Mobile platform - getting smarter and growing in importance

by Alistair Helm in ,

iPhone iStock_000017188325Small.jpg.png

There are more internet connected devices in people’s hands these days than the total installed base of computers and laptops. If you add on the 440 million tablet devices to the 1.6 billion smartphones it far exceeds the total of 1.53 billion desktop and laptop computers.

Data from Mary Meekers (Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers) presentation at the ReCode conference on Internet Trends May 2014

Data from Mary Meekers (Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers) presentation at the ReCode conference on Internet Trends May 2014

We have reached this tipping point of mobile vs desktop and from here the divergence will only accelerate , especially as currently only a quarter of internet usage is on a mobile device. A few years ago we heard the phrase “mobile-first’ when describing the mindset of new tech companies, that mantra has to be a continuing theme of all business models that rely on a technical platform. When it comes to real estate advertising, there is no argument it is a technical platform that dominates real estate advertising when seen from the consumer perspective.

An interesting deeper insight into this mobile usage for home searching was highlight in data last year from the US portal of published in the Wall Street Journal which highlighted the profile of mobile vs desktop searching by suburb in the US. The findings showed that the higher priced suburbs saw far higher usage of mobile and that within this usage which exceeded half of all views, the Apple iOS ecosystem dominated with combined iPhone and iPad accounting for 50% of views vs. 8% for Android in these high price suburbs. 

At home in NZ we have seen a number of developments to the mobile landscape over the past year with enhancements to the app as well as the Trade Me Property app. In addition we have had the launch of the Kiwi Bank Home Hunter app and a iPad app from Open2View.

When analysing the relative level of audience to and Trade Me Property earlier this year I analysed the performance in terms of downloads using the tracking analytics of AppAnnie which ranks apps on a top 1,000 list per country. At the time back in Aril there was no doubt that continued to lead the field in terms of the higher ranking in new downloads, added to which its installed base built up over nearly 4 years had given it supremacy over Trade Me Property amassing over 200,000 downloads.

Revisiting the latest stats from AppAnnie though shows a very significant difference as the two charts highlight below:

Trade Me Property’s iOS app (for iPhone and iPad) has leapt in the rankings since the beginning of July from 350th placed downloaded app in NZ to an average of around the 70th most downloaded app. Meanwhile download ranking appears to have slipped from a high of 175th place at peak in Feb / March to 250th overall place in the past 3 months.

What could have lead to this significant lift in the rankings of Trade Me Property?

I don’t actually have the answer - I will ask Trade Me Property to share their secret if I get the chance. However if I was in their shoes the advertising tactic I would have used is the new download app placement available now from Facebook and Twitter

The sheer simplicity and contextual logic of these ad services staggers me. Both Facebook and Twitter as news and social platforms are more and more about mobile - they are also used constantly and given the profile data they have about users they can target so perfectly so as to maximise conversion and in so doing minimise advertising spam and maximise revenue per ad unit.

Look at this simple example:

Option 1 : Web advert for mobile app

Consumer experience - if on a desktop / laptop click on advert, taken to company website and the click again to app store to then sync app with mobile device. If on mobile device often face difficulty of landing page design not optimised for mobile

Cost for campaign: $4 per 1,000 impressions - company buys 1,000,000 impressions. Typical click through rate of 0.05% = 500 clicks to landing page, 70% conversion to app store and 50% conversion to download.

Result - 1,000,000 ad units, spend of $4,000 for 175 extra downloads = $23 per acquisition


Option 2 : In app download

Consumer experience - only on mobile as specifically targeted. Only shown if profile matches profile of property buyer

Cost for campaign : pay for performance vs. pay for adverts. $15 per download is far less than cost of traditional advert. Conversion rate of 10% - to achieve 175 downloads requires only 1,750 ad impressions and costs just $2,625.

This model is a win win for each party - the consumer is saved the extreme bombardment of endless ads, the company only pays for successful downloads, the advertising platform (Facebook & Twitter) shows far less adverts and attracts new advertising revenue.


This is the future of advertising and saves us from the ages old ‘shotgun’ approach to marketing. That is how I would approach the promotion of a mobile app.

