It’s that time of year again — dust off the flux capacitor, jump into the DeLorean time machine and let’s revisit the cool tech trends affecting real estate this past year!
The tech industry had a fascinating year. An Apple engineer caused quite the stir when he left a top-secret prototype of the iPhone 4 in a bar. The drama of the iPhone 4 leak unfolded like juicy, celebrity tabloid gossip and was the buzz on social networking sites.
Facebook continued its dominance in the social space and made the leap from the small screen to the big one. "The Social Network," starring Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerman, premiered on Oct. 1 and has grossed more than $192 million worldwide.
Some interesting technology trends unfolded in real estate as well. The industry saw its share of cutting-edge products, gadgets and apps. It seems that every year, a new product is chasing the elusive "lifestyle search" and there were a bunch of neighborhood and lifestyle applications released.
With that said, here are my top 10 tech trends that changed real estate in 2010:
10. Open Source
Open source software can be modified and redistributed freely. I am a HUGE fan of WordPress! As you may know, WordPress is a wonderful open source publishing platform that powers many real estate blogs. It’s been exciting to see the real estate industry embrace the application and not just for blogging. Many property websites, content management systems and even broker sites are running on WordPress. Drupal is another popular open source platform with a rich history and strong community.
As I mentioned in my November article "Tech up your real estate ride," real estate agents rank fourth on a list of top 10 vehicle crashers by profession. Car tech has come a long way, including many features that can improve safety. Ford Motor Co. truly raised the bar when it adopted Sync, and it is available in most of its vehicles. Sync allows for hands-free calling, is MP3-compatible and even utilizes Google Maps. Perfect for any real estate agent!
8. Cloud Computing
Cloud computing (Internet-based computing) had a big impact on brokers this year. Not only can it reduce expensive infrastructure but it improves mobility as well. Google Apps and Zoho are two popular services that offer productivity apps. Looking for a Web-based, real estate specific application? Cloud CMA is an easy and economical way to create analysis reports, especially if the local MLS has an antiquated CMA module or doesn’t support one at all.
OpenID seems to fly under the radar. However, giving your website users the ability to register for property alerts utilizing their Facebook or Gmail credentials is a great way to improve usability and the customer experience. I saw a big spike in the number of registrations when we enabled this feature on our company website.
6. Google Instant
Google Instant debuted in early September, displaying "suggested" results while the end-user types. Google said it was out to improve the speed and accuracy of search, but some real estate marketers wondered whether users would finish their queries or if Instant would introduce a bias. In "Google second-guesses your search," Inman News columnist Gahlord Dewald predicted that the new capability could have implications for long-tail search marketing that targets searches employing multiple keywords.
5. HTML5 vs. Flash
The battles between Apple’s Steve Jobs and Adobe are well documented — Apple has chosen not to support Abobe Flash. Obviously, this is a huge debate among developers that’s also impacted real estate. With the popularity of smart phones and tablets, the delivery method of rich content is imperative to the industry. Will media such as virtual tours, interactive floor plans and slide shows continue to be developed as Flash? While HTML5 is certainly appealing, standards are still being finalized. If you’re attending Real Estate Connect next month in New York City, be sure to check out the Connect Tech session: "The death of Flash? Can we move beyond closed systems and on to the open Web?"
In WellcomeMat’s 2009 real estate video report, company founder Christian Sterner asked, "Is video the new photo in real estate marketing?" I don’t know if video will ever replace photography in real estate, but I do know that video production reached new heights in 2010. Joel Burslem of 1000Watt Consulting wrote a fantastic piece entitled "Real Estate Video is Dead" about the remarkable high-definition (HD) video that can now be captured by some digital single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras. Burslem highlights a sophisticated property tour video in his post and declares, "Real estate cinema is now within your reach."
3. Location-Based Social Networking
I saw Dennis Crowley, co-founder of Foursquare, speak at Real Estate Connect last January and was very impressed with his passion and energy. Geo-location apps changed social media in 2010 and had a big impact on real estate. I was excited when I started seeing our clients "checking in" to our office! Despite privacy concerns, users embraced Foursquare and Gowalla — and in April, Facebook launched Places. Look for further advances in location-based marketing in 2011.
The iPad was released in April, and 3 million of the devices were sold in 80 days. The iPad is truly a game-changer! Agents in my office use the device for listing presentations, recording open house attendance, nurturing customer relations and more.
Mashable’s Pete Cashmore recently discussed how the iPad has unexpectedly reshaped Web design. "A growing number of companies have found that their iPad apps offer better usability than their websites, and so the latter are being molded to match the former," Cashmore said in a post for CNN, noting that Twitter’s recent redesign "borrowed heavily from the company’s iPad app." If you’re planning on redesigning your site, be sure to take the iPad and other tablets into consideration.
Smart phones saw dizzying advances in 2010. The iPhone 4 and Android devices offered robust features in both hardware and software. Real estate utilized a plethora of apps in 2010 — everything from property search to productivity. Native applications such as SMS, GPS and the camera are extremely valuable as well. It’s a competitive marketplace with major players like Apple, Microsoft, Google and RIM Blackberry. Some analysts are predicting that combined sales of smart phones and mobile devices like tablets will surpass sales of personal computers by 2012.
Technology experienced unprecedented innovation in 2010, especially in the mobile space. If this trend continues, 2011 should be a great year.