Property information on the go

Mobile e-commerce is finally realizing its potential as Auckland developer M-Com sells its system to mapping solution provider Terralink. A property information service is already being tested.

The technology allows users to look up information, such as house valuations, recent sales in the area or other relevant information, using a mobile phone.

M-Com can deliver the data via WAP or even SMS but prefers to use Java to offer a better looking, more secure service.

Terralink has a large land information database which contains New Zealand topographic data, legal property information, aerial/satellite imagery and addressing data.

Property developers, real estate agents and prospective home owners can view a property's sales history. Terralink plans to offer customers access to aerial photos and mapping applications through the mobile phone application, says Julian Grainger, product manager at Terralink.

"The mobile phone service is an opportunity for us to offer our customers access to real time information," he says.

The company introduced a WAP portal in 2004, but take-up was slow.

"The WAP service had problems around speed and usability. We decided to go down the track of the Java application simply because it is much more useful and a lot cleaner," he says. "Customers only have to log their phone in once and then it is recognized and they can go straight to information search."

Terralink is still testing the Java application among a group of customers.

"The response so far has been ecstatic," says Grainger. "The application won't work on BlackBerries at the moment, but apart from that there are no problems."

When the service goes live in a couple of months, customers will be able to download the application (45KB) into their phones when logging on to Terralink's website.

"Finally there is a mobile phone application for adults," he says. "It's not a ring tone, a game or advertising."

"The only obstacle is that people that have reached a certain age will have to learn to use their phones before they can use the applications," he says.

Grainger thinks there will be a relatively long adoption period before the majority of customers are comfortable using their phones, and thus consider the service a convenient information channel.

M-Com market developer Serge van Dam says the mobile channel demands a simple and easy-to-use interface.

"The service is valuable to people on the go that instantly want to find out how much money they have in their bank account, where the closest Pizza Hut is, or how much a house on a certain address is worth," he says. "I don't think that our applications will be more complicated in the future. They might have more security features, but the format will still be simple."

The applications also enable users to buy goods, pay bills and accept credit card payments with their mobile phones. Van Dam demonstrates the latter by tapping my credit card number into the interface on his phone. The whole operation takes less than 30 seconds, and indeed, the next day when I check my balance, NZ$10 (US$7) has been taken from my account. He assures me that he can also reverse the payment from his phone.

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