Introducing Drive Time by Inrix on the latest release of the site.
We’re thrilled to announce the newest release of the Comey & Shepherd mobile site. Based in Cincinnati, Ohio, Comey & Shepherd have a history of topping the market in their region. For a mid-size brokerage, Comey & Shepherd is constantly trying to raise the bar by innovating new ways to create a more user friendly base for their clients. They wanted to add more personable and customized features to the latest release of their mobile presence, so here at Aumnia we helped them to construct that vision into a reality.
With Comey & Shepherd, we wanted to focus on a design that really highlighted how innovative of a brokerage that Comey & Shepherd truly is. Over our time working with Comey & Shepherd, we have constantly been evolving their mobile site as they themselves change over time. Therefore, we added two incredible new features to their latest launch that really help to take their mobile site to the next level.
From wherever their clients may be, Aumnia integrated a map search feature into the latest release. Clients are now able to search properties in the immediate area they are in. Maybe they aren’t in the neighborhood they’re considering? Not a problem, they can simply drag and drop their pin to the area they would rather see properties in and the map will adjust and show them nearby properties to their pin in that area. The map is conveniently color coded to make distinguishing different properties easier for clients.
- Red- The property is under contract
- Green- This is a new property listing
- Light Blue- This property currently has an open house
- Navy- Regular listing, nothing special is happening with the property at this time
When you click on a listing, an info box appears with the price of the property listing and quick specs on how many beds and baths the property has. From there, clicking on the info takes you to the main listing page in which you can then use the next newest feature- DriveTime™.
We’re most excited to announce a great new featured powered by INRIX, a data company that tracks traffic times- conveniently called DriveTime™. What does this mean for clients? When they go to the mobile site, they can now see what things like commute times would look like from the property listings they’re looking at to their place of employment. This helps clients find the homes in their desired area based on where they spend a lot of their time outside of the home. When in the DriveTime™ feature, clients can simply enter the address of their job, children’s school, their school, and then search for homes 10, 15, 20 minutes away depending on how long they wish their commute to be and when they usually arrive at these locations. Taking data by analyzing traffic times during the time the client wishes to be somewhere at, the system draws them an area in which they can search for properties in the right area for their needs. This not only helps the agents better understand their clients restraints when it comes to finding their dream home, but also helps the client find an agent who specializes in the area they wish to live. This feature also helps Comey & Shepherd reach prospective clients who may be relocating to the area and don’t know much about traffic and commute times in the area they’re moving too. We helped make Comey & Shepherd the first brokerage in Cincinnati to integrate this technology by Inrix into their mobile site.
Navigation & Interface
The new mobile site has a cleaner and easier to use navigation that can be accessed from anywhere in the application. Additionally, we’ve included an easier mode of contact for clients looking through the site to get in touch with an agent. As we have maintained a long standing partnership with Comey & Shepherd, we have continually provided updates to their interface, but this release is the largest overhaul we have done in terms of the design. We simplified, modernized, and overall create a much more user friendly experience for their clients. Comey & Shepherd love being innovative for their clients and we wanted to create a mobile site that reflected that.
It Doesn’t End Here
Comey & Shepherd continues to invest in standing out from their competitors and we’re committed to helping them achieve this differentiation. Based on the fact that sometimes their mobile site can garner up to 15,000 visits a month, only means that the site will continue to evolve as the clients and brokerage change.
We are excited to announce the launch of the Hudson Company’s newly revamped mobile application, which is available on phone and tablet devices by going to their company website at www.thehudsoncompany.com. Located in Chicago, IL, The Hudson Company is a boutique brokerage that
focuses on the North Shore market. Not your average brokerage, they devote their time and energy to differentiating themselves from the competition in more ways than one. With top of the line marketing and a broad community inspiration pushing their brand forward, we strove to develop a mobile application that highlighted the value that they bring to the market. Working closely with their team, we developed an application that demonstrates The Hudson Company’s close attention to detail while simultaneously creating a brand alignment between their web and mobile platform. We see mobile applications as a valuable piece and extension of a brokerage’s brand and value proposition. From the web to the phone, the experience should remain a seamless transition. Seamless brand integration is important to establish through all online and offline outlets, which is what we aim to do with all of our clients.
What Makes Hudson Unique
Already standing apart for their impeccable marketing, The Hudson Company needed a way to apply this differentiation to their mobile presence. What distinguishes The Hudson Company’s marketing from their competitors is the detail and work they place into each property listing. It starts with the high resolution photography that they generate for each property. They incorporate these photos into a digital brochure and virtual video tour that provide all of the information that a prospective buyer would like to know about a property before deciding to tour the home. We were tasked with the challenge of taking this incredible marketing platform The Hudson Company has created in their existing online and offline presence and translating that into a user friendly mobile website. Through close interaction with their team, we were able to implement a design that exceeded expectations.
