In short, yes.
It’s a common thinking these days that millennials aren’t buying. They’re much more free spirited than past generations- so we assume they aren’t trying to settle down and buy homes. While I’m sure this can be true of some young people, generalizations like this can be dangerous. It can be the difference between having future clients and not. The facts behind whether or not millennials are buying doesn’t support the trope that “millennials don’t want to buy homes”.
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.
For our customers and their clients who use Android devices, Google has made a major improvement in the mobile version of the Chrome browser, specifically as it relates to adding a web app’s icon to the home screen.
Here’s a summary of the improvements:
- Adding to the home screen is much simpler.
- Your mobile web application will run in full screen mode when launched from the home screen. In other words, the address bar and other browser chrome are no longer present allowing you to enjoy a full screen, more native experience.
- Your mobile web application will show up as its own entry in the task manager.
These are major improvements that will significantly improve the Android user experience. Here’s how you can take advantage of them. I’ll be using our Village Properties mobile web app as an example in this tutorial, but the steps below are identical for any mobile web application or mobile website.
These steps will work for any Android device running the most recent Chrome mobile browser on Android 4.0 or later with a web app or website with the proper html tags in place as specified here
1. Delete your old home screen icon
If you haven’t already added your mobile web application (or mobile website) to the homescreen, you can skip to the next step. Otherwise, do the following to remove the existing icon from the home screen of your device.
2. Add the mobile web application (mobile website) to your home screen
Note: If your home screen is full, it will appear on the next available space on one of your other home screen panels, so you may need to swipe left or right to find it.
3. Launch the mobile web application
Tap the icon that you’ve just added to your home screen. The mobile web application (or mobile website) will launch in web app mode and occupy the entire screen. The image below shows the difference between the two modes.
4. Find the app in the task manager
I’m impressed by the steps Google has taken to improve the mobile web experience on Android. With these recent feature additions, the gap between native and web continues to narrow. Now if Apple would only address the issues with their web app mode in Safari on iOS7, I’d be one happy camper!
2013 was another big year for mobile. As computing continues its move from the desktop PC model to the mobile environment of tablets and phones, I expect that 2014 will be even bigger. However, before laying out some predictions for next year (as I did last December), let’s take a look at some of the events that transpired in 2013.
- Android and iOS continued their domination of the mobile OS market
As I predicted, BlackBerry was not able to turn the delayed BB10 into a success, unsuccessfully tried to sell itself, and ended up in full regroup mode at the end of the year. I don’t expect BlackBerry to recover.Likewise, despite spending a lot of money and effort, Microsoft has not been able to turn Windows Phone into a success. I don’t expect Microsoft to give up, but they have a long way to go as they are a distant third in smartphone market share with only about 5% of the market.
Finally, while iOS has hung with Android, they may be slowly losing the smartphone war to Android. Their insistence on not releasing a true low-end, budget phone along with a bigger screen for the iPhone is allowing Android to extend their market share lead. We’ll see what 2014 brings, but Apple needs to be careful to not let its arrogance about what they think consumers want get the best of it.
- Apple and Samsung continued their dominance of the phone market
Apple had another successful iPhone launch in the Fall with the iPhone 5s and 5c, and Samsung continued its success with the Galaxy line of smartphones. They have established a dominant position over former mobile phone stalwarts Nokia and Motorola. Unfortunately for Nokia, they weren’t able to end their swoon and sold themselves to Microsoft during the second half of 2013. Motorola continues to fight along with the help of its parent company, Google. Their release of the Moto X and Moto G, which are two outstanding mid-range phones, have at least confirmed that Motorola hasn’t forgotten how to make a good device. The question is if they can market it.As for newcomers, I really thought that Huawei, a Chinese manufacturer, and Amazon would make a lot more waves in the mobile phone market. Huawei has run into strong headwinds in the US due to security concerns, which could derail its ability to gain market share here. However, I expect Huawei to be a major force worldwide, especially in developing countries. As for Amazon, I’m not counting them out. Don’t be surprised to see them release a phone, possibly coupled with a carrier service, at some point in the near future.
- “Phablets” remained a niche, and prepaid service expanded
As I figured last year, those monstrous devices with phone capabilities that were a bit too small to be a tablet but too large to be a true mobile phone remained a niche player in the market. The bulk of the phone market stayed under 5-inches, which I suspect will continue to be the sweet spot for phones. Anything over 5-inches begins to get a bit cumbersome for a true mobile device.As for mobile phone service, no contract made huge inroads in 2013. I was just about ready to switch to prepaid service myself when T-mobile did me a favor and moved to a no contract model, eliminating carrier subsidized phones. Instead, subscribers either buy their phone outright, pay for their phone through monthly installments, or bring their own device. In exchange, T-mobile significantly reduced the monthly fees for their plans. For example, I have four lines with unlimited voice minutes, text messaging, and data for only $120 per month. T-mobile has used their “un-carrier” strategy to begin clawing back market share. It’s been so successful that AT&T released a rival plan in November, and I suspect that both Sprint and Verizon will be forced to follow suit in the upcoming year.
- Apps continue to rule the roost, but they better not look back
As much as it may pain me to say this, native apps continue to have an advantage over mobile web apps in terms of functionality. However, the gap has closed significantly, and for many types of apps, I would content that the mobile web is a better approach than native. It’s only a matter of time before the web catches up to native functionality. While I don’t think that the web will ever replace native capability for all app types, I do believe that native will become an approach reserved for a few select types of applications, such as games.So what types of mobile web design will win out? Responsive web design (RWD) is the buzzword these days and is all the rage, but it isn’t right for every site. Some people are insistent on applying RWD as a one-size-fits-all approach for mobile which is where I believe it breaks down. Context is an important factor in mobile design, and I expect that more sites will incorporate context into their mobile presence making for a more engaging consumer experience. I like to call this approach adaptive, or contextual design, and I expect to see a lot more of it in 2014.
While I didn’t bat 100% on my predictions for 2014, I did do slightly better than .500, which is pretty respectable when it comes to forecasting. I’m finalizing my predictions for 2014 and will post them prior to the arrival of the New Year. So check back in over the next week to see what mobile trends will emerge in 2014.
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.