Image via Wikipedia
Another one in the “What I want…” series. I’m focusing on ‘Local Search on mobile’ and not ‘Search on mobile’ because people searching from their mobiles will usually be doing so on the go and hence would mostly be focusing on local content like searching for something or someplace close by (or someone, but that’s part of mobile social networking, although I do see a huge overlap between these two).
‘Local Search’ is a space “begging” for attention. There are a few players out there but there’s so much more than can be done to give a better experience to the users.
Study analyzing movement of people
Before we delve into the scenarios, let’s take a look at the findings of a recent study published in Nature which analyzed the movement of 100K people.
One key startling discovery was that “despite the diversity of their travel history, humans follow simple reproducible patterns” which in plainspeak means that people tend to visit the same places again and again.
Does this mean that local search on mobiles is a doomed concept? I tend to believe that there’s scope for services that enable us to interact better with our local environment. And the need for local search/service becomes even more important when people do wander out to new places.
Location brings context and this is what we need to focus on most.
- Needless to say, I shouldn’t have to tell the application where I am, it’s supposed to know that. Andrew Grill rightly points out“True transparent local search will arrive when I don’t have to tell the application that I want to be found – it finds me and caches the location ahead of me needing it”
- I should be able to search from whichever medium is comfortable to me (via SMS, Voice, Browser or Native-App/Widget). This will ensure that the service is available universally and not dependent on type of phone (as the tier increases, the experience gets richer)
- Since we are focusing on location, maps will play an important role here, wherever possible, every result has to be mappable with directions to the end-point from where I am right now.
- To enable a ‘socially enriched’ experience, I should be able find out what others who visited the location/business had to say about it (or pictures/videos they shared). More importantly, If any of my friends had anything to say about it.
A few Scenarios
- I’m looking for something to eat/drink and I enter say ‘pizza’ or ‘Chinese’ and I see listing of relevant businesses around me, their specials for the day are listed along with the prices. I call them to check for vacancy or make a reservation. I can check out their menu while on the way and make my choice before I reach there.
- I’m out shopping for say ‘Jeans’, I again get a listing of stores around me with the item prioritized by those who have a Sale on.
- If I’m looking to catch the latest movie, I’m shown the theaters around me with time-slots in which its airing and option to book the ticket from the mobile itself. Alternatively, If I’m interested in a particular theater, I’m shown the movies it’s playing (with ratings) along with the time slots (and the option to buy the ticket, of course)
Like always, Interaction design will play a key role in enabling the right experience. Unable to suppress the designer in me, I can’t help but list some basic design elements of the main screen of the web-page/native-app :)
- A text-box with a label “What are you looking for?”
- Options to go to primary categories like “Food”, “Movies” etc which when clicked come up with relevant location-centric results with the behavior specified in scenarios
- Option to check “Where I am right now” on the map
Much more is possible with Context Awareness
Context awareness has the potential to enable much more than local search. Let’s say I’m in Delhi where it’s sunny and going to Mumbai where it’s raining. When I reach Mumbai the app understands the change in environment (via say local weather update) and suggest that I buy an umbrella and lists/displays-on-map nearby shops where I can buy it from.
Note: A few things I mentioned here are not possible currently due to technology/regulatory/infrastructure constraints, but I think those hurdles will be overcome soon.