Business 2.0, Design, Software & web applications

API opportunity

The other day I rocked up to Greater Union on George street with some friends to catch a movie. Forgetting it was “tight-ass Tuesday” there was a long line, so I thought “I’ll jump into OneTap Movies and see if I can buy tickets” – then I could jump the queue using their pre-purchased tickets line.

OneTap Movies is an iPhone application that uses GPS to find the nearest cinema, and then allows you to browse the movies and times for that cinema. You can even preview some movies and see ratings.

It’s a great little app, but it’s missing the killer feature: you can’t buy tickets – as I found out that night. (Certainly this is the case for my local cinemas.)

So I thought “I have a fully working browser on my phone, I’ll have a crack at the Greater Union site”. I quietly hoped they had taken the initiative to develop an iPhone specific interface, but I wasn’t banking on it.

I got to the Greater Union site and waited for the ~500k worth of media to slooooowwwly stream down (the home page rates an F using YSlow). The site also uses tables, which meant that the key interface component didn’t display until the entire page had downloaded.

I then started to use their JavaScript enabled interface, only to find that it failed at the first step – choosing a cinema.

So we waited in line, and by the time we got to the desk the session we were after had sold out.

A couple of things struck me in considering this short, but sad, tale:

  1. If the Greater Union site used web standards more efficiently I probably would have been able to complete my purchase in a fraction of the time.
  2. Buying movie tickets is the ideal application for an iPhone or mobile specific site. Greater Union, and other cinema chains, should be seriously considering a more tightly focused mobile-oriented site for this purpose, ideally targeting devices like the iPhone (but not restricting it to only work on the iPhone).
  3. If Greater Union had a web-services API for purchasing tickets (with a revenue sharing model for extra incentive for third-party integrators), then I suspect OneTap would have full purchasing capabilities built-in. This would mean referral revenue for Greater Union from applications they don’t have to build, as well as a better user experience.

Such an approach fulfils a couple of the key principles I outlined in my recent CPA presentation:

  • Leveraging the network: OneTap Movies includes user-generated ratings – but the personal utility (finding what’s on) is the primary focus of the app.
  • APIs: providing an API would potentially expand Greater Union’s market significantly through third-party applications. (This also relates to the “because” effect.)
  • Clip of sale: by revenue sharing Greater Union make more money, through increased referrals, while encouraging third-party developers to leverage the API.
  • Embraces mobile and geo-targeting: two concepts I mentioned as playing a significant role in future online apps.
  • User-centered, contextual design: mobile access to decide on movie attendance and purchasing tickets fits strongly with user motivations and wants.

So how about it Greater Union?

2 thoughts on “API opportunity

  1. Great blog post Grant and it would be great if Greater Union (and all cinemas) provided an API.

    I tried out One-Tap iPhone app too, but found the UI a little bulky and uncustomisable. I tend to visit the same cinemas, so I prefer to see my favourites prioritised rather than just those around me. Especially, if I’m planning for later in the day or week, when I won’t be in the same location I am now.

    You might also consider checking out the mobile website for the ABC at (disclaimer: I worked on the interaction design). I reckon that the movies section of the site (bookmark the movies homepage) is the easiest to use to customise your cinemas, and the interface is much more compact and faster to access the cinemas you like than the One Tap iPhone app. And it works on most mobile phones.

    However, it’s still very disappointing that ticket purchase isn’t enabled. There’s a great demo of the upcoming US Fandango app for the Palm Pre that allows you to buy tickets and then it adds the movie time and details to your calendar. Very nice taskflow. Check it out here:

  2. Thanks for the tips Oliver – will definitely check out the ABC page and the Fandango vid. One-Tap also randomly decides not to work with GPS too, and I’ve been unsuccessful in manually setting the location in such events, so an alternative would be great.

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