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.
Today’s big news was about Google’s acquisition of Zagat. A ton of people have asked me to comment because of my former affiliation. A few nice folks think my efforts directly contributed to the acquisition (Wired’s article has some highlights under 21st-century). I appreciate the sentiment. Everything I say here is based on my own personal analysis. It’s really about Google and the restaurant space. I have no knowledge of the deal.
If you want back-story, take a look at Gary Vaynerchuk’s “Thank You Economy” (note: Gary became a partner of my company Consmr well after this was published). In the first chapter he details the evolution of Zagat. He even talks about how Zagat was able to “punch back” against the Yelps of the world thanks largely to the partnerships (Foursquare, Foodspotting) and products (iPhone, iPad, augmented reality) I spearheaded. It’s a good read and I encourage everyone interested in this story to look at his analysis to better understand how we got to today’s acquisition.
It turns out that the Google/Yelp deal falling through allowed two things happen; a brand Yelp was challenging in the restaurant space got a payday, and their rival just added the type of credibility that takes decades to acquire. Don’t cry for Yelp though; their impending IPO is sure to make a lot of folks in San Francisco very happy.
This was all about credibility. I can’t see Google going into the print guide business or the sale of corporate guides. Their efforts with print advertising did not yield the results they wanted. I don’t have to share any stats about the print world. Just look at the closing of Borders. Imagine if The Daily started a print version?
It’s also not about acquiring content either. Google Hotpot yielded 3 million ratings in a matter of months (1/5 of Yelp’s total at the time). If anything, it’s more about how to filter that content moving forward. Why would you choose one review provider over another? Credibility. Imagine if you could have Zagat poring over Google reviews from every city in the US? If you pair the Zagat brand with the strides being made by Google in local, then you add a layer of credibility that Google couldn’t hope to produce on their own. The Google Places window decal instantly acquires meaning. And when Google needs to pitch small businesses on signing up for their products or selling some product in, they’ll have new-found credibility on that front too.
I believe that through Google Maps and Places, eventually Google’s local content would become the standard on Android devices. With Motorola they could ship devices with their Places solution embedded everywhere. Their mobile web enhancements were just the toe in the water. And with Zagat they’ve shown how serious they are about local.
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: