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10 March 2010
Posted in Homegrown - Orsome Software
NZiPhone.com has had the opportunity to trial an iPhone application being developed by Orsome Software for Harcourts Real Estate. This exclusive look shows you how useful this application is going to be both for those looking to rent, buy or lease, as well as for the Harcourts Agents based around the country. It's a stunning application to look at and once released, will no doubt prove to be exceptionally useful to both those within Harcourts and those wanting to make use of their services.
I need to preface the rest of this article by mentioning that the app that I got to try out was still in development...and some of the rough edges I make comment on have already been fed back to the developer Peter Watling, and may see changes in the application before it is released. That said, I'm thoroughly impressed by how useful this application will be and how most aspects of the app were so easy to use.
A lot of effort has been put into the look and feel of this iPhone app. Looking at the splash screen seen below, what you don't see are the blades of grass sprouting as the program loads. It's quirky things like that and the polished graphics that really show the work that has been put in.
Once the app starts up, it has the ability to use your current location. In my tests, I didn't quite get what this was of use for, but I imagine that I can refine my searches by current locations as opposed to having to indicate locations quite specifically.
The main focus for a non-Harcourts user of the application is in the ability to search for properties for sale, lease or rent. The interface that you see below, leads off to other sub-sections where you add to this overall search criteria through some really nice interfaces...
So here you can see that I'm indicating that I am after Residential Property for Rent (actually I hate my flat, so this is a good thing for me to check!)...
Next, I get to choose the property type. Here I find a problem with the interface...I'd be open to Apartments, a unit or others. Some of the terms seem a bit odd to me...I'm looking for "flat" and can't see it (maybe they're no longer called that?) and I have no idea what a "Home and Income" property type is? Given the end user is the target here, perhaps some explanation needs to be available? Even more to the point, I'd like to see the ability to select more than one property type if I'm not being that picky as to what I want to find, but currently, you only have the right to select one property type as your criteria.
Continuing the refinement of my search criteria, I need to enter a price range. I love the way this has been implemented through the use of a two-ended slider that you adjust to indicate your price range. It makes it clear that you are entering a range and not just one price...and the price slider is so iPhone-like. As you can see in the image below, I think the instructions are fairly straight forward. The same process is followed to indicate the number of bedrooms that you want in your search criteria (you can see an image of that later on).
The search findings can be a little confusing. Remember that I've refined my search to properties for rent, so why is it letting me filter the findings by Auction, Open Homes or more? The silver band where these are listed is a little awkward at times and the arrows pointing left and right suggest they can be tapped, when in fact I think they are just suggesting there is more off screen. I'm not sure how to overcome this visually, but it does cause some confusion.
A shortlist feature is available to allow you to effectively bookmark properties (bookmark, start, favourite...whatever you want to call it) which allows you as you are working through listings, to indicate this is a listing you want to review in a bit more detail later. You simply tap on the shortlist star for that listing and carry on. Later, you move to the Shortlist section and there they all are. If you want to remove a listing from your shortlist, just tap on the listing to brining up the detail and turn the shortlist star for that listing off.....simple (and superb) as that! (Note - the image below is not meant to reflect the results of the search I was doing previously)
The amount of detail that the app provided or pulls from the Harcourts system is staggering. You can easily go into the iPhone app and look for Harcourts agents in your region, including seeing their contact details, image (where available on their website) and information about their relevant qualifications. It's incredibly simple and powerful to use, and just looks great. I even emailed my cousin to tell her she'd have to get an iPhone now that she's featured as a Harcourts agent (not the agent you se in the image below supplied by the developer). In fact, I imagine when this comes out all Harcourts agents will want an iPhone if they don't have one already.
There are a few things in this development version that I suggested to Peter needed some work. As you see in the image below, you have two identical icons that represent different things. An iPhone developer knows that the magnifying glass icon at the bottom of the screen is a tab icon to get to that section of the app, but the standard user may not. What distinguishes that icon from the one at the top is simply something that you have to learn...and in this instance, I feel you shouldn't have to have an app that teaches you the difference between identical icons. Also, this search button being here seems misplaced....what does it represent? Remember, here we are simply setting a price range...so if I activate a search from here, is it just going to be about price, or is it going to include the other criteria back on the main criteria page? If it is going to do the latter, then I would get rid of the search option in this sub-section, and force users to go back to the main criteria page to activate a search.
Update - Peter informs me that these icons are now different in the version that will be released
At the same time as the public use this application on an iPhone, the Harcourts agents are going to have access through the app to a lot more information and (I assume) the ability to do a lot more with it. I think the approach (of having one combined app for the agents and the public) is superb...but for Joe Public, we shouldn't be able to stumble upon things like a login screen so easily. I'm not suggesting this is a security breach...what I'm suggesting is that this screen is meaningless to me, so it should be hidden as much as possible. My suggestion is that somehow in the app, the Harcourts Agents need to change a setting to even make this login section show...or at least bury it a little so the rest of us aren't wondering what we are meant to do here.
Taking another look at the screen, how do I get away from this page? I found this problem in a couple of screens where it really isn't intuitive for users to know how to get back to where they were. This login area is a good example of that. But keep in mind, this is an app that is under development as I write this.
Peter informs me what this screen gives agents access to - "The Agents can display additional information and search for listings not yet public, plus they can do historic searches to see comparable recent sales. It has a full task management system plus it has a way for them to see their prospective contacts or sellers details too." Very cool and very clever.
Peter also commented - "One thing you may not have spotted was if you press and hold on a business card, it does flip over and let you add the person straight into your iPhone's address book. Cute huh?" My answer would be yes, very cute....but also something that is completely hidden. I went and looked to see how I would know this was available in the application, but I can't see anything that hints at this functionality. For something so useful, it probably needs to be a bit more obvious.
And that's a quick look at the app in development. A lot of work has gone into the app and I found it quite easy to use in most instances. The data it pulls from the Harcourts site was quick and detailed and it is the kind of app that you might think you only need on an occasional basis when seriously house hunting...
...But at the same time, it might be one you'll leave on your iPhone for some time, just to find out what other renting and buying opportunities await you in the future, how prices are doing in your region and more. There's a lot to learn from the data that this application will pull off the Harcourts site for you.
Happy house hunting!
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