Mobile

5 startups using mobile technology to anticipate your every need

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So a guy walks into a bar … and his phone already knows how many of his friends are there, what he should order, how to get drink discounts, which girl in that bar is a good dating match, and what nearby stores and restaurants he should check out.

In a world rife with mobile devices, businesses have unprecedented access to information about their consumers. They can learn about our tastes and interests from social media, our purchasing habits from previous online behavior, and perhaps most importantly, our location.

Your significant other may not know where you are or what your desires are, but your phone does.

Creating and curating context is a key part of the mobile experience. Businesses need to know who their consumers are to stay competitive and achieve that elusive goal of reaching the right person with the right offer at the right time. Furthermore, consumers now expect more relevance and personalization from their interactions with businesses. We no longer want to search for things we like — we want them given to us. Delivering content in a contextually relevant manner is a cornerstone for mobile success.


For more on this topic, check out the “Digital lifestyle: Curating context in a connected world” track at VentureBeat’s MobileBeat conference, July 9-10.


Foursquare: bringing context to your social life

Foursquare is one of the most well-known examples of a location-based mobile app. Users “check-in” to specific locations from their phones to share their location with friends and earn points. The app has over 35 million registered users, nearly 4 billion total check-ins, and over 75 million API calls a day.

Screen Shot 2013-07-01 at 5.22.41 PM“We are capturing this amazing signal about what millions of people are doing in the real world at every moment of the day in cities all around the globe,” said Foursquare data scientist Blake Shaw. 

Despite its large user base, Foursquare came under fire earlier this year for not being a “real business.” The app is free and people questioned how Foursquare was going to make actual money. The company took an unusual $41 million loan (following over $100 million in venture capital) and wasn’t able to generate notable revenue through advertising.

The answer? Foursquare can fork over its data to people who need it to create context.

Earlier this month, Foursquare began testing paid promotions with businesses in New York City. The promotions let businesses target people based on location, tastes, and, mostly notably, their check-in histories. Small businesses can advertise their locations in a promoted listing, and it will appear in Foursquare users’ feeds or in the “Explore nearby” section. The move is important because it may finally help Foursquare solve its user intent problem by giving users a way to discover new places that are actually relevant to them.

Foursquare also entered into a partnership with social data middleman Gnip to give Gnip access to Foursquare’s full firehouse — every check-in, everywhere, from everyone, in real time. Gnip bundles and resells this data to developers and big brands, who can use it to gain insight into their customer base and to better target new customers.

Tempo: bringing context to your calendar

Foursquare is great for anticipating where you want to go, but Tempo is tackling where you need to go. The company Screen Shot 2013-07-01 at 5.23.37 PMjust closed a $10 million first round of funding for a tool that “brings context to  your calendar.” It uses artificial-intelligence technology to help people organize their daily schedules, anticipate where they need to be, and decide what tasks take priority over others.

Founder Raj Singh said he believes Web 3.0 is the “semantic” or “push” web, where consumers are presented with relevant information they need instead of looking for it through searches and feeds.

“Everything we do in our day has an intent,” he told VentureBeat. “By understanding these intents across various verticals, we can make the mobile device more anticipatory and put information in context. It’s all about reducing clicks, saving time, and making the user experience more fluid.”

Tempo creates context by integrating data from sensors on your mobile device with data from your calendar, address book, email, and third-party data like weather or your flight status.

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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