As most people following the tech industry know, July was “iPhone 3G” month. In the local search space, the Kelsey Group (via Mike Boland) recently published an analysis of 25 representative local search iPhone apps. I haven’t read the document but I’m sure it’s excellent as always.
In a case of “I don’t know if I should be laughing or crying” though, I stumbled upon this Information Week article that talks about a restaurant app called UrbanSpoon (I’m pretty sure it’s not in the Kelsey Group report…). Here’s what it does:
When you start UrbanSpoon, it asks for permission to check your location. Once it does, you get a slot-machine-type interface with three thumbwheels: One containing names of local neighborhoods, one containing a list of cuisines, and one containing price ranges, from one dollar-sign to four. You can select any of the criteria manually, and lock that choice in. Then, give the iPhone a shake, and the device’s built-in accelerometer will detect the movement and set the wheels to spinning. I’ve found two good shakes do the job. Or, if you’re feeling lazy, you can press the “Shake” button at the bottom of the screen. The wheels spin with suitable sound effects, and when they’re done, you get a restaurant recommendation.
Not sure it’s useful but it’s certainly very clever. It seems to be working as the UrbanSpoon blog reported 300,000 downloads on July 23rd.
What it means: Hmmm… Clearly, if you’re in the local search space, I think you want to have an iPhone app/iPhone-compatible site out there (or be working on one) just to appear to be competitive. But I suspect we’re already close to “jumping the shark” in the space. The signal to noise ratio seems to be quite high and Apple controls the storefront. Regarding the UrbanSpoon app, the Information Week reviewer mentioned something I thought was really interesting: “The application is as good as any Internet-based restaurant finder — which is to say it’s mediocre. It’s no substitute for talking to trusted friends, or going out and trying and finding new restaurants on your own.” Again, word of mouth seems to be the #1 trusted source for local search referrals. Quoting Roberto Rocha (who was recently quoting an unnamed social media expert), “Whoever figures out how to bottle the friendly referral will be the next Google.” He might be right.