Transitioning from Web to Mobile
Since The Hudson Company was all about the user experience and had an established brand design in mind, we worked closely with them to make sure their mobile platform emulated this. The result was a modern, sleek, user friendly design throughout all the pages and resources on the application. We took special care in making sure the high resolution photos of their property listings were portrayed just as beautifully on the mobile interface. So what specifically makes their new application stand out?
1. The design. With cleaner colors, brighter backgrounds, and smooth transitions between pages, the design stands apart. It is customized specifically for their brand and completely one of a kind and unique to The Hudson Company – something that was already making them stand apart from other competitors. The design reflects high end quality and care, which helps their clients to recognize and sets the expectation of the high level of service The Hudson Company provides to their clients.
2. Implementation of their web marketing. We didn’t just leave the application completely naked with only minimal marketing that the company had already worked so hard on. We implemented it, which really gives their mobile website some leverage in the market. We incorporated all of the high resolution photographs of their listings, the video tours, and the digital brochures. We paid attention to detail to ensure that the resolutions and clarity of the images remained intact when switching platforms, thereby maintaining our philosophy of seamless brand transition from web to mobile.
3. Now includes tablets. Mobile doesn’t just mean phones anymore, and with the new revamp we wanted to make sure tablets weren’t left out. More and more users have tablets today, but not enough applications are formatted to look their best on them. We decided to change this by giving The Hudson Company a leg up on the competition by ensuring that their newly renovated application also looked flawless on tablets.
4. Highlighting the Team. We wanted to shine a brighter spotlight on their broker associates, especially considering the personalized boutique nature of the brokerage and their involvement in the community. New bios were added complete with high resolution photos along with all of their contact information. From the user perspective, you can not only see and learn about members of the team, but also contact them with a simple tap. Ease of contact exemplifies the personal touch The Hudson Company includes in their interactions with clients.
It’s Just the Beginning
2.0 only scratches the surface of what’s possible when it comes to the mobile platform. As the brokerage continues to grow and develop their brand, so will their mobile application grow and develop with them. Keeping The Hudson Company on the forefront of burgeoning technology enables them to be the leading brokerage in both their market and the industry.
We are proud to announce the release of the Surterre Properties mobile application. Based in Newport Beach, CA, Surterre Properties is Orange County’s leading luxury real estate brokerage. Surterre strives to provide their clients the best of both worlds. On the one hand, they employ experienced, successful, locally based agents who are dedicated to delivering personalized client service and results. On the other hand, Surterre possesses the strategic vision, marketing acumen and global reach one would expect to find at a much larger company. We were engaged by their in-house marketing and design team to transform their mobile presence into an engaging, interactive and visually attractive experience that would represent their brand’s commitment to the highest levels of quality and service that their clients have come to expect from them.
Goals and Approach
Surterre places a heavy emphasis on branding, particularly the look, feel, and treatment of their brand elements. Their attention to detail is a competitive advantage and one of the things that makes them unique. Our challenge was to bring that same approach to the mobile application while at the same time providing a deeply engaging and interactive experience. It required us to work closely with them to define the user interface and overall user experience while giving them the flexibility to provide significant input into the process, particularly the visual design of the application.
Here were the goals we had for the project development:
- Represent the Surterre Properties brand effectively
- Create a deeply engaging experience for the end user
- Use the mobile web to provide application availability across iOS and Android
- Improve site usability and lead generation capability over their existing mobile solution
- Incorporate gestures and other mobile design patterns into the user interface
- Provide an architecture that allows expansion of site content over time
- Make use of context as appropriate to improve the user experience
Partnering to represent the Surterre brand
Our first step in the development process was to review Surterre’s online presence to determine how they differentiate their services and what makes them unique. Real estate is still a local business with each region having its own characteristics that need to be represented in their marketing materials. Also, each brokerage further differentiates itself by offering services or features that are not available from other firms in the area. For example, Surterre Properties dedicates a section of their website to Best Buys, which is a carefully compiled collection of exceptionally valued properties in coastal Orange County communities. It was important that in addition to covering basic features such as property search, agent search, and contact points, that we were able to incorporate specialized features such as Best Buys.