Trade Me Property - an insight into a new design?

by Alistair Helm in ,

It’s about this time each year that we start to get glimpses of the potential look and feel for a new iPhone - the rumour mill goes into overdrive ahead of the latest design and the people at Apple panic lest a test version is left behind at a bar!!

When it comes to design at Trade Me Property I am not sure there is quite the same amount of excitement, rumour or speculation. So let me take on the role of cheerleader of what I think may be a future direction of Trade Me Property in the mobile arena and possibly the web overall !

This potential new design style isn't the result of any leaked documents left idly behind in the rubbish bins of Wellington as Trade Me relocates across the road to some seriously smart new offices, no this design look and feel is as they say ‘In the Wild’ - as per the new design of a Windows 8.1 app.

Now I know Microsoft tablet installed base is not that huge. Estimates for last quarter of 2013 was 4 in every 100 table sales was for a Microsoft OS version - potentially rising to 1 in 10 by 2017, but it is clear that NZ has some very smart Windows 8 developers.

This I think is the key. For the development of this app, Trade Me has worked with an outsourced team from LazyWorm Apps. In doing so I think they have brought some fresh thinking to the Trade Me Property look and feel. Up until now mobile design has been somewhat constrained by what appears to be very hard baked-in principles of the core design principles of Trade Me design, which whilst ensuring super intuitive design user interface has ended up looking a little samey and dated. So I think this new look and feel is the result of a smart decision by Trade Me to let things run a little bit wild on what is likely to be their smallest installed base tablet app. However what we may see is this design creep across the web and other mobile platforms.


The Design

This is the screenshot that got me hooked from viewing the profile pages of the app ... sadly I don't have a Windows tablet to view it on so the comments are limited to the look rather than the user interface.

There is a simplicity and cleanness to this design. The function menu uses the colour cue of the brand whilst the logo is recessed. The images of properties are clean and engaging.


The map view of search uses neat shaded circles to cluster listings in a very clear way with density of colour reflecting density of lisitngs

The listing image viewer consumes the screen in an immersive manner with the overlay providing the necessary contextual information mobile app gets important upgrade

by Alistair Helm in , apps.png

You can now sync your favourite properties between the web and your iPhone or Android powered smartphone using the mobile app.

Launched in late 2010 the iPhone app was the first geo-locational app for property buyers and renters in NZ – some 18 months ahead of Trade Me’s own property app. In that time the app gained ascendency and well over 100,000 downloads making it the leading mobile app for property in NZ. The Android version was added in 2011.

However as I stated in a review of the options for mobile property apps back in March, my choice was the Trade Me app simply because it provided full syncing between web and app; and at the time did not. 

Well now that shortcoming has been addressed, and I have to say I am back in favor of the app for all the reasons I stated in my original summary. It is a better and more intuitive app that more fully uses the inherent GPS capability – it makes discovering property for sale or rent so much easier.

In addition to this critical feature of the latest version (Android 1.2.1 iPhone 1.4) there are a couple of extra features. Here’s my take on what’s good and bad.

The Good:

  • The syncing is great.
  • The property details now carries over auction and tender dates – nice.

The Bad:

  • Signing in - I did notice a problem. As with many people I could not remember my password so I had to reset my password and await a new password. With the app open I then entered my new password only to find i was not accepted! I found that you needed to re-start the app so you could sign in with the new password. Its not surprising, but more than a little bit frustrating.
  • When you download the latest version in the mad rush to benefit from syncing your favourite properties, pause a moment to consider that all the favourites you have on your phone with the previous version will be lost and not integrated in the new version.
  • On the iPhone version only, when you first sign in to My Property, no listings show – you need to ‘pull down’ to refresh – this really needs a prompt as you like me probably sit there expecting to see your saved properties and they are not there! The Android version works a treat.
  • The summary of the new features says “Plus when homes are withdrawn or sold we will keep these in My Property under an archived section for 30 days” However when I set up my phone I found (on both Android & iPhone) that this section showed saved properties I had favourited showing up from over 2 years ago – these properties are no longer on the web or in the My Property section of the website and interestingly include full images but no description!
  • Another aspect of the summary says that you can “view all saved homes in a map” – well try as I might I could not find this feature – was I missing something?
  • A final note – the syncing between the web and the app only works when you touch the “Sync” button on the app (to be found top right on the iPhone app). There was no notice of this and by comparison to the Trade Me app this is not as slick.

