Monday, August 27, 2007

Outdoor HDTV

Would you want to include TVs on your pool deck or rooftop patio?

New all-weather LCDs from SunBriteTV are designed specifically for outdoor use, offering full HD support and display sizes up to 46 inches. (HGTV video)

A corrosion resistant, power-coated aluminum enclosure protects the TV from the elements, while the screen itself is protected by an anti-reflective, impact- and scratch-resistant window. The sets feature a watertight cable entry system and a variety of input options.

The built-in cooling system and heater work to maintain the proper operating temperature in hot and cold conditions, although the heat ratings stated in the product's technical specs (max. operating temperature is only 122° F) could be an issue if you're building in the South.

SunBriteTVThe line of all-weather outdoor TVs could be a good fit for property owners who want to offer viewing options on patios and outdoor spaces.

SunBrightTV offers three models of the all-weather sets, in 23-inch, 32-inch and 46-inch sizes. They're not cheap... MSRP for the 23-inch version is $2,295, $3,695 for the 32-inch model and $4,995 for the 46-inch set.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Think Mobile... Your Residents Do

Hewlett-Packard has quietly introduced a free service called Cloudprint, which should make it possible for anyone to share, store and print their documents on any printer almost anywhere in the world, using only their mobile phone. (New York Times)

Here's how it works:
The user stores their documents to H-P Web servers, which can then be retrieved as PDFs and printed later at any Windows-connected printer, using a simple text messaging system (a Mac version is in the works). The service will include a directory service that will show the location of publicly available printers on Google Maps.

How can you free your residents' data?The idea is to unhook data from a user’s computer, making it simple for travelers to take their documents with them and use them with no more than a cellphone and access to a local printer. If you've ever spent time on the road hunting for the closest Kinko's, you can probably see the value in a service like this.

The Cloudprint service is the first of a wave of applications that will surely be developed as a direct response to the hugely-popular iPhone. Expect more services like this from H-P and a host of others that will increasingly "unhook" data and specific functions like printing from a user's computer. An H-P exec was quoted, saying this service will help the company "ride the wave of the Web.”

Sounds great, but what does it have to do with apartments?

Well... there's a broader strategy here that multifamily owners should note:
Create a valuable service that will reinforce the company's brand and foster the sale of other products. In this case, it's H-P ink and supplies.

For apartment owners, it's unclear what that valuable service might be... but I'm sure that there are a few good ones out there, and it's time we start thinking about them.

It could be free or discounted data storage or website hosting. How about exclusive deals from local retailers straight to residents' cell phones? Free printing (and maybe shipping) to any community within your portfolio? There are lots of ways for owners to deliver value, reinforce their brand and drive retention & referrals.

Apartment residents are mobile and connected, and they value convenience. Basically, they're the perfect candidates for these types of services.

So the question becomes: What can you do to offer more mobility, more utility, and more value to your residents?

Monday, August 13, 2007

More WiFi, More Problems

Get ready for more residents bringing home wireless-ready consumer electronics products... and the increase in unit-to-unit interference that will surely follow.

According to a report published last week by ABI Research, the popularity of wireless routers and devices using the new high-speed 802.11n standard will soon spill over to CE products like home theater systems and cable set-top boxes, outpacing other networking technologies.

The electronics vendors see WiFi as an easy way to get consumers' digital media delivered to their devices. As consumers increasingly look to bring Internet video into the living room and share their music and videos between rooms, older WiFi technologies simply don't have the bandwidth to deliver this content, particularly over longer ranges.

802.11n is supposed to help alleviate these constraints. PC manufacturers are shifting to 802.11n gear, and consumer electronics manufacturers are expected to follow suit in a big way.

Running Interference
The problem for multifamily property owners enters when many residents start trying to build these networks on top of each other in a densely populated area. (I was in a condo last week where I could see 42 different wireless networks from one unit!)

In addition to competing networks, there are other sources of interference, such as cordless phones, microwave ovens, baby monitors, and even mirrors, that also pose problems for Wi-Fi gear and leave networks with poor range or intermittent connectivity.

The new wireless standard promises much faster speeds and a stronger resistance to this interference, but there are potential issues when used in conjunction with current wireless standards. Plus, there just aren't enough channels available to keep up in a 250-unit property full of tech-savvy young residents, especially as more devices become WiFi-enabled as predicted.