After determining the key features of the site, we worked closely with their marketing and art department to let them incorporate their own visual elements, brand and styling. To make a long story short, we provided the expertise for the mobile UI and UX, and Surterre provided the visual identity to make it look and feel like a Surterre product. Our partnership allowed them to have full control over the visual styling to make sure the look was unique to Surterre and presented the brand properly, especially since a mobile device is often the first interaction a client has with the company. A poor experience there could have a significant impact on the user’s overall perception of the brand.
We went through a number of iterations to evolve the site from the first mock-up that we developed, which provided the foundation for the key features and flow of the application. Then we had them apply their brand elements on top of the foundation. Like building a house, we provided the blueprints for the site, framed it and applied the drywall. Surterre provided the interior design and added the soft touches like paint colors, furniture and the odds-and-ends that made the site their own.
The end result is a mobile application that incorporates a significant amount of visual imagery, which is an important part of the Surterre brand and reflects their commitment to taking care of the environment. As a certified Ecobroker®, they operate with sustainability in mind and donate a portion of their profits to local environmental organizations to preserve the beautiful environment along the Orange County coastline.
Key features of the application
After evaluating their existing online presence, there were a couple key features that we wanted to preserve in the mobile application. We also wanted to make sure that we included other features that have become important pieces for all of our projects. Here is a short overview of the key features.
- Best Buys (see right)
Best Buys mobile page
As mentioned above, Best Buys is a unique service that Surterre provides. We made sure that it is included as a dedicated page that is accessible within the property search section as well as from the main application navigation via the slide out menu. Users also have the ability to sign-up for Best Buy notifications through the application without having to go to the desktop site.
- Open Houses
Surterre puts a significant amount of effort into open houses. The application has a dedicated open house page that is accessible from the home page, through the property search navigation, and through the main application navigation. The open houses are presented in a unique format and can be filtered quickly by city and day.
- Direct Linking
We provided deep linking into the application via the desktop URL structure. It permits Surterre agents and marketing staff to share property links or agent profiles via email and social media. When the user accesses the link, they are directed to the proper view whether they are on a mobile device or desktop/laptop computer. Even dedicated pages of the mobile application, like open houses, can be linked to directly. You can try it by clicking on the following link on a mobile device, http://www.surterreproperties.com/best-buys.php, to see a mobile view of the Surterre Properties Best Buys (or you can read the QR code below with your phone).
- Mobile web application with a native user interface
Users can access the application using the browser on either an iOS or Android device and get a native experience. We don’t compromise the mobile experience that users have come to expect on the phones just because they access the site over the internet. I feel this is one place where responsive design comes up short, especially in real estate, but I digress. This is a much bigger topic for a different time.
Incorporating mobile design patterns and functionality
Our design of the application also incorporate many mobile specific features and design patterns. Here’s a sampling of some of the features that we included in the Surterre mobile application.
Location is such an important piece of real estate, so it is only natural to include it in the mobile application. We use location to aid in property searches and to help users find open houses.
- Native application integration
Slide out menu for app navigation
The phone, after all, is a contact device. We make use of the native dialer and email applications so the user can contact Surterre or an agent directly from the application. We also include access to native applications such as maps so users can get directions to properties or Surterre offices with the click of a button.
- Gestures and animations
We’ve included the ability for users to activate features with touch events and gestures, such as slide to access the site navigation menu or to advance through property photos and/or details. We also use animations on page transitions to give users more of a native feel when using the application over the mobile web.
- Slide out menu navigation (see right)
Providing a slide out menu has become more or less of a standard for navigating through a mobile app. The Surterre mobile application has one which allows the user to quickly move from one page to another within the application, and it is accessible from any page in the application. Plus, it provides the ability to expand the application’s content over time.
In addition to location, we are also using other information provided by the device to aid in property and open house searches. Context is a critical piece of mobile design, and one we plan to use more in future revisions.
We are still in “pre-launch” mode, but the early results have been very positive. We are seeing strong usage numbers, and engagement statistics such as bounce rate, pages/visit, and time on site are well ahead of the numbers from their previous mobile solution. Surterre Properties is also reporting a dramatic increase in the number of leads being generated. The initial numbers indicate an 8-10x improvement.
We’re working with Surterre on an official launch to the public and their agent team. We plan to work closely with them to present the application at office meetings, perform in-person training sessions for agents, provide Surterre-specific support materials, and create a Surterre-specific newsletter to highlight important features of the application and use cases. We have found that the agents are the most effective marketing and promotion vehicle for our client’s applications and that investing the effort pays off in increased usage and lead generation. It’s the most cost-effective way to generate the best return on the investment in the application development, and we expect it to further enhance the initial results we’ve experienced.