The missed opportunities:

  • Still no social interaction from property listings, I can only email a listing, no Facebook or Twitter integration.
  • No ability to capture and sync the notes and photos that form part of the ‘inspection’ component of the app.
  • The iPhone app still using Apple maps as the base layer, this mapping solution is terrible as compared to the Google maps. As I understand it the Google maps API can be used to power iPhone apps. The benefits are huge as this example below shows:

Realestate app vs Google maps.png

I am pleased that the app has got this much-needed upgrade. What slightly surprised me was the fact that I found out about this upgrade all by myself – no press release, no notice on the site – even the landing page for apps makes no notification – nothing on Twitter or Facebook about this great improvement, so I am glad I can share this news!

Disclaimer: From 2006 through to August 2012 I was CEO of The views expressed here are my personal views as an independent observer. I hold no lasting connection to the Limited company, aside from a passionate desire to see it succeed.

New iPad app from Barfoot & Thompson

by Alistair Helm in ,

Auckland's largest real estate group Barfoot & Thompson this week launched an iPad app that I think is a great piece of work.

It works on the principle of keep-it-simple and let the technology work for the user instead of getting in the way. I would judge that it is the best property iPad app developed in NZ and an equal of some of the best I have seen worldwide.

However having lauded it with such praise, I don't want to go much further before stating a major problem with it.

It is a property search tool that only shows listing from Barfoot & Thompson agents. Now that may well be 40% of the listings in Auckland, but for any property hunter, what value is there in only seeing a fraction of what is on offer to buy. Just as in the early days of the web, buyers had to trawl through each website of each agency to see what was on the market and boy did they get frustrated. Trade Me Property & came along and provided the solution, all properties on one site.

So aside from this issue lets look at the beauty of this app built by Jandal software (who by the way also built the ASB Property app).

1. The focus is on location as the priority – very smart focusing on the inherent GPS capability of mobile devices (Trade Me Property iPad app does not prioritise this). You can easily zoom in and out and the speed of response is Ok, not lightening fast but Ok. There is a small issue that when you zoom out you get no clustering of listings and clicking on a pin at a resolution of the whole of Auckland shows individual properties. The app does a much better job of clustering. Also I wonder why the blue location finder icon that tells you where you are disappears when you first move the map – may be a bug that needs fixing.

2. Open homes are great – find the ‘layer’ icon and you choose to show open homes within the next hour / day / all time – simple and beautiful with open homes shown with a great corporate B&T logo.

Barfoot for iPad on the iTunes App Store.png

3. School zones are one of the highlighted features of the app and the execution is great. On the ‘layer’ icon choose to show schools, choose a school and tap the ‘zone’ and you get a clear boundary demarcation of the zone for that school. This is one of those ‘must haves’ of an Auckland property search tool and congrats to Barfoot’s for delivering this.

4. The individual property listings are prioritised to show off full screen images which look great. Swiping through photos is entirely intuitive and a joy to do! Extra tabs deliver property info, videos and floor plans. Here is a question though, why do Barfoot not mandate the provision of floor plans? Floor plans are a real benefit to buyers and providing them would really deliver a point-of-difference for the company.

5. There is though a glaring hole with the app in regards to functionality, and it is the same functional shortfall that befalls the app – you cannot save properties as favourites and sync those listings between the web and the app. There is also another very useful but missing toolset that I thought would have been included and that was social sharing – you can email a listing to a friend, but no such luck sharing it to Twitter of Facebook.

So overall a great piece of work from a user experience point of view – but I come back to my earlier question, will it be popular given you only ever see a portion of what’s for sale?

Now Barfoot & Thompson could fix this. They could access the Trade Me API and deliver all listings in an area straight into the app. The API is open access, equally Barfoot’s are a big customer of Trade Me which would easily garner support from Trade Me for such an initiative. In the US many branded real estate company apps do exactly this – show all listings.

