‘Point and Search’ on Japanese Cellphones

The NY Times covers “Point and Click” mobile local search in Japan on GPS-enabled mobile phones using technology from American firm GeoVector. I wrote about GeoVector’s technology and the very different user paradigm it represents earlier this year.

Beyond the intriguing possibilities of tying together the mobile and physical worlds, there are two things that are quite interesting about the technology and use case: 1) it accommodates the current limitations of cellphones and 2) it’s more “passive” than other forms of mobile local search. In other words, the input mechanism is more like taking a picture than “triple tapping.”

There’s a natural advertising model here too that marries the user location with a “search mentality.” When a user is searching online, he or she is seeking information about a product or service. As they say in the yellow pages industry, there’s a “ready to buy” mindset ? or at least potentially ready to buy. (As we know, search engine users typically don’t buy in the same session.) But mobile users looking for a place to eat are probably “ready to eat.”

Indeed, mobile phone users looking for a local restaurant or retailer can receive offers/coupons from a location nearby or immediately in front of them using this technology. One might argue that’s no different from relevant paid search ads on mobile devices (which Google is testing in Japan) when I’ve searched for a local restaurant or other local business category. But the “point and search” simplicity makes it different.

Whatever creates the best user experience and thus drive broad adoption of mobile data services will also determine the ad model. User experience precedes monetization: let that be the mantra for the mobile local search industry. Once the user experience is right (and there may be a few that “work”), effective mobile advertising can follow.

It’s incorrect to assume that whatever’s happening in Asia in mobile will necessarily make its way to the US “a couple of years from now.” But GeoVector is an American company and in this case we can probably expect some version of “point and search” technology to roll out in the US (although GPS isn’t widely enabled yet, though there is cell tower triangulation) as competitive carriers seek to differentiate their services.

Until then we’ll just have to read about it.

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