The End of a Foodie Mobile Era

An era comes to end today. Post Google acquisition, Zagat is discontinuing their iPhone and iPad apps. This makes me feel nostalgic. 

In 2008 I inherited a 2 star iPhone app. It was Zagat for iPhone. 

I didn’t have the luxury of scrapping the app so I listened to customers, tried novel approaches and redid the app piece by piece. The app became the #1 selling travel app (most days) and a 4.5 star app for the next 2 and a half years. It was the first to integrate Foursquare and Foodspotting. It drove reviews written right as someone was dining. The iPad app was a launch app with a map-centric design later cloned by everyone else in the space (Yelp, OpenTable, etc). 

After I left, not much happened with the suite of apps. I’m sure it had a lot to do with the complexities of an acquisition; a lot of talented people were at Zagat and their development partners. I would get messages from users asking what was going on but I had no clue. There was one update that reversed a key part of the UX and negative reviews started coming in. And then no updates. I couldn’t even open the iPad app for months without it crashing. Zagat went free and the iOS apps curiously stayed in market at full price.   

This morning Zagat sent a push notification indicating the discontinuation of the apps. This is a meaningful event. The very thing that showed Google that Zagat was viable in a modern Post-PC world is no more. Did you really think Google bought them because they wanted to print restaurant books?

Google hints at new apps, which is a strange thing considering they opted to not transition a large audience of paid Zagat mobile loyalists. It’s also curious because they 1. have the Google+ Local app directly integrated with Zagat and 2. have direct integration of Zagat into Google Maps on Android and likely in the new iOS Google Maps. Do they need a third Zagat mobile source, competing with Google+ Local? 

Things have changed, that’s for sure. A different 4.5 star app fuels my days and I’m lucky and thrilled it has the attention of the likes of Pepsi and Wall Street. It’ll be nice to not get “what the heck happened to your old app” questions. I will miss picking “My friends have a trust fund” when getting recommendations on where to eat out when my buddies are buying.

So it’s ”Check, please" for apps that brought the earliest forms of actually mobile reviews, augmented reality, and tablet app design. Today, the app will give me a great place to get dinner… perhaps for the last time.

We can beat them, just for one day.We can be heroes, just for one day.-David Bowie 

We can beat them, just for one day.
We can be heroes, just for one day.
-David Bowie 

What Siri Means for Local Search

My dad just got an iPhone 4S as a gift from my family. He’s never been the most tech savvy person in the world. I for one was apprehensive about getting him a touchscreen smartphone given his Kindle is sitting in a drawer and his reliance on print newspapers. He insisted on showing me this thing called “Siri,” unaware that I’m fully familiar with the platform from their pre-Apple days.

He was primarily using Siri to conduct restaurant searches. For him it was easier and much more natural to just speak rather than go to the app store, find a restaurant app, download it, then manually search for a restaurant.

What might amount to the most important (but not the largest) deal in the digital food space happened behind closed doors without fanfare or a press release. That deal is the one between Apple (Siri) and Yelp.

If you used the old standalone Siri app, you would have seen restaurant and other small business results returned from Citysearch, Yelp, Gayot, OpenTable and others all mixed in. It was basically the equivalent of what you might get in a Google search result. Now with Siri in the iPhone 4S, your restaurant results are curated by one reviewer only; Yelp. Plenty of people will download apps, but for people like my father, they have an answer machine that tells them the weather, where to eat, and apparently has an answer to the meaning of life (ask it). Seeing it in action, I could easily see myself using it for simple searches and I used to design restaurant apps for a living! I suspect that local search and weather are the top two search uses for Siri.

What happened to those other restaurant review sources? Who knows. What I do know is that Yelp has taken a huge step in the mobile space. They’ve essentially cut off their competitors before they even had an opportunity to compete in voice search on iPhone. If Siri continues to catch on the way it has, I fully expect Voice Search to be a new competitive search platform. Everyone will want to rank, except this is a party few partners will be invited to in order to make it a better experience. People want answers, not a dozen sources that have answers.

If the restaurant listings start to go deeper than just the Yelp ratings, which is possible in the future, this essentially provides them with a vertical monopoly in voice search on the most ubiquitous device out there. It also ties Apple closely to Yelp in terms of their content strategy. A big player in mobile tying their strategy to a restaurant review platform… why does this sound familiar? Ultimately it was Apple that managed to make the first bold move.

Netflix on Android & iPhone: Is Windows Phone 7 your only hope?

The mobile industry moves so fast that today’s plan is tomorrow’s trash. What’s also apparent is that each mobile platform’s approach is both providing and constraining user choice at the same time.

Thanks to recent developments, if you’re a Netflix user and you own a smartphone you may be out of luck. What’s affecting iPhone and Android Netflix users? Two recent announcements about subscription billing and mobile processor exclusivity.

Android Users: You’ve been wondering where in the world is your Netflix for Android. It’s on iPhone. It’s on Windows Phone 7 even. But millions of US Android users are forced to wait with no announced date in sight. Well, you could be waiting forever. Qualcomm and Netflix announced at this week’s Mobile World Congress that Netflix will arrive on Android for new phones that ship with Qualcomm’s second generation Snapdragon chip.

If you own any existing Android phone, you’re out of luck. No Netflix for you. Don’t feel too bad though. If someone goes to a store today and buys a top of the line Android phone, they’ll have a shiny new phone that can’t watch Netflix either. 

Unlike the comment in the CNET article, I don’t believe the average Android user will need to know what chip is in their phone. I believe from an Android Market level the app will not show up for users on certain devices.