I suspect many of the competing companies might not like this, but to be honest what’s the problem? – if their listings are seen then that is good for their vendors.

Maybe Barfoot’s would judge that sharing the app with competing listings is not in their best interest, but then again who is the client? I am sure vendors would be happier to have a smart app being used by tens, if not hundreds of thousands of Aucklanders rather than an app being used only by Barfoot agents and a few people who don’t know the app doesn’t show all the listings.

So there is the challenge to Barfoot’s – be bold, be a leader and make your app the definitive app for Auckland property finding and build your brand, your respect and your business.

Property searching on the go - a review of mobile apps

by Alistair Helm in , Trade Me Property smartphone apps.png

The evolution of the web has undoubtedly transformed property searching over the past decade; however the emergence of smartphones and the associated vast array of mobile computing devices just 5 years ago is set to transform property searching at a much faster rate. Already most property website operators report close to half of all engagements with their listings are from mobile devices and is rising everyday.

Mobile searching is intuitive. As we all know the only really effective way to assess property is to get out there in the car and walk around; sure the web is a great starting point but what you really want to do is capture your hit-list of property options and carry them with you, as you drive around, that is what the mobile device is designed for.

Checking out the Apple app store or Google Play Store for Android offers up a number of property apps for NZ and a vast array of others for overseas markets. For NZ there are a few small operators who have taken advantage of the open API (access to the raw database) from Trade Me and produced mapping solution. Sadly these under a variety of names are best steered clear of, as they lack the functionality of the only two which are worth considering – Trade Me and

However before reviewing these two I would like to mention an app from the ASB that is so close to being great, but sadly misses the mark. The Property Guide uses the data feed from Trade Me to create rich content of listings, to this is added the QV data of legal description and government valuation for every property on the market. This is the only app that offers this valuable data and is the only single source of this data freely available on the web. The app though fails on almost every other criteria. The listings are often out of date. There are no contact details of the agents listing the property and so on. Maybe the app will improve, time will tell.

Trade Me and are the trusted apps as they are the trusted property websites; their respective apps have been downloaded over 100,000 times and really hold the greatest value interest to buyers and investors. was first to launch an app for the iPhone in late 2010, Trade Me followed mid last year with its dedicated property app for the iPhone and iPad. Those with Android devices really only have the option of the app at this time.

So which is better and what are the most valuable features on these apps that can save you time or improve your buying process? I have evaluated the two apps on these 3 criteria of (i) content (ii) ease of use and (iii) storing & sharing data.

Content is critical and both apps present as close to the full complement of listings on the market. Trade Me has the edge when it comes to property for sale as it features private sales as well as agent listings. When it comes to rental property Trade Me dominates with more than twice as many listings. However the important thing to note is that listings presented on map view comprise only those properties for which the agent has supplied an accurate address – no address, no pin on the map! At this time around 1 in 5 properties on the market do not have an accurate address. Given this issue is common to both apps, no advantage can be gained by either company.

Free iPhone App -

Ease of Use is vital for mobile devices given the smaller screen and lack of a mouse. Getting to relevant data fast is so important with as few a number of taps or swipes the better. In this regard app scores highly. From the home screen one tap takes you to property “Near Me” showcasing property for sale within a 1km radius. This focuses the app entirely around the GPS capability inherent in the device and presents content in a map view as the default.

Trade Me on the other hand opt to default to a list view as per the website, and sadly lacks a “Near Me” option thereby requiring 3 taps to get to a map based view of property around you.

Both apps showcase individual properties equally well with full screen swipe gallery view.

Realestate app with open homes and new listings.png

An advantage again for the app is that on the map view open homes are displayed with a distinctive blue flag separate from the red pin for property location. Additionally all new listings for the week are shown by a distinctive red flag, which highlights the newest listings – a very useful way to assess properties. Trade Me simply relies on a red pin for all listings.

Trade me Property Watchlist.png

Storing & sharing property information is at the heart of smart property searching and this would be the most critical aspect I would judge for the smart investor. In this regard Trade Me wins hands down. The app offers synchronization between the website and the app – save to your wishlist on the website and it appears on the app. Sadly app offers local storage of favourites on the app but there is no synchronization between the website and the app. Additionally it is a little frustrating that properties stored as favourites on the app remain that way until deleted even if the property comes off the market – this is annoying as you end up with a lot of surplus data on your mobile device.