Manage Expectations
There aren't very many good answers available to property owners, but you should start by asking a lot of questions of your property's ISP or WiFi provider. Realize that wireless isn't 100% perfect, but your provider should commit to a minimum acceptable service level. They may even be able to remotely manage the network from their operations center to help minimize any problems with interference. (This is a service that more property owners should be asking for.) In any case, leave the networking to the professionals... it can be more of a hassle and expense than it's worth to try to be your own wireless service provider.

One thing is for sure: As wireless networking becomes more prevalent and compatible devices become increasingly ubiquitous, property owners will need to offer some level of WiFi (residents will bring their own if you don't), but should set clear expectations for residents that it's not a perfect technology.

Are you offering WiFi access at your property? Which service providers are offering the most creative solutions to this unique problem?

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Social Networking Comes to Apartments

Resident portals are a hot industry trend, and social networks are a hot consumer trend... so it was only a matter of time before someone decided to combine the two, right?

AptConnect is a new resident portal that adds social networking and a host of other features for apartment management and residents. The site builds on the portal with an online network that keeps residents involved in their community, potentially improving resident retention.

The site offers all the usual tools for property management: an online newsletter, online rent payments, maintenance requests. Unique features include an events calendar, a "meet the staff" page, community photo galleries, an FAQ section, community polls, and move out surveys.

The portal's messaging system allows residents to send messages to each other or to the office. There is also a mass messaging tool that allows management to contact all residents at once.

AptConnectGetting Involved
Many features of AptConnect focus on communication and resident interaction within the community. Residents are encouraged to create, publish, and contribute, using the site as a place to meet others and get involved.

Resident can search other user profiles, create their own events, add photo galleries, chat in community forums, and post classified ads. They can set up their own clubs and volunteer committees, and even post their own content, such as recipes, jokes, or poetry.

The site includes a statistical analysis package that features real-time reporting of site usage and activity, but does not yet comply to the MITS data-transfer standards.

Pricing for the entire package is a subscription fee based on the size of your community.

The Right Site for You?
As a portal, AptConnect is as functional as most others.

However, the site faces a major obstacle in achieving a critical mass of users and fresh content that online communities thrive on. Because the site is built to reinforce resident retention, most of the site is currently designed to give residents access to information and user profiles exclusively from their apartment community. It would seem that the network could be much more useful if residents could also connect with other local people and businesses. Partnering with other locally-focused social networks like Meetro and Insider Pages, or sites focused on local businesses, such as MerchantCircle or Judy's Book, could make it a very handy tool for getting to know the neighborhood.

AptConnect has the potential to become an interesting tool for property managers, although it leaves many new questions, and it remains to be seen if it actually has any effect on resident retention. Considering the trends in online communities, it is a step in the right direction for portals, but leaves much to be desired in comparison to many of the robust functions available through more mainstream social sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, or even LinkedIn. Pay attention though... what you see here could be the future of resident communications.

Have you tried social networks or other online tools in your community? Let us know what works and which sites you like best!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

A Surface That Could Change the Way You Sell

Are you already using digital displays and maybe even touchscreens to show floorplans, availability, and other property info in an interactive way in your sales or leasing center?

Well, soon you'll have a new tool available that could be the next step in providing these types of unique interactive experiences. Earlier this year, Microsoft unveiled a new table-top computer called the Surface - it uses a slick touch-sensitive interface, much like Apple's iPhone. Check out this Forbes Video story about the device.

Here's another overview from Reuters:

...And a demonstration of a potential retail application using T-Mobile phones:

Apply these capabilities to the real estate industry, and it's easy to see how a device like this could become a very powerful tool for property owners to provide interactive experiences and additional services to current and prospective residents:

- A leasing agent could easily review and compare floorplans, availability and unit details.

- Condo buyers could quickly see and select their desired upgrade options.

- With one touch, a resident could download special offers from local retailers to their phone.

- A virtual concierge could recommend a restaurant, make a reservation, download directions to the resident's phone, and even set the unit's thermostat back to the right temperature before the the resident returns home for the night... all in a matter of seconds.

Customer experiences are becoming increasingly interactive and personalized. Adding the element of hyper-local applications customized for your community will allow you to communicate with, and provide services to, your residents in ways that we've never seen before.

How would you use a device like this in your community?