Home ShopTalk Minds Over Mobile: Übermind Is Transporting mCommerce Into the Future

Minds Over Mobile: Übermind Is Transporting mCommerce Into the Future

by Larry Sivitz

Seattle’s Übermind has an elevated way of thinking about mobile connectivity and commerce. Their mind’s eye vision is both transforming and transporting. The client question: “How can we migrate our current commerce systems and business processes to the mobile space?” is a transformative challenge the company loves to get its mind around.

The capabilities Übermind offers in return can mobilize major segments of a company’s marketplace and workforce.  Whether the application is for retail sales, social engagement, business connectivity, or the myriad forms of consumer discovery and fun, integration is the key.  Übermind’s mobile market momentum is in high demand. The company is seeking to expand its brain trust of around 90 uber-staffers to add another 60 engineering minds in the weeks and months ahead.

Under mastermind Sheryhar Khan, Übermind has proven how desktop, Web and mobile can, and indeed should, converge through a seamless and transparent user experience. That Übermind design trait of putting the UX first, and getting technology “out of the way,” is mostly hereditary.

From iTunes ear candy for Apple to photographic eye candy, just a couple of blocks north of their Fremont digs, Getty Images asked Übermind to transport its entire stock image library to the mobile space, complete with searching, lightbox sharing, and more, read on!

To put yourself in the Übermind mind set, imagine you’re in a Target or REI store. Your shopping list has been transferred from a leisurely session on your tablet’s browser to a handy shopping list on your phone. Not only will these apps guide you to find the products you’re interested in but you can read about them and watch a video of the products in use. Then once you pick it up off the shelf, the item is checked off your list.

Ready for a mobile mindmeld? We sat down with Übermind’s founder and CEO, Shehryar Khan, and Marketing Director, Ryan Peterson, to put their mobile minds into overdrive.

Seattle24x7: How did you start working with Apple technologies?

Khan: We got started with Apple in connection with NeXT Computer in the mid 90s. We were very passionate about WebObjects and Objective-C technology.

Working with Apple, we’ve also learned a lot, and it carries forward in every single thing that we do.  The aesthetic of the design and the user experience usually manifests itself in a very seamless sort of experience. We want to create a nice flow through the application so a user does not feel like it’s fragmented or disruptive in any way. The third component, which is hidden, is the integration aspect.

Seattle24x7: Your Web site also described one of the largest mobile business projects undertaken to date. What can you tell us about it?

Khan: It was an application that was rolled out to thousands of Amway independent business operators (IBOs) for their use in tracking their contacts, for showing inventory, for factoring business intelligence, everything that a typical Amway IBO used to do on paper, they are now doing  through their mobile device.

At a point where almost everybody was focusing on fun, little novelty apps, ourselves included, with our iLighter, this was a very ambitious initiative and a pretty sizable team effort. I think they have something like three hundred thousand people in the United States that are using that application. In total, there were four components to that app.  First, a business intelligence piece, where an IBO can get an at-a-glance view of how they’re performing. There’s an entire catalog browser and order piece, so an IBO can go through the entire shopping experience on their device and sell product. The third component is contact management, giving the IBO the ability to manage all of their contacts from within the application. And the fourth was a kind of social media integration for product availability, shipping and tracking.

Seattle24x7: Speaking of mobile apps as a transportive experience, Übermind has long been interested in photography, including the geo-coding of photographs. You’ve also produced a series of travel apps for Rick Steves that act like global travel companions.

Peterson: As a world renowned travel expert, Rick Steves has produced incredible content over the years. The Rick Steves’ app brings that together and in the proper context.  There’s a map that is a starting point, then an audio podcast from his radio shows that’s built in. You can click on specific point of interest and view the narrative from his books. You can watch video from Rick’s TV shows and view photo images.

Khan: We have a number of avid photographers at Übermind. So photography is a shared passion. As a result of that, we’ve worked on the plug-ins for Aperture that were originally born out of a specific need that some of the photographers at Übermind had. Our iPhone app is called Best Camera and just won recognition at MacWorld.

Seattle24x7: On the subject of photography, you’ve brought the world of Getty Images to mobile?

Khan: Yes, one of the more interesting uses mobile in that application is being able to collect images in light boxes you can share and being able to annotate those light boxes with voice recordings using the microphone. So you can be looking at images and recording thoughts that you can refer to it and recall after the fact. That’s something that wasn’t really possible before.

Seattle24x7: How does Übermind get started on a mobile project?

Peterson: We’ve had clients that have come to us with a specification, asking, “Can you build this out for us?  And then, we’ve had clients that have come to us with just a mission statement. That high level objective helps us define a mobile strategy.

To get a client from 0 to 60 in the mobile space, we go through brainstorming, ideation, design, user experience implementation, QA, analysis, everything that’s required in a turnkey fashion to get the client to market.

Khan: We also have a conceptual framework that we use when discussing how mobile fits within their organization. I think if you look at a lot of the apps that are out there today, the concept is kind of ‘Internet your pocket.’ So you’ve got, for example, the Expedia app or the Kayak app on your phone and you’re looking for a flight to Hawaii, and it allows you to go through that booking process.  What we are trying to do at Übermind is to push our clients to think in terms of their core business model and how mobile fits in.

So retail, is a great example of being able to bridge brick-and-mortar stores with the dot-com experience. Say, you’re in a store, like REI for example, which is one of our clients. The ability to locate a product, to use your iPhone to scan a bar code in, and watch a video of that product. Then add that product to your shopping cart, go through the checkout process and literally walk out of the store with that item. It’s an experience which has never been possible before. And it is possible today because of mobile. We are now researching ways with RFID tags where you can find the products just by waving your phone in the air.

Seattle24x7: With the many devices that are emerging, I imagine you have to take a multi-platform approach?

Peterson: The strategy for a mobile initiative that we’re advising our clients about today will typically include an iPhone app, an Android application, an iPad app, a mobile-optimized website, and a regular website that describes or markets all of those individual components. And let’s not forget Windows Phone 7.

Khan: The Target app is a prime example of this. There’s the Target iPad app, a Target iPhone app. a target Android app and a target mobile-optimized website.  The Target iPad is essentially a coffee table experience where you may be sitting on the couch in your family room and you decide to browse the Target newsletter and drag things from it into a list. Then you will automatically sync those with your iPhone or your Android device, so that when you’re in an actual Target store, as you pick stuff off the shelf, you can literally check items off your list.

Seattle24x7: How do you find the Seattle environs for pushing the envelope in the mobile space?

Khan: I think the talent here in Seattle, be it creative, technical, or managerial, is unmatched in the industry. We’ve been very fortunate to assemble a great team of people. And the reason we’re able to do what we do is because of our team.

Seattle24x7: Übermind is clearly thinking differently about mobile and asking your clients to do the same.

Peterson: There are going to be brands that are slow to adopt mobile that may be leaders right now, either on the Web or as brick and mortar. But the early movers in this space are going to take significant market share away from those who do not move forward. It’s anyone’s game, just like where the Internet was at the beginning. [24×7]