Real estate apps for the iPhone and other smartphones are all the rage today, but similar apps are about to revolutionize the use of other devices like printers that will boast their own operating systems and usher in the "Internet of things."

The past few weeks have been an exciting ride in the world of "apps," those little chunks of functionality that do things for you on your mobile phone and your iPad.

What’s this mean for real estate?

First, there are a couple of developments on the "Internet of things" front:

Google’s announcement of its App Store for Chrome OS is the biggest news. The App Store for Chrome OS will allow developers to market and sell Web apps to users of the new operating system that Google is developing for netbooks and other devices.

This will be like getting an icon on the desktop of an OS. Obviously, the specific impact of this initiative will depend on how many people use Google’s free OS. But the deeper thread here is whether people will be willing to purchase bits of functionality for their day-to-day computing needs.

You’re likely to hear a lot about this in the coming week. Chrome OS position versus Apple’s iTunes store is just a sideshow. The real show revolves around how the concept of "apps" is transitioning from specific phone/mobile functionality back to the Web and the OS in general.

Also worth paying attention to is what devices Google’s Chrome OS eventually lands on. For an indicator of how "appification" could spread, let’s look at the next fairly recent news item.

"Webifying" nontraditional devices

The idea of a Web-enabled refrigerator has been around almost as long as the Internet. It seems that a lot of people want to get an e-mail when they run out of milk. And then there are the plants that have been wired to Twitter (hey, make your own!).

But now there’s some real development going into these sorts of ideas. Hewlett-Packard CEO Mark Hurd said during the company’s second-quarter earnings call that part of the reason HP bought Palm was to put Palm’s webOS into printers. Hurd wants to be in control of the OS in a variety of devices that HP makes.

Now if a Web-connected printer seems a little odd, here are a few thoughts. A device that is dedicated to a single task, like printing paper, is well-aligned for getting the most from apps — which also tend to focus on a single task.

The easy examples of apps for a printer include: a concert/airline ticket printing app-printer, or a cool-things-near-an-address mapping app-printer. You get the idea. Anything that you might print out frequently is a good candidate for a "Webified" printer.

If you hear any conversations around this idea, you’ll likely hear some snickering — just as there was snickering at the thought of phones with "apps" ten years ago. The sideshow conversation will be around what kind of iPad competitor HP will make with the webOS or how HP ditched Windows for their efforts. The main event will be in how the concept of apps extends beyond phones/tablets/computers into other dedicated devices.

An Internet of real estate things

So if all sorts of devices start getting little OSes installed in them (whether it’s Google Chrome or HP webOS or even some flavor of the iPhoneOS), what can that do for your practice of real estate?

First up it would be good to take a hard look at any single-purpose devices your customers have today and start thinking of how those devices might be used to deliver real estate related information. For example, could a Webified printer use an app that assembles a real-estate-hunting tour, printing it out along with maps and listing details?

Next is to start getting a sense of how people use apps today. There’s a broader question about how people search and find information in the context of a world where Google search lives next a collection of dedicated apps. The apps filter out the wide variety of information on the Web leaving only the items that are relevant to the customer.

People understand this inherently — it’s why apps on the iPhone that are little more than repurposed Web sites are popular. People don’t necessarily need some great new functionality (though it helps if you have it); they’re happy just saving a bit of clicking and typing at a search engine and just starting with results that are relevant to them.

We’re a long way from a widely available "Internet of things," but we’re getting closer. Screens and purposes for which they’re used are multiplying and changing.

Gahlord Dewald is the president and janitor of Thoughtfaucet, a strategic creative services company in Burlington, Vt. He’s a frequent speaker on applying analytics and data to creative marketing endeavors.


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