by Michael J. Shapiro | August 01, 2011
What can we expect to be integrated into the event apps of tomorrow? Following are some emerging trends to watch.
Event-specific games. Developers are creating games that encourage participation (such as visiting exhibitors to gain points) and bolster education. See "Games Attendees Play".

Location-based technology. "A year ago, all of these GPS-enabled location apps like Foursquare and Gowalla were about the concept of checking in," says San Francisco-based Asif Khan, founder and president of the Location Based Marketing Association. "Now, every one of these platforms has moved to the concept of recommendation engines." In other words, now that they know where you've been and where your friends have been, they're making suggestions about where to go and who to see.

Social App in IPhoneThis is playing out in the world of conferences through apps such as Unsocial, which the LBMA has been using at its member conferences. In drawing data from LinkedIn or other platforms, Unsocial serves as a business social networking tool that helps you to find professionals in your vicinity with whom you might want to connect. A conference-specific version of the app integrates location-based recommendations with event-app basics like the agenda, schedules, maps, and Facebook and Twitter feeds, for starters. Such functionality, says Khan, "is much more powerful than a consumer service, and much more of a B-to-B application. Ultimately, it's all about value and relevancy."

At conferences, it's also about making the most efficient use of time. "Apps like Unsocial provide a way to engage with the people you should be engaging with, based on these recommendations," says Kahn. "It's about finding and connecting with those people at an event where you might not otherwise be able to do so."

Augmented reality. Augmented-reality apps provide information about real-world surroundings through a smartphone or tablet. When the camera on a mobile device is pointed toward, for example, the Las Vegas Strip, an app from MGM Resorts can identify which property you're looking at, by displaying a text overlay.

Event apps take the same concept to the trade show floor. San Francisco-based Junaio is an app that was featured at February's Mobile World Congress, in Barcelona, Spain. Because GPS positioning isn't well suited to the confines of a convention center, the Junaio app works by scanning strategically placed QR code-type images stuck, literally, to the trade show floor. Once the image is scanned and the attendee's position approximated, the camera phone will display a text overlay showing, for instance, where the restrooms are and the sites of specific show pavilions.

Trevor Roald, manager of sales engineering and product experience for app developer QuickMobile, believes that's a very interesting way of incorporating augmented reality into a show, but it just scratches the surface of possibilities. The true effectiveness and popularity of the feature will be more heavily linked to geo-positioning services and their indoor capabilities.

"As soon as you go into a session room, it will know where you are and send information; it will give you the session notes right away, straight to your mobile device," Roald says. "We should see a lot more of that kind of augmented reality in the meeting space." Seeing an informative text overlay while pointing your camera around the room is very cool, Roald admits, but,"how effective is it as a marketing channel, or as a communications channel, in the meeting space? It's debatable."

QR Codes/Near-Field Communication. QR codes have been around since the mid 1990s but have exploded in popularity in recent years due to mobile smartphone technology. The code itself looks like pixilated video game graphics from the 1980s -- a square image made up of small blocks and lines of various sizes. It functions like a UPC code and can be read by a mobile device with a camera and a QR code-reading app.

Scanning a QR code is a way to get more information: It can take attendees to exhibitor websites, session downloads, white papers or registration. As such, more apps are integrating code-reading capabilities -- but just how long this trend continues depends on the popularity of other technologies that could replace the QR code. Near-Field Communication, for example, is already built into many smartphones sold in Asia and parts of Europe, and has become popular as a form of mobile payment. Public transit riders, for example, can use their smartphones to pay for tickets by waving them near vending machines equipped with NFC tags to have the ticket cost deducted from an account. Google is championing NFC, but its success relies on it being built into new smartphones. NFC doesn't run through an app; it must be built into the hardware.

Of course, all of these emerging trends depend on the evolution of mobile device hardware, and which devices rule the market. But planners shouldn't focus too much on the gadgets themselves, cautions Roald. "It really comes down to what kind of event experience the meeting planner is looking to create," he says, "and then using mobile technology to enhance that experience, rather than the other way around."


FOR MORE "Update: Apps for Meetings":

> Update: Apps for Meetings

> Embracing the iPad

> Games Attendees Play