The Miss USA pageant this year allowed viewers to actively judge contestants’ wardrobes in real-time through multiple platforms. A website optimized for mobile phones and tablets was publicized on the screen and allowed users to rate on a scale from 1-10, the contestant’s outfit. As users voted, the average score would be displayed on TV, fluctuating until the voting period had ended.

The platform, built by iPowow, has also been used during broadcasts for the UFC, American Music Awards, and the Australian Federal Election. I was particularly interested because I had a similar concept that I put together for a college project. The goal of was to allow real-time crowd voting during the Winter Olympics in order to increase audience participation. The sentiment was similar in that viewers would be able to vote and judge an athlete’s performance, but it would not influence the actual scoring of official judges. The service would be available on multiple platforms with Internet connectivity, and the hope was that you could view a livestream of, for example, a figure skater, and along with viewers from around the World, cast your vote on a performance. I built an interactive prototype to demonstrate the UI using a figure skater as a possible scenario. Once the skater has finished her routine, the user can vote and view the average score of other viewers, as well as the official score given by the judges.

I hope the consumer adoption rate of QR codes/NFC in the US will see an increase over the next few years so we can develop interactive shopping experiences like they’ve already been doing in Europe and Asia for years.

Sonar is a new geosocial mobile service, which came out of K2 Labs, a mobile incubator, that helps users connect to others based on where they have checked-in and who they might know in common. Currently built on Foursquare, you are able to see others at a chosen location, listed based on the amount of mutual connections you might have. 

Similar in the manner that Hachi allows you to see if you’re connected to someone based on your degrees of separation on LinkedIn and Facebook, Sonar pulls in mutual friends from your Facebook and Twitter network who are only 2 degrees away (friend of a friend) and allows you to send them a request to connect. 

When interested in connecting, you can send a tweet which mentions the user and the location where you both are. The issue is that if the recipient isn’t checking their Twitter feed constantly, they might miss the request, and by the time they do check, either party might have already left the venue. Implementing this feature as a push notification would greatly increase the chance of creating the introduction. One of the points that Sonar’s CEO, Brett Martin, stressed was that the app is completely usable even without users. Because user information and location is being pulled from public data, you’ll always be able to see results, as long as others are publicly checking-in on Foursquare. The push notification issue could be a nice piece of functionality of both users have the app installed. 

I think it’s definitely an awesome service, and can’t wait to see what else they have in store as they continue to grow and improve the product. Check it out in the App Store [link].

do@, which launched at TechCrunch Disrupt as a Battlefield contestant and finalist, is changing the way users perform search on mobile. As sites across the web realize that mobile is on the rise, and accessibility on all platforms (iOS, Android, etc…) is key, they create HTML5 versions of their existing sites, essentially making mobile web apps in the process. 

Contextual search will be the deciding factor in whether or not users decide to click-through to a result. If I search “Modern Family,” chances are I’m looking to find information about the TV show, and not an in-depth article about how to raise a family (at least not at this time). What do@ does, quite awesomely, is tag a search with generalized topics. For example, “Modern Family” will show: “Modern Family @tv/@internet/@reference.” Depending on what the user selects, results matching the tag will be surfaced.

Results are presented as screengrab previews of the site, with the appropriate search already pre-populated. As you swipe left and right, you can see additional results. Clicking on a result expands the site, and you’re able to fully browse as you would in any other mobile browser. Not what you’re looking for? Hit the bottom left icon in the menu and you’ll be taken back to the search results view. Over each result preview, there are two icons for like and comments, which aid in surfacing more relevant results first in the future. Don’t want to see a particular site as a result? Press the “X” to remove the preview.

Do@ also uses Facebook Connect to add a layer of social search. Like Google and Bing have started employing, results that your friends like and promote surface to the top of the results. Though not as useful until your friends start using the app and liking results, it’s definitely a great feature, especially if it adds Twitter integration in the future.

The app is currently available in the iOS app store, and they plan on expanding to all mobile platforms, as well as have a web-based version of the product in the pipeline.  

Basecamp is now available on your mobile browser. Not a native app, but developed in HTML5 for a greater amount of accessibility. Read more on their blog here.

Starbucks recently announced that the coffee retailer would begin accepting payments using a 2D barcode reader and a customer’s iPhone, Blackberry, and Android (soon) running the Starbucks Card Mobile app.

The app itself is a virtual Starbucks card, which you can add funds to when running low. When ready to pay, you choose your card and hit “Tap to pay” which flips the card over, revealing a barcode that can be scanned at the register. 

I had the opportunity to try out the service last year in Seattle when they were testing out the reader. It was a great solution for quick payments and an easy way to refill my card if the store was closed. There were a few issues I encountered when using it on a daily basis. First, the phone’s screen brightness needs to be set at a pretty high level so the reader can pick up the barcode. And secondly, though not a usability issue, was that I would never get a receipt for a transaction. At the time, there was a promotion going on where “treat” receipts could be redeemed later in the day for a discounted drink, so you can imagine how much of a setback that was for a caffeine junkie like me.

Overall, it’s a great way to start using phones as payment devices, which is already being used in regions like Japan. Until the iWallet is introduced, this seems to be a viable solution for retailers to adopt.