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Local Businesses, Public Figures Leverage Mobile As The Future Of Communications

By Tiffany Rider - Senior Writer

November 6, 2012 - With more smartphone users today than ever before, mobile applications (apps) are reaching new heights as a form of communication.

Mobile marking solutions companies are predicting that in the coming years mobile Internet usage will surpass desktop Internet usage, and mobile apps for smartphones like the iPhone, Android and Blackberry continue to roll out in droves.

Ali Kohani, president and CEO of Geoffiti, is helping local organizations,
businesses and public figures connect with smartphone users through mobile
applications, or apps. Geoffiti recently launched apps for the Queen Mary and
the Long Beach Community Action Partnership’s Atlantic Corridor project.
(Photograph by the Business Journal’s Thomas McConville)

According to the International Data Corporation (IDC), developers released more than 300,000 mobile apps to the market by 2010. Those 300,000-plus apps were downloaded approximately 10.9 billion times. IDC predicts global app downloads to reach nearly 77 billion by 2014, making it difficult for savvy businesses and public figures to ignore this expanding communication channel.

With more smartphone users today than ever before, mobile applications (apps) are reaching new heights as a form of communication.

“There is definitely a need and demand for mobile applications,” said Ali Kohani, president and CEO of the Long Beach-based mobile app development company Geoffiti. “Really, the critical piece is the transition from web to mobile and understanding what are the critical things that didn’t make sense on a mobile device that did on the web. You can’t just transport those things over. It’s not just having a mobile app but doing it right and thinking it through in terms of what is the experience the user is going to go through in the device that they are on.”

Geoffiti provides mobile applications and solutions for several market segments, specifically cities, political campaigns and nonprofit organizations. Kohani started Geoffiti two years ago through his own private tech incubator and serves as executive director of Long Beach Tech, a startup incubator for local entrepreneurs trying to grow the local tech industry.

“Our goal [at Geoffiti] is to provide them with a toolset to be able to solve the most common needs they have in being able to communicate with their constituents, to have news available and to be able to get information out in real time without having to rely on e-mail messages or traditional forms of communication,” Kohani said. “It provides a closer way for the loop of feedback in order for them to hear what’s going on. It also provides a more intelligent way to get information, using the capabilities of the telephone itself – GPS, camera and things like that. You can get more useful information, more relevant information for someone.”

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While Geoffiti has developed mobile apps for international clients like actor Sean Penn’s J/P Haitian Relief Organization, the business has also helped several local entities launch apps. Geoffiti’s past clients include the Downtown Long Beach Associates (DLBA), developing the nonprofits first mobile application in conjunction with former DLBA marketing executive Steve Sheldon. Sheldon has since taken the marketing and events helm at the Queen Mary, which launched its first mobile app with Geoffiti in September.

“Steve Sheldon, early on, before anyone actually had a mobile application, realized the need for that,” Kohani said.

The Queen Mary mobile app allows users to find out what’s going on aboard the ship, in terms of permanent exhibits, events and businesses. “We plan to make all sorts of really great features, but as a starting point we were able to add the audio tour features to the mobile application,” Kohani said.

The Queen Mary’s self-guided audio tour was previously limited to rented devices with headsets. With the mobile app, ship guests can purchase the tour through their smartphone and use the device for a more interactive experience. Another function of the Queen Mary’s app is called the Ghost Tracker, through which users can hunt virtual ghosts roaming the ship. The app is free and available for Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android.

Geoffiti also developed an app for Atlantic Corridor, a project of the Long Beach Community Action Partnership. The app helps people who live in the Atlantic Corridor find businesses and services in their area, Kohani said. This app, which launched June 11, is free and available for iPhone and Android.

Kohani cited Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster as a visionary in terms of using mobile platforms to communicate with constituents. Geoffiti launched the mayor’s app in June 2011 with the idea of providing users an on-the-go method of connecting with the mayor’s office. The app shows articles posted to the mayor’s website and offers the ability to contact him directly or request city services. “People are using their smart phones for many different things – from mobile banking to locating the cheapest gas prices,” Mayor Bob Foster told the Business Journal in an e-mail. “Apps also serve as a dynamic way to connect with the Long Beach community. Through my app, the Mayor’s office will always be open no matter where you are or the time of day.”

The free app is currently only available for the iPhone, but Kohani said Geoffiti plans to make it available for Android in the future. “At the time when we launched that app and even today, there are very few politicians that have a mobile application outside of major national candidates,” Kohani said. “It’s a testament to their ability to see the future as well, what folks are going to want to be able to communicate with them on.”

The Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce is preparing to launch its first mobile app, called LBChamber2Go. According to Joel Perler, director of membership for the chamber, the app will be free and available for iPhone, Android, Blackberry and other smartphone and tablet devices in 2013. The project has been in the works for six months in partnership with Metro Media, otherwise known as Chamber2Go.

“It’s not replacing any marketing efforts, but it’s another channel – a great channel – to reach an audience,” Perler said. “It’s new technology that we should be taking advantage of. People will be able to find us easier, and it will have all these great features that go beyond a social media site.”

One organization that has been ahead of the curve in terms of launching a mobile app is the Aquarium of the Pacific. In 2009, a tech-savvy Aquarium volunteer designed and developed a mobile application that launched in 2010, according to Anitza Valles, web content and social media coordinator for the Aquarium. “We try to develop as much as we can in-house before we go out in terms of our media and our technology,” she told the Business Journal.

The free app was specifically designed for the iPhone at the time, but has since been made available for Android users. It features a map of the Aquarium, a list of events and shows and a directory of popular animal species. Those who have downloaded the app mostly use it at the Aquarium as a guide, she said. Today there are about 3,500 users through the Android platform and 7,500 users on the iPhone or iPad.

Valles said the app is getting a facelift with an expected re-launch Memorial Day weekend 2013. “It’s something that takes a while for organizations to get behind because typically it means new technologies, new training and new money,” she said. “At the Aquarium, we are trying to figure out how to do it ourselves. We were able to develop our first app and update it. We are still able to develop and design it in-house. We are trying to engage with our users in a way that isn’t just the actual Aquarium. We want them to keep coming back to the Aquarium, so how do we freshen up the experience for them? It always comes down to the user. What apps do you like? That’s always the key.”