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Major retailers are embracing the potential of mobile devices to bring in customers and drive business. Now, small businesses are focusing on mobile access to customers to boost their bottom line.

Mobile devices, particularly smartphones, are becoming the main channel for customers to interact with businesses. That means opportunities for merchants, from restaurants to car repair services to banks.

While social media like Twitter and Facebook are an effective form of social engagement for small businesses, a mobile-friendly website and payment options for smartphones and tablets can tilt long-term success in their favor.

The market is there for the taking: smartphone ownership in the U.S. is expected to more than triple by 2016.

Here are a few areas small businesses and entrepreneurs can focus on if they want to maintain, or expand, their mobile presence:

  • Make the company website accessible to mobile devices
  • Add a mobile payment option
  • Make smartphones, tablets and other mobile tools available to the sales force
  • Use virtual meeting apps like GroupMe to communicate with staff.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s time to get in touch with your doctor. You don’t feel well. It’s time for an annual checkup or a follow-up visit. Or maybe you just have a medical question.

Chances are you have the family physician’s phone number on a card in your wallet, the one reminding you of your next appointment.

Or you can use the app on your smartphone or tablet to contact the office.

The ability to locate a doctor, book an appointment and attend to your personal health care needs is right in the palm of your hand, as an app for Apple or Android devices. One that comes to mind is Zoc Doc, launched in 2011 for iOS and now available on Android. Zoc Doc helps you to search for a doctor by specialty, browse doctor search results like credentials, view appointment calendars in real time and book one for an available date instantly.

If you just have a medical question and can’t wait, here’s even an app that lets you connect with a physician right on your mobile device. It’s a consultation without the waiting room.

Doctor on Demand allows a patient to speak with a licensed physician on audio or video through a smartphone, iPhone or tablet. The app is useful to people with non-emergency issues who have medical questions like seeking a referral or explaining symptoms. The participating doctors are drawn from a network affiliated with independent medical practices throughout the United States.

Doctor on Demand is a free app for iOS and Android, but the fee to speak with a doctor is $40, about the cost of a copayment to see a specialist.

If you’re a frequent air traveler, you’ve spent a fair amount of time in an airport terminal waiting on your flight. To pass the time until boarding call, you’ll likely want something to read.

Every airport has a newsstand — most likely Hudson News, which sells newspapers, magazines and books as well as other travel supplies in its terminal shops. USA Today or Wall Street Journal usually ends up on the plane as trash when your reach your destination.

There is another option for air travelers. Public libraries are a presence in several airports, offering free ebook downloads to passengers with an iPad or tablet.

These airport facilities are a perk for travelers with mobile devices. The downloaded ebooks are weightless and take up no room in a carry-on. Patrons who try out airport virtual libraries are also more likely to try ebooks at their home branches.

Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) recently opened a virtual library where travelers can log on to the airport’s free WiFi network to access nearly 1,200 digital content titles. The virtual library is located on the walkway between Terminals D and E.

The airport partnered with the Free Library of Philadelphia to bring the library’s electronic resources to passengers. They can download titles to their iPad or tablet in a variety of genres from classics and bestsellers to children’s books.

Other airports have set up virtual libraries in their terminals, usually in partnership with local libraries.

  • Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL) partnered with the Broward County Libraries Division to establish the first ebook lending program for passengers in 2011.
  • Kansas State Library makes titles available through its “Books on the Fly” program to passengers at Manhattan Regional Airport (MHK).
  • Michigan’s Traverse Area District Library offers passengers at Cherry Capital Airport (TVC) access to 30,000 digital ebook titles through its Books on the Go program.

 

Welcome to a better wireless underground.

Two of the largest subway systems in the country, New York and Chicago, are expanding the ability for mobile device owners to use their smartphones and tablets at transit stations. The days of a dropped phone signal as you enter a subway station are going the way of the token, thanks to improved technology and wireless infrastructure.

In New York, the nation’s largest subway system, the Metropolitan Transit Authority is adding wireless and Wi-Fi service to 11 stations in midtown Manhattan, including Grand Central Terminal, Herald Square and Bryant Park, and stations in the borough of Queens. The MTA launched wireless and Wi-Fi service at 36 subway stations last year, among them Times Square, and according to TransitWireless.com, the Wi-Fi network served 2.6 million connections throughout the year.

Smartphones like the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy S4 were the most popular devices to connect to the Wi-Fi network and were responsible for 76 percent of the data usage in the stations last year.

When this expansion phase is completed in June, nearly 250 million riders will have access to service from AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon Wireless.

Besides convenience, the expansion of wireless service is expected to also enhance passenger safety and security, the MTA says. E911 will allow dispatchers to know when a call is being placed underground and the location of the caller. Employees and first responders will also have enhanced communications in an emergency.

Upgrades are also coming to Chicago, home to the nation’s third-busiest rail transit system. The Chicago Transit Authority is upgrading the existing wireless network to 4G technology. This is expected to improve service on the Blue and Red lines, which have a total of 24 miles of individual tunnels. Work on the project is expected to begin later this year.

So if you’re traveling to these cities anytime soon and plan to use their subways, rest assured that your wireless communication experience is about to improve.

 

More than a third of young adults who book travel plans are likely to do it with a smartphone or tablet, a Hotwire.com survey reveals.

hotwire_artThe discount travel site released today the findings of its third annual American Travel Behavior Survey. Harris Interactive, which conducted the online poll for Hotwire, surveyed over 2,000 U.S. adults 18 and older in October.

