As promised, we’ve mined our MLS usage statistics for wireless access. The following chart speaks for itself:
The numbers along the Y axis in this and the following chart represent web server hits. I first tried to create this graph to show numbers based on a percentage of non-wireless hits, but the number was so small that four decimal places were needed to show the first non-zero number. We’re talking a comparison of many millions versus tens of thousands of hits. Mark Flavin’s question of whether cell phone access is necessary has a conflicting two part answer: 1) wireless usage on our system has more than tripled in one year and increased thirteen-fold in two years, showing its increasing popularity and acceptance; and 2) the share of people using wireless is still incredibly small. It would be easy to draw the conclusion that the service is unnecessary given the small percentage of overall hits, but the sharp increase in usage would seem that the technology is worthwhile to those using the wireless system.
The chart below breaks down system access by mobile phone operating system. The iPhone took no market share from the Blackberry other than perhaps slowing its growth for a month, but Palm has really been impacted. Windows CE took a small hit but not as severe as Palm. It’s not too surprising that the iPhone rose immediately to a level above any other device. It’s likely due to the ease of use and speed of navigation as compared to other devices; it’s just simply easier to visit more pages in the same amount of time with the iPhone.
Years ago, when we first began researching wireless platforms, we narrowed our choices down to WAP/WML, HTML, or development of a native application for the Palm OS via the CodeWarrior tool. At the time, we chose to begin development in both HTML and WAP/WML systems. By the time we completed and released our short-lived WAP/WML system, HTML was becoming available on more phones at the time and proved to be much more powerful, forgiving, and accommodative with regard to the reuse of code than the card-based navigation system that WML provided. We dropped WAP/WML support after a short period of time and blazed ahead with HTML wireless access even at a time when most mobile phones had browsers capable of displaying only a few lines of text with about twelve characters per line. This eventually proved to be a good decision since HTML browsers are now available on nearly every Internet-enabled mobile phone and standardization of mobile browsers on HTML allows us to reuse our code from our non-wireless MLS system.
With wireless usage being such a small percentage of the total, is it worth the investment? Michael Seguin talks about how the existing wireless systems have a questionable ROI from an MLS’s perspective, but the current wireless systems are the forefathers of much richer future mobile experiences. This makes the investment from our MLS vendor perspective worthwhile. Any development that leads us to improvement of the wireless usage experience will be a long-term success for us since we believe that mobile access is going to become nearly a requirement in the future. Imagine the MLS system features that could be developed if the features of the iPhone and Microsoft Surface were combined with a GPS and a laser measurement tool. The device could be used to look for property while driving around neighborhoods. If there were a house for sale, the house could be driven by and the device would display all of the information that’s available about that listing. Also, imagine having one of those devices while entering a listing. The listing could be entered on-location, marking the features of the home while walking around it. Geocoding would be instant and accurate. There would be no more speculation about where to place the listing on the map in the MLS system because the latitude and longitude coordinates could be read directly from the device. Floor plans could be entered simply by walking around the house using the laser measurement tool while the software builds a floor plan from laser and GPS feedback. If the existing wireless systems are a precursor to such powerful future tools, the investment is well worth it from our perspective.
The introduction of the iPhone has blurred the line between our wireless access to the MLS system and the regular MLS system thanks to its inclusion of a fully featured version of Safari. Since our MLS system supports Safari in cases where Safari is capable, iPhone users can use flexmls® Web without entering through the wireless access site. However, because the iPhone’s web page rendering engine displays the MLS system as it would appear on an average-size desktop screen, it requires use of the zoom feature which quickly grows tiresome. So, shortly after the iPhone was released, we installed an upgrade for the wireless version of our system that makes the content available for iPhone users in a manner that did not require use of the zoom feature by adjusting the window size.
The iPhone has raised the standard for mobile web browsers. It has not only increased accessibility of real (not stripped-down “mobile”) web content, but has improved yet again the ability for FBS and all other web developers to reuse code during development of new features for both the desktop and mobile platforms. In fact, with the iPhone, there may not even need to be significant code differences between the full MLS system and the wireless system; the need for separate code may cease as mobile browsers become increasingly like desktop browsers. The next few years will be full of exciting developments in the mobile browser arena, ultimately helping us enable our end users to run entire businesses from a mobile phone.
What do you think? Is wireless access to the MLS system completely useless, a novelty for the few, or a necessity?