Smartphone Tips: Mobile Technology Must-Haves

In an exclusive Q&A, an expert from Microsoft provides buying advice and offers a glance into what mobile products are on the horizon.

September 1, 2006

What are the most essential mobile technology tools for a real estate practitioner? To answer that question, we turn to Microsoft Corp.’s Gerardo Dada, who works with mobile service companies and device manufacturers in the United States to help businesses adopt Microsoft’s new technology.

“My job is to make it easier for people to understand and buy mobile technology and to leverage it as a tool to improve their business and their life,” says Dada, director of Microsoft’s Mobile Operator Marketing division.

Though his expertise lies with Microsoft products, Dada offers valuable insight into technologies that are most valuable to those in the highly mobile real estate field. He also provides smart buying advice and gives us a sneak peek into products that are in the pipeline.

What are the most important things real estate professionals need to know about their mobile options today?

Mobile technology is a tool they can leverage to be more productive and provide better service to clients while they’re on the go. In the near future, those who choose not to leverage mobility as a key work tool could be at a significant disadvantage.

Wireless technology lets you stay connected and be productive anywhere with information about listings, customers, contracts, and so on, in the palm of your hand. The newest mobile devices are more powerful, provide immediate access to information, and come in a variety of designs to fit different personal preferences.

How can practitioners decide which technology tools they need?

I encourage them to look for products that can easily adapt to their needs in the field for voice, data, and so forth, and that have open platforms in that they can work with whatever communications standard you need — such as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. If you catch yourself telling a customer, “Let me get back to the office to send you that information,” there’s a high probability a smartphone will help you be more productive on the road.

What do you consider the essential wireless tools for a real estate pro?

I can answer that by illustrating a day in the life of a mobile-empowered practitioner.

A customer is browsing for a new home, finds a listing she’s interested in, and sends you an e-mail asking for a showing. You’re at the local coffee place jumpstarting your morning and receive her e-mail on your smartphone. After checking your Outlook calendar for the day, you respond in less than five minutes proposing a time to look at the property. Needless to say, the customer is impressed.

On your way to show the property, you make a quick stop to take pictures of a new listing, using the camera on your smartphone, and send an alert to some of your customers who might be interested in this property.

As you arrive at the house, you open the lock box using your smartphone. The customer takes a look around and tells you she’s looking for a house with a pool. Using Pocket Real Estate software, you check the listings in real time and show her a photo of a house that meets her criteria, only a short drive away. You use mapping software for directions.

After looking at the new home, the customer is really interested, so you use Microsoft’s Pocket Streets software to show her restaurants, ATMs, schools, and hospitals in the neighborhood. You then use a pocket mortgage calculator to estimate monthly payments, based on current interest rates. The customer is really excited and wants to make an offer.

Using Word Mobile, you enter her personal information and details of the offer in a template, and send the offer on the spot, increasing your likelihood of closing the deal. The customer is very happy, the day is only half over, and you feel great about what you’ve accomplished in so little time while never even going into the office.

A lot of practitioners use a team approach to selling. How do the products you just mentioned benefit a team?

One big benefit is communications. From mobile instant messaging to GPS to customer relationship management, mobile technology helps teams and larger offices stay in sync by sharing critical information in real time.

When shopping for a smartphone, mobile software, or wireless services, the choices can seem overwhelming. What advice can you offer for making smart buying decisions?

Start by thinking about how the software and hardware will work together. What solutions do you plan to leverage with mobile technology? For example, if you want to use a mapping application, you’ll benefit from a mobile device with a larger screen.

Then, think about how much you plan to type on your smartphone to determine if you need one with a full QWERTY keyboard. Some people, like me, prefer a small phone design and a laptop or tablet computer for typing.

Others want to maximize what they can do with their phone. They’ll want a powerful smartphone, such as offered on the T-Mobile MDA or the Cingular 8125, with a large screen and a full keyboard. The Palm Treo 700w is a good compromise, offering a decent screen size and a full keyboard in a relatively small package.

Also, make sure the smartphone you buy can run the software solutions you need, and that it’s a good investment for the future. For larger management teams, it’s important that the smartphones connect with the existing IT infrastructure such as your e-mail server and other business applications.

Choosing a wireless service provider is usually a function of price, coverage, and quality of service. Verizon, Sprint, and Cingular have third-generation wireless networks for people who plan to receive large amounts of data or want to browse the Web from their mobile phone. T-Mobile offers a good deal on a wireless data plan that also includes Wi-Fi access from a hot spot.

For the most part, if you’re happy with your current wireless provider, you don’t need to switch to benefit from the newer technology.

How much can practitioners expect to spend on mobile technology?

Depending on your choice of smartphone and software solutions, total investment can go from a few hundred to less than a thousand dollars. To add unlimited wireless data to your current plan, service costs run between $20 and $50 per month. I think it’s a good investment if it can help you close just one more deal this year.

The two key benefits of implementing mobile technology are productivity and improved customer satisfaction. Increases in productivity will vary, depending on your work style and how quickly you adopt the technology. You can decide to re-invest your earned productivity to do more business or you could opt to have more leisure time.

In terms of customer relationships, we know people buy emotionally and then justify their decisions rationally. People buy from who they trust. Relationships are built on responsiveness and value. Mobile technology allows you to respond in real time to your customers and to always have the information they need in the palm of your hand.

What new tech tools on are on the horizon? Can you give readers some idea of mobile technologies that Microsoft and its partners are working on that would be of interest to them?

Expect to see more powerful smartphones with innovative designs. You can also expect some of the newer features, available today at extra cost, to become standard in high-end phones. Examples include Wi-Fi access and GPS.

There’ll also be more things people will be able to do with their smartphones, from multimedia applications to personal productivity. We’ll see companies enabling mobile access to most information systems beyond e-mail; All the information living on a server somewhere, which can be accessed via a PC today, will soon be available on a smartphone.

Today we’re working with thousands of innovative companies around the world to enable this mobile future. Microsoft is making mobility an essential component of many of our products: from Microsoft Office to Windows Media Player to Sharepoint Server, providing users an interface similar to that of their desktop computer.