Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Automating location-based mobile tasks

This article on HeyCosmo got me thinking. From the article:
To capitalize on the growing mobile market, a company called HeyCosmo is launching two new location-based service designed for use on both the web and the phone. The first service, HeyCosmo Concierge, wants to help you save time on everyday tasks like making dinner reservations or finding an affordable contractor. The second, HeyCosmo Blaster, is a social event planning tool.
HeyCosmo's software goes about these tasks the wrong way, in my opinion, by essentially pushing people into phone trees:
The easiest example of this would be making dinner reservations. Instead of you calling restaurants one-by-one in order to find an 8:00 PM seating for a party of five, you could use HeyCosmo Concierge to do the dialing for you. With an automated, but customizable, message, its robo-dialer immediately contacts all the restaurants in your area (and this can be narrowed down by cuisine, too) and asks the recipient of the call to press (1) for yes, we can accommodate you, (2) no, we cannot accommodate you, etc. in response to the initial recorded greeting and question. The particular questions and how they are phrased can be specified by you. You can also record your own voice if desired. At the end of the messages, an ad will play, which is how the service makes money.
This is of course the wrong way to solve the problem. People hate phone trees and automated calls. Putting these two together is a terrible idea. It's the opposite of a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. It's the Reese's from Hell. I predict that concierges will become adept at hanging up on such calls.

However, something like this could work quite well if HelloCosmo Concierge talked with an automated service on the restaurant's end. Push it from the restaurant's side, peg the pricing structure to the number of connections, and find a way to incentivize customers' use. Unfortunately, restaurants won't have an incentive to help customers comparison-shop.

Thinking about how HelloCosmo tries to automate location-based mobile tasks leads me to thinking about the problem more generally. Currently, the web-based task management system Remember the Milk allows you to associate tasks with locations. For instance, if you want to "remember the milk," you might put "get milk" as a task and associate it with a grocery store location. However, you still have to supply the trigger: you have to check the location to see what tasks are available. That's because your computing device is not currently location-aware.

It will not always be so. More mobile phones have GPS, and are being used increasingly as primary computing devices. Remember the Milk has an iPhone-based application, for instance. The next logical step is for the application to proactively sample your location and push tasks that you could perform at the location. You won't be able to forget the milk if your phone reminds you every time you get within 50 yards of the grocery store, for instance. Or to take another example, you might associate a task with another person ("get that loaned book back from Lauren") and your phone will remind you next time Lauren is in your office.

We're starting to see the beginnings of this sort of leverage going on with the iPhone, although it's slowed by Apple's walled garden approach. I predict an explosion of such capabilities with Android, although I worry that Android will not be fully baked at the time it ships. Either way, I imagine that a year from now, this post will seem quaint.

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