5 startups using mobile technology to anticipate your every need

Tinder: bringing context to your love life

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Most online dating startups have you answer page after page of personal questions and then use matching algorithms to help you track down your soul mate — or least people to entertain you while you look for your soul mate. Tinder is an iPhone app that connects with your Facebook account. You select the age range and distance of people you’d be interested in meeting, and Tinder connects you with possible dates nearby. The app takes a ‘Hot or Not’ approach to evaluating suitors — when matches appear, all you have to do is swipe to the right if you like, or to the left if you don’t.

If someone who strikes your fancy is nearby, you can set up a date right then and there. Love is all about chemistry, and chemistry is all about physical interactions. Someone can seem appealing online and be a total disaster in real life. On the flip side, we’re often attracted to people who may not be an algorithmically strong match.

Tinder embraces the highly subjective, chemical nature of dating by using contextual information to decrease time spent online. Your phone already contains all the basic information you need to make a first date — it’s got your location, a photo, and your likes and interests. In this case, context lets people cut to the chase and leaves the real vetting to the real world.

Shopkick: bringing context to shopping

Screen Shot 2013-07-01 at 5.27.51 PMShopkick is a great mobile success story. The startup has 4 million users and generated over $200 million in revenue in 2012 for its merchant and brand partners, which now include over 7,500 stores — all by using mobile technology to bring digital context to real-world shopping.

Shopkick is a mobile application that lets you earn rewards and deals simply by walking into a store. The app connects to a device installed in participating stores to recognize your presence. The Shopkick signal emits an inaudible audio signal with a unique code, and the microphone in your smartphone picks it up, decodes it, and delivers you a personalized reward.

“Context is everything,” founder Cyriac Roeding told us. “Context drives our business. Getting it right is what keeps people coming back to and spending time in the app,” he said. “The easier it is for people find content that’s in the proper context, the more likely they’ll keep coming back to the source for more. Done right, smartphones can make the real-world experience more valuable rather than more virtual.”

Shopkick encourages shoppers to visit stores, buy once they are there, and keep coming back for more. It learns their likes, dislikes, and habits, and by doing this well, it’s becoming an crucial part of its users’ shopping experience.

Ness: bringing context to your food

Screen Shot 2013-07-01 at 5.29.56 PMPeople are picky about food. Some people love hole-in-the-wall taquerias, while others prefer farm-fresh cuisine on white tablecloths. So you can’t always trust word-of-mouth recommendations, Yelp reviews, and food critics.

Ness is an iPhone dining guide that asks you to quickly rate restaurants and then uses this information to generate a “likeness” score that predicts how much you will like another restaurant. It combines these ratings with social data from Foursquare and Facebook to perfect its score. Ness ultimately wants to tell you more than just where to grab a bite or pick up a cup of coffee; it wants to show you what to do, see, and buy.

Context is fundamentally about personalization. Every smartphone user comes with a wealth of digital data that gives insight into who they are and what they like. Mobile’s powers of geolocation and social personalization have taken context to a whole new level by anticipating our desires and needs. Consumers no longer want, nor have, to dig for what they are looking for. It’s less about finding things, and more about finding things we love.

With so many mobile apps out there, we will use the ones that make our real-world lives better.

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