Tools of the Day (or, real estate app, iPhones, and what Apple has in store)

All the world is abuzz with rumors about tomorrow’s anticipated announcement from Cupertino. If you’ve been living in a paper bag, that buzz would the sound around the unveiling of Apple’s tablet/e-book/mystery device that may or may not change the world-as-we-know-it.

But that announcement is still 24 hours away!

So where did I spend my morning? No, not at the cool cutting edge of rumor and gossip. Instead, I took a totally different turn and looked at a decidedly tech-laggard industry, local real estate.

I settled in first thing in the morning in Yarmouth to attend a presentation by the vendor whose technology is used by the Cape & Islands Multiple Listing Service.


The company, Rapattoni Corporation, is a founder-led firm that has grown from a husband-and-wife team in 1970 to a 150-employee company today. It is based in southern California; the couple’s son, Nick, serves as company president. Nick is the one who is on the road, talking about how the company (and presumably the industry) has seen the light.
 
Although the benefits of technology-enabled tools are obvious for an industry like real estate where information drives dollars, the desire to own and hold data has for years been even stronger.  It took forces beyond the industry as well as a lawsuit or two to get real estate into the digital game.

It took, for example, the 2005 U.S. Department of Justice antitrust lawsuit against the National Association of Realtors (NAR).  For years, the NAR had been fighting the rise of real estate tech startups and their online products by claiming that NAR controlled listing data and could pick and choose who would get it – and online products were excluded. In 2008 the parties settled and NAR agreed that Internet brokerages would have the same access as a traditional brokerage. There was a lot of FUD and mud-slinging in the process.

And so, as a new decade begins, I was curious to hear the road show from one of the industry’s technology providers.
What was really interesting this morning, though, was not what I learned about real estate technology, but what I learned about technology use in a non-tech population.
 
In fact, for the second time in 48 hours, I got a reminder of how the world has changed just since 2007. And how that change has been driven by Apple’s last Big Thing, the iPhone.

The first reminder came over the weekend. I was at the Apple store up in Hingham and as I walked in a class was going on in the corner. The group was learning about iPhone and iPod Touch apps. Nothing unusual in that.

But what was striking was the composition of the group – there were young people and middle-aged people and older people and one downright elderly person. There were men and there were women. The folks in the class were not cutting-edge technology users or people you’d see in any sort of advertisement for spiffy tech products.

They were average typical type people … smiling and laughing and having a good time using their iPhone and iPod Touches. Hmmm, is this really the computer for the rest of us?

Meanwhile, in Yarmouth this morning, the finale of Nick's presentation was a really and truly cool app for, yes, the iPhone.

In the same breath in which it announced the ability to perform web-based tasks with a browser other than IE (apparently the company has only just now discovered that IE wasn’t the only game in town!) , Rapattoni also pushed the envelope with a spiffy iPhone app mobility app.

The scheduled-for-May-release app takes two forms, one for consumer and one for agent. I can’t wait to give it a try!

The iPhone always knows where it is. So, when you are using the app and you drive by a place for sale, the phone uses its geographic positioning to show information about the place, whether you know the address or not.

 It can also map other nearby properties and show you information about them. Using the iPhone interface, you flip through photos and other data and can, of course, email or call for more info with one tap, all from the same device. That’s called adding value. That's called anywhere, anytime use.

The composition of the several hundred real estate agents in the audience was not unlike the group in the Apple store over the weekend. These folks sell houses – they don’t develop software or follow the latest tech trends.  They aren’t cutting edge by any stretch of imagination.

Yet, there was a collective surge of interest in this iPhone app, as dozens of people instinctively reached out and touched their very own iPhones as the slides of the screen snaps appeared.

Hmmm, maybe the iPhone is indeed be the computer for the rest of us.

Here I was, expecting to escape from pondering all things Apple, and there it was, back front and center, a reminder of how one small device can reshape the way we interact with the world.

Tomorrow’s announcement may or may not be a home run. Whatever it is, the only thing we do know is that we probably can’t predict its ultimate impact.

As the last decade debuted we  were just starting to normalize the idea of browsing as part of daily life. Today who hasn’t bought something from eBay or Amazon or an online niche retailer – or at least thought about it? In just the past three years we’ve taken that expectation of connection to mobile lengths  -- and it isn’t just the geeks who have that expectation.

Give us a tool, make it easy, make it fun, and we – all us human tool using critters -- will take it, run with it, and use it in our very own ways.

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