Future goals and direction
We plan to continue working closely with Surterre Properties to evolve and add features to the mobile application. Given how mobile usage continues to grow, we want to make sure their mobile presence keeps up with the growing expectations of their clients and provides them with a best-in-class mobile experience. Here are a few of the features that are in the planning stages:
- Packaging for native distribution
The native design of the application will allow us to package it for distribution in the application stores for iOS and Android. It will also allow us to incorporate additional features by accessing device properties that are not available through the browser.
- Improved property searching
We are working on mapping functionality so users can search for and view properties using a map interface. We’re also looking to add lifestyle search functionality such as commute time searches, which are important for the often congested Southern California freeways!
- More context awareness
Doing more context analysis by combining device information with the user’s site interaction to aid in property recommendations, open house searches, site navigation, and more.
- Incorporation of video
Video has become an important part of the real estate search experience, whether it is virtual tours, neighborhood overviews, or company information. We want to make sure that the video library that Surterre has developed is available on both desktop and mobile devices.
As we incorporate these and other features, our overall goal for the application will remain the same – to effectively represent Surterre Properties and their commitment to the highest levels of quality and service that their clients have come to expect from them.
Check out the Surterre Properties mobile application by opening the browser on your iPhone or Android device and going to http://www.surterreproperties.com. You will be “auto-magically” directed to the mobile application and can start searching for properties in Orange County, view their agent roster and individual agent profiles, learn more about Surterre Properties, or contact them for more information.
I came across an article last night in Smashing Magazine (one of my favorite web and mobile design resources by the way) that contained a great summary of mobile app design advice. The article is titled “Lessons Learned From An App Graveyard” and is written by user experience and usability strategist Lyndon Cerejo. It’s a collection of 10 tips that are a must read for anyone designing a mobile experience, whether web or native.
While I believe all 10 are important, his first lesson, titled “Validate The Need For An App” stands out above the rest for me. Primarily because it is so fundamental in the decision on how to go mobile. In this lesson, he makes two critical points that anyone deciding between developing for web and native must consider. The first point is
If your content and functionality can be better served to users through a responsive website or Web app, then you have no real need for a native app.
The second point is
The decision [between web and native] should be driven by business goals, user needs and the user experience.
I couldn’t agree more with his thoughts on the topic. People need to step back and think about the business goals and how mobile fits into their strategy before jumping into the native app game. Plus, as Lyndon points out, a web-based approach can, in many cases, provide the same user experience as a native approach. It’s also easier for the user to find using web searches, easier for the business to promote via email and social media, and doesn’t require overcoming the obstacles of the user downloading the app and then actively using it.
Native apps are hard, not just too create, but to do right in such a way that it creates a user experience that brings the user back to it. Otherwise, the money and effort you invest in the app will end up in the “app graveyard” to use Lyndon’s term. If there’s not a significant business goal you’re trying to accomplish or a technical limitation that you’re trying to overcome, then going native is not the right answer.
If you’re struggling with the decision between web and native, please contact us to schedule a free consultation of your current mobile presence and plans. We have experience in both web and native mobile design and can help you determine which approach, or a combination of web an native, are right for your business.
One of my favorite writers covering the mobile space, Kevin Tofel at Gigaom, discovered a new Chrome experiment last night that lets you explore J.R.R. Tolkein’s Middle-Earth fantasy kingdom in “A Journey Through Middle Earth“.
What I love about these “experiments” is that it shows the power of the web and what’s possible using web-based standards. The beauty is that the site works across platforms, meaning I can view the site on a desktop, tablet, and a mobile device and get the same experience.
We will undoubtedly continue to see significant advances in web technologies that continue to close the gap between web and native applications. If you check out the app above on your phone, you will notice some of the inherent limitations in web graphics (how they were done is explained here), but if you compare it to the quality of web graphics on a mobile device from a year ago, it’s come a long way.
I’m also convinced that these Google experiments are part of their ultimate goal of combining Android and Chrome under the Chrome OS. I think it’s just a matter of time before we see a phone (and tablet) with Chrome as its primary operating system. Android apps will run in an emulation environment within the OS, similar to what BlackBerry is doing in OS10. I view Google’s recent announcement of ART, a new Android runtime that was released with KitKat, as the underpinnings of this new emulation environment that will come to Chrome.
Google’s latest Chromium “experiment” is just another reason why we focus our efforts on developing for the mobile web. In my view, it creates superior and longer lasting value for our customers than developing for the closed ecosystems of iOS, Android, Windows Phone and others.