So Android users, give up hope for Netflix anytime soon. Even if Netflix later decided to release an alternative app that doesn’t use the Snapdragon 2 chipset, Qualcomm most certainly has at least a 6 month exclusivity window on the Netflix app. Remember how Skype was exclusively on the Verizon Android phones for 6 months? 

Android owners, misery loves company. You may yet be joined by your iPhone carrying friends. Apple’s announcement regarding subscription apps could easily impact Netflix as well. Besides a requirement of adding Apple’s new in-app subscription service, there’s additionally a requirement that pricing must be the same across all platforms. There’s speculation that Netflix and others would be forced to potentially remove their apps from the iOS ecosystem because of the limited margins that the all-you-can-eat media apps have like Rhapsody and Netflix.

Netflix could be faced with two options; raise prices, which would have to be across ALL Netflix platforms, or remove their iOS app and send everyone to a web app on those platforms (that is a very much viable option and the Netflix iPad app is essentially a skin for their website anyway). I doubt they would raise prices, and without special exemption, they will face a tough choice.

So it’s possible that every current iPhone and Android user could be out of luck when it comes to a native Netflix app on their smartphones. Right now there’s only one smartphone platform with neither a chip issue nor a revenue-sharing issue involving Netflix…  Windows Phone 7. WP7 has a native Netflix app and has none of the potential Netflix issues. Of course this could change, as I started things out by saying how quickly mobile moves. But it is funny how this worked out for Microsoft.

Nintendo iPhone 4. 

Nintendo iPhone 4. 

Answering The Webby Call

The Webby Awards have played a significant role in my life the last few years. Last year the mobile site I manage was a Webby Nominee (which means “Finalist” in Webby speak) thanks to some pioneering features like being the first in the space to let users write and publish review from their phones. Some sites still don’t let you do that! It was close… but I ended up on the losing end of things.

This year was even more exciting because I had not one, but two different Webby Nominee apps (one iPhone, and a totally different Augmented Reality Android app). What are the odds of having two different apps nominated? Well unfortunately, both lost out. Two-time loser and a double loser, ouch.

So what’s next? Well the Webby board took notice of some of things I’ve done in the mobile space… so I’m proud to say I am now an Executive Member of the IADAS (International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences), which is the judging body of the Webby Awards! 

Pretty crazy. I’m just a guy who likes phones and technology. All of the over exposure to cell phone radiation was worth it!

I’ll take that TO GO

Crazy week in the world of mobile, social and food… but I survived!

This week saw the launch of my big app, ZAGAT TO GO 4.0 for iPhone. The launch included a sizable integration with Foursquare that includes check ins but goes way beyond; think meal tips and dining history. And thanks to some new friends at Foodspotting, there’s now a visual menu included of the best dishes at restaurants. Of course, I’m partial to the Dining Journal…  :)

Here’s the roundup of the coverage:




Mobile Marketer (Interview)


Into Mobile


Hard work finally pays off… 

New iPhone app from Zagat features foursquare tips and check-in functionality. Yum!

Hard work finally pays off… 


New iPhone app from Zagat features foursquare tips and check-in functionality. Yum!

Crowd Sourced Security or Who Watches the Watchmen

The New York Times wrote about secure web certificates yesterday and the final paragraph concerned me. Jonathan Nightingale from Mozilla Firefox was quoted as saying the current secure certificate system is “relatively secure”.

Yikes. Imagine if you got on a plane and you saw a crack in the wing and they said “well it’s relatively secure.” You wouldn’t get on that plane.

The article discusses the potential for the general misuse of security certificates because of the protracted business chain (e.g. Microsoft -> Verizon -> Certificate Company) and proliferation of the certificate entities. I wonder if we now need a separate organization to police the entire process? Who Watches the Watchmen?

The last statement from Mozilla is more intriguing though. Apparently e-commerce sites are utilizing a newer type of certificate that provides more advanced security. If an organization were to misuse this certificate, a “user with technical skills” (is that the politically correct term now?) would have to find the misuse.  It’s implied that the user would then have to draw attention to this organization which would lead to the revocation of that organization’s power.

Basically he’s suggesting our line of defense relies on crowd sourced vigilantism. I won’t get into the whole superhero parallel her (okay fine I will), but ultimately if the level of security is so low that we need to rely on a user intrepid enough to follow their secure data down a rabbit hole then we’re not that secure right? Then again, we’ve really been relying on crowd-sourced security for years…

How many times have you seen major bugs and exploits publicized on the web? From hundreds of Windows examples to even most recently on the iPhone and Android, there are exploits that are discovered by users trying to poke holes in security without malicious intent. Some of them have been smart enough to roll up into organizations that specialize in it (a Justice League if you may).  These users and groups don’t get a lot of recognition but I’m realizing that every time I see a story about a major bug or potential malicious exploit, there’s a person who discovered it who decided it was best we all knew.  To these crowd sourced heroes I say thanks for keeping an eye over things.

Bump Without The Bump

Multiple publications covered the launch of version 2.0 of the Bump app for iPhone. The emphasis was on some smart integrations with Twitter and LinkedIn.  In a social environment I can readily see the utility in automatically following on Twitter and adding to your LinkedIn network. The problem is, I want to do all this without a physical bump.

The whole bump to share contacts was a great gimmick. It landed Bump its own iPhone commercial, and has sent the app off into the stratosphere. I for one almost never carry business cards, and Bump would be perfect… except that you have to physically bump phones.

Users should be able to share that type of information without having to grip their phone and awkwardly bump fists like it’s 2003. A contact sharing app that’s ubiquitous on everyone’s phones is a dream scenario for me, and Bump has reached that point. The drawback is that it’s based around one interaction and I doubt they would steer away from that.