The survey found that 18 percent of adults who have ever booked travel plans have done so using a mobile device. The results revealed 37 percent of adults 18 to 34, and 25 percent of adults ages 35 to 44, are significantly more likely to book their trips using a smartphone or tablet.

Also, 12 percent of those who have booked travel with a mobile device used a smartphone, while 10 percent used a tablet.

The survey also revealed that 48 percent of adults say they’re more comfortable with last-minute bookings, done within seven days of checking in. Not surprisingly, this is where Hotwire says it’s done a lot of business, with 80 percent of its bookings on smartphones and 70 percent on tablets are made the day before or day of arrival.

Currently, nearly 20 percent of Hotwire’s booking occur on mobile devices.

Once considered a perk of employment, working from home (now referred to in most job descriptions and tweets from people who aren’t in the office simply as “WFH”) is increasingly becoming a way of business life.

The numbers have risen dramatically in recent years, based on statistics gathered by globalworkplaceanalytics.com. The number of employees of companies who worked from home at least some of the time rose 70.4 percent from 2005 to 2012, the last year statistics are available. For people who worked with nonprofit organizations, the increase was 87.6 percent during that period.

The report “The State of Telework in the U.S.”, which is based on Census Bureau statistics, says regular telecommuters will total 4.9 million by 2016.

With so many people telecommuting some, or even all of the time, taking advantage of advances in mobile technology, communications and believing that they can be more productive, it is a trend that is likely to continue.

It makes a lot of sense, reducing wasted time spent commuting to the office, decreasing congestion at rush hour on the roads and on public transportation, and helping workers balance their family responsibilities with the job.

Of course, some workers who spend a large amount of time in a WFH scenario do report that they miss the social interaction they get at work, and find they get a bit bored with spending all of their time in the home office.

Thanks to improved access to WiFi networks in some cities, many restaurants and coffee houses, working from home is increasingly changing in meaning to simply “working anywhere I like, as long as it’s not the office. Whether you choose to hang out in Starbucks or you are lucky enough to live in one of the many coastal cities in places that now have WiFi enabled beaches, remote workers can now choose the location they feel most comfortable and inspired, pick up their laptop, smartphone, tablet and whatever else they need, and head out for a relaxing but productive day.

Delivery.com is issuing a challenge to app developers to come up with new and creative ways to place local online orders.

The New York-based company has launched a competition deliverycom_artfor developers to come up with original mobile apps that create new ways for consumers to place local online orders. There’s $65,000 in prizes, plus a share of order revenues, for the best apps that drive new users and orders to local restaurants, wine and spirits stores and laundries, dry cleaners and tailors.

Delivery.com has created a niche for itself with a platform where consumers can order prepared food, groceries and services from neighborhood merchants. Now it is encouraging app developers to come up with their own ideas for an ordering platform that is locally focused, and benefits the local economy.

As we said before in a recent post, online commerce is surging as overall mobile retail sales topped $60 billion last year.

ChallengePost, the competition’s administrator, is accepting submissions through June 10. Winners will be announced the week of July 16.

The company behind the children’s program Veggie Tales is making one of its most popular programs available as a mobile app.

Big Idea Entertainment produces children’s and family programming and is best known for the Veggie Tales series, a faith-based brand with millions of videos, books and CDs sold. “God Made You Special,” one of the most recognizable Veggie Tales episodes, has been launched on the PlayTales mobile app as an eBook for iOS and Android platforms.

Created for children ages 2 to 7, the story features rhyming text, original music, sound effects and narration, as well as different reading modes to choose from. It is available in both English and Spanish and features interactive elements on every page of the story.

VeggieTales adds to the PlayTales catalog of popular children’s brands and characters such as Sesame Street and Pocoyo.

So, what’s for dinner?

There’s always takeout from the Chinese restaurant or your favorite pizzeria. You’ll find the menu from the last order, make a phone call, pickup in 20 minutes and dinner is ready to be served.

Technology can help out with this task. Dinnertime planning can be as easy as tapping the app of the mobile device in the palm of your hand.

Most popular restaurants offer apps as part of their overall customer engagement strategy. You can check a menu, download a coupon, share your experience on social media. A growing number also let you place an order for pickup without waiting in line.

If you’re looking for more variety in cuisine, if you’re looking for takeout or delivery options close to home, there are apps for that as well.

Apps for sites like Seamless, Eat24 and Grubhub list hundreds of restaurants that can be filtered by location, distance, cuisine, delivery charges and estimated pickup time.

You’ll find many of them in the App Store and Google Play store.

 

 

We’re using  our tablets in growing numbers to buy merchandise, as tablet payments comprise almost half of all mobile commerce.

This comes out of a new study released this week by Javelin Strategy & Research on the mobile shopping market. The use of tablets for online purchasing and commerce is surging as overall mobile retail sales topped $60 billion last year, Pleasanton, Calif.-based Javelin says; tablets were responsible for $28.7 billion in mobile online commerce — purchases, payments and the like. It was slightly more than for smartphones. In 2012 tablets accounted for $5.1 billion in commerce.

Javelin says the devices are expected to become more dominant as a purchase channel as tablet device ownership grows. Tablet-optimized shopping experiences, such as apps, should be a top priority for merchants and businesses looking to capitalize on the growth of mobile online commerce.

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