iPhone Local Search Apps: Jumping the Shark Already?

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.

UrbanSpoon iPhone app

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.

14 thoughts on “iPhone Local Search Apps: Jumping the Shark Already?

  1. Well, my own impression is that of clutter, in the whole location-based sphere. Everybody just jumped on the bandwagon. But the ultimate location-based service has yet to reach maturity. Same thing with social bookmarking, microblogging and, yes, even SNS.
    So, instead of “jumping the shark,” location-based hasn’t happened.
    One reason is that few developers have the truly global perspective which would be required for location-based services to really make sense. The large majority of location-based apps in the App Store don’t even work in Canada!

  2. Well, my own impression is that of clutter, in the whole location-based sphere. Everybody just jumped on the bandwagon. But the ultimate location-based service has yet to reach maturity. Same thing with social bookmarking, microblogging and, yes, even SNS.
    So, instead of “jumping the shark,” location-based hasn’t happened.
    One reason is that few developers have the truly global perspective which would be required for location-based services to really make sense. The large majority of location-based apps in the App Store don’t even work in Canada!

  3. For S/N, the higher the ratio, the less obtrusive the background noise is. So, when you write “The signal to noise ratio seems to be quite high”, isn’t the opposite you wanted to express? That is, low signal, high noise? 2/1 > 1/2?

    This doesn’t impair the clear insight you just provide us. Thanks.

  4. For S/N, the higher the ratio, the less obtrusive the background noise is. So, when you write “The signal to noise ratio seems to be quite high”, isn’t the opposite you wanted to express? That is, low signal, high noise? 2/1 > 1/2?

    This doesn’t impair the clear insight you just provide us. Thanks.

  5. @Martin Lessard: there goes the perception I’m good at math! 🙂 You’re right, I meant there’s too much background noise out there.

  6. @Martin Lessard: there goes the perception I’m good at math! 🙂 You’re right, I meant there’s too much background noise out there.

  7. WRT the Roberto Rocha quote and trusted referalls. This is something I’ve been pondering for a while and why at the moment I think FB can be considered in the lead to sort this out. Ignore the specifics of Beacon and look at the intentions and you’ll see where they are heading.

    Some more thoughts over on AdViking about this from the Lacy/Zuckenburg SXSW Debacle. http://bit.ly/4gfhBg

  8. WRT the Roberto Rocha quote and trusted referalls. This is something I’ve been pondering for a while and why at the moment I think FB can be considered in the lead to sort this out. Ignore the specifics of Beacon and look at the intentions and you’ll see where they are heading.

    Some more thoughts over on AdViking about this from the Lacy/Zuckenburg SXSW Debacle. http://bit.ly/4gfhBg

  9. I interviewed the UrbanSpoon founders who wanted to put out this free App as a marketing tool to gain more awareness around their online brand which is competing against Yelp, Citysearch, etc.

    I’ve been using the application and i like it a lot. But it is best with a certain use case. Not necessarily looking for a particular restaurant, but rather as a discovery engine to be surprised by a recommendation that falls into whatever parameters the user defines (price, cuisine, location).

    You can define any or all three of these parameters or have it surprise you with something completely random. Again, it should be looked at as a discovery engine rather than a pure local search play. And in that way it’s kind of like StumbleUpon for mobile local search. More fun than utilitarian (though the latter shouldn’t be discounted).

    To your other point, we could be near a jumping the shark moment and there is a land grab for apps. Many of them are doubling up already and we’re seeing copycat apps (more cowbell, isaber/phone saber, etc.). There will be a shakeout, especially in the handful of local/mobile/social apps like Loopt, WHERE, Whrrl etc.

    These are all built around connecting with friends in the context of places at which to eat or meet locally. But just like online social networking, there is a certain fatigue involved in having so many accounts to manage/ log in. The success of these apps will hinge on a network effect (as is the case in social networking) and so far the number of these apps greatly fragment the relatively meager volumes of early adopters using them.

    So we’ll see a shakeout and a few winners emerge for local search apps. These will consolodate much of the audience and have the most monetization potential

    This monetization could happen through pay per call models as well as CPA based promotions, given that the hardware is present at the point of purchase (unlike online local search models).

    One important question however is who will sell and manage mobile local campaigns (On the national level, we’ll see ad networks like admob proliferate). We could see a similar breakdown than we’ve seen online — some self provisioning (adjunct to AdWords), some YP bundling, some handoff to third party fulfillment, etc.

    It will be interesting to see it play out. And fun to play with all these apps in the meantime.

    (more on urbanspoon interview – http://blog.kelseygroup.com/index.php/2008/06/19/urbanspoon-creates-local-discovery-engine-for-the-iphone/)

  10. I interviewed the UrbanSpoon founders who wanted to put out this free App as a marketing tool to gain more awareness around their online brand which is competing against Yelp, Citysearch, etc.

    I’ve been using the application and i like it a lot. But it is best with a certain use case. Not necessarily looking for a particular restaurant, but rather as a discovery engine to be surprised by a recommendation that falls into whatever parameters the user defines (price, cuisine, location).

    You can define any or all three of these parameters or have it surprise you with something completely random. Again, it should be looked at as a discovery engine rather than a pure local search play. And in that way it’s kind of like StumbleUpon for mobile local search. More fun than utilitarian (though the latter shouldn’t be discounted).

    To your other point, we could be near a jumping the shark moment and there is a land grab for apps. Many of them are doubling up already and we’re seeing copycat apps (more cowbell, isaber/phone saber, etc.). There will be a shakeout, especially in the handful of local/mobile/social apps like Loopt, WHERE, Whrrl etc.

    These are all built around connecting with friends in the context of places at which to eat or meet locally. But just like online social networking, there is a certain fatigue involved in having so many accounts to manage/ log in. The success of these apps will hinge on a network effect (as is the case in social networking) and so far the number of these apps greatly fragment the relatively meager volumes of early adopters using them.

    So we’ll see a shakeout and a few winners emerge for local search apps. These will consolodate much of the audience and have the most monetization potential

    This monetization could happen through pay per call models as well as CPA based promotions, given that the hardware is present at the point of purchase (unlike online local search models).

    One important question however is who will sell and manage mobile local campaigns (On the national level, we’ll see ad networks like admob proliferate). We could see a similar breakdown than we’ve seen online — some self provisioning (adjunct to AdWords), some YP bundling, some handoff to third party fulfillment, etc.

    It will be interesting to see it play out. And fun to play with all these apps in the meantime.

    (more on urbanspoon interview – http://blog.kelseygroup.com/index.php/2008/06/19/urbanspoon-creates-local-discovery-engine-for-the-iphone/)

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