retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Many years ago, a somewhat savvy cab driver picking me up from a technology trade show asked me a question that still lingers. In everything that I saw while I was at the show, what was the “killer app”?

In other words, what did you see that is changing the world?

I remember it because the next day I went looking for that killer app and found it. It wasn’t the new Microsoft applications gaining prominence at that time. Rather it was the sudden explosion of wheelie suitcases that dominated the luggage areas.

The real killer apps are those that get used.

I recalled that question this week reading the interesting discussion here on MNB about Uber’s car service. Virtually all of those comments manage to be correct, even while the readers disagreed. Uber is rewriting the rules of car services with advanced technology and an attempt to build a better customer experience.

Yet it’s also unfair that Uber gets a built in advantage of not having the legacy costs and governmental regulations that hit existing cabs. Of course, as we’ve all noticed, change is usually unfair.

Nonetheless it’s easy to argue that the killer app of the show was Uber and I think that tells us something. The technology is never the killer app, it’s the way people apply it.

Two days after last week's Food Marketing Institute (FMI) show, I saw what might yet be another killer app, while attending a performance of the National Orchestral Institute. It’s an app that might have implications far beyond classical music - maybe even for trade shows - because of how it seeks to transform experiences.

I attend orchestral concerts like this for two reasons: first, my son was performing in the group, and second, I always feel young at these concerts. (If you want to see an industry with future problems go to the symphony and consider the preponderance of senior citizens in the audience.)

The classical music industry is aware and terrified of this and is constantly looking for ways to reach out to new listeners, with programs featuring more modern music.

At the NOI concert a glimpse of the future was on display. The Imaging Research Center of the University of Maryland Baltimore County was offering a new way to enjoy the concert. IRC was giving a select few audience members iPads loaded with a program that would provide updates and insights throughout the performance. In much the way that pop-up video changes the movie experience, IRC is looking to transform a classical concert.

Of course, it’s going to mean some changes starting with how to illuminate the theater so that the devices aren’t a huge annoyance. But in much the way that opera companies have learned to improve their experience by displaying English translations above the screen, this new app could help new concert goers overcome intimidation at classic concerts by explaining what’s going on, when to applaud and more.

That would be a killer app. Just as guidance in a supermarket to help me make better choices for economics, nutrition or just taste is a killer app. And even at a trade show, an app that helps me follow speeches, find interesting exhibit happenings or even monitor the cab line would be a step further, even beyond what FMI tried this year.

You could even say it would be uber.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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