Despite this shortcoming the app does have a useful feature called “Inspection” which is a notepad capability linked to each property. It allows for notes and photos to be kept for each property so when visiting an open home you can collate further information and especially those critical photos not included by the agent on the listing so you can review later on aspects of the property. I would judge this to be a great feature, but somewhat weakened because there is no means of synching this data to your home computer as an integrated file for each property.

Trade Me Property iPad app | Trade Me.png

When it comes to a choice between these two apps I believe that for the serious investor looking to use the app as an effective tool for property searching the Trade Me app is the better choice. I make this judgment purely on the feature of synchronization. I believe this is the single weakness of the app. When you are searching property you want to be carrying with you at all times your portfolio of prospective properties with full information. Your primary search is likely to be in an office environment and you want this process to seamlessly carry across to your mobile device. So for me Trade Me wins for this functionality alone – it is weak as compared to the app in many other aspects and I hope that they address this or maybe app could hurry up and release a modification with synchronization.

This article is also published in the March edition of NZ Property Investor Magazine

Tablet devices are the future when shopping for a home

by Alistair Helm in ,

New Apple iPad mini

New Apple iPad mini

The most important medium for property buyers looking for their next home will increasingly be the tablet device. Not exclusively, but more than likely the most importantly. That is my considered opinion after some useful reflection from the presentation by the Google team at the Digital real estate conference held in Melbourne last week hosted by the Real Estate Institute of Victoria and

Data is always pivotal when it comes to Google – they are a data company. Their presenters Lucien Schneller and Pedro Queiroz shared some key qualitative and quantitative data on the move to mobile for real estate search.

Let’s start with the quantitative. The chart below shows real estate search as tracked by Google benchmarked against other key categorized for both general mobile usage and specifically tablet usage.

In Australia 12% of all real estate searches on Google are undertaken on a tablet device – higher as a proportion of searches than for these other main powerhouse search categories of cars, jobs and dating. Given the current installed base of 40% of households having a tablet device at present, this level of representation of searching on a tablet device will only continue to grow.

So to the qualitative research. The primary factor in device usage is context. Where a user is, and what a user is doing, drive the device of choice. This is why we don’t try and use a laptop in the car; and why a smartphone is a great device for checking messages whilst your partner goes to the bathroom whilst out for dinner!

The tablet is universally becoming the device for the couch and the conference room, and the airplane and the waiting room and the café etc etc.

Coupled with context the understanding put forward by Google into the type of usage undertaken on each device – the PC, the smartphone and the tablet speaks to how users define each device.

The smartphone

This device is seen as a fast, easy-access device. It allows for action-based activity here and now. It is always with me, and is my central communication device – communication in all its forms of email, voice, text and social.

The PC

This device in its near-ubiquitous form of the laptop is clearly now defined as a “work” device. I undertake work on it. I create work documents and I sit down in a work-like mentality to use it. It is a serious device.

The tablet

This device is actually defined as a happy device. It is an easy-to-use device which allows me to casually consume material. I use it when I am in a relaxed state of mind. It is less about defining and actioning a task and more about exploring and consuming.

This for me personally, is a critical reason why tablets are not incorporating mobile phone capability in the traditional sense. In the sense that phones are interruption devices. That is different to the role of a tablet when used for Skype chats or hangouts, those are actioned activities for which the tablet is well suited.

So when it comes to real estate and the task of browsing, searching, sorting, collecting, examining, exploring and investigating all about properties; the tablet is the device of choice. You have the gesture based experience which is akin to the time-honoured browsing of a magazine, you are more likely to undertake real estate searching on the couch. It is in the main a solitary event, punctuated by moments of sharing for which tablets are great.

So when it comes to crystal ball gazing the future of real estate search in a digital future the tablet is the device of choice for which real estate portals should focus. The smartphone will have a key role as the complementary tool to take all that collected information and shortlist of properties in your pocket, but the key engagement and loyalty building platform is going to be the tablet.