the Android app.
Target has long been among the most innovative retailers. Four years ago, it offered an MP3 player gift card at Christmas. It has also offered a standalone gift find finder app that suggested Christmas gifts.
In the future, I’d expect to see integration with previous in-store purchases and tighter integration between the mobile apps and the Target Web site.
Next time you’re at the ballgame, your phone might get you some peanuts and Cracker Jack. I was at a Mariners game at Safeco Field earlier this week when an announcement encouraged the crowd to order concessions using their Android phones.
The app, from iConcessionStand.com, allows you to select food, drinks and team merchandise and have it delivered to your seat. When you launch the app, it asks for your seat location. It uses GPS to verify that you’re at the ballpark; you can’t order if you’re not there.
Pricing for the service is relatively modest. There’s a 99-cent service charge and a required tip. That’s well worth it to avoid long concession lines. (Pricing for food and drink, however, is the standard astronomical ballpark rate.) A $10 minimum purchase is required, but one beer gets you most of the way there. Delivery is quoted at 30 minutes. Selection was more limited than what was available on the concourse, but wide enough.
The big sticking point is payment information. After loading up my cart, I was prompted to enter my billing information, including credit card number and full billing address. For a one-off event, this was too much work. (Using a PayPal login is also an option.)
The ballpark isn’t the only place your phone can feed you. Chipotle offers ordering through an iPhone app. Build your order, pick a store for pickup, and enter payment information. When I arrived at the store, they’d received the order but it inexplicably had a delayed pickup time. Pizza Hut has its own iPhone ordering app and Snapfinger offers ordering from a range of chains, including Outback, Baja Fresh, California Pizza Kitchen and Subway.
This integration from the virtual to the physical world will become increasingly common over the next couple of years as point-of-sale systems become better integrated with the Internet.