Lens allows people to point-and-shoot at physical buildings and learn more about the listings inside the complex
One of my most enjoyable/depressing pastimes is to look around neighbourhoods I enjoy and imagine living in various apartments in the area.
Typically, I convince myself the apartments are unaffordable, sigh deeply, and go back to my avocado toast and kombucha.
Normal people search for apartments is by combing through the internet. They try and find a place that fits both budget and lifestyle. One reality of this search strategy is that it will inevitably require a tour of the flat with the property owner or agent.
This can be a burden for people in the early stages of finding a place to live. The process will involve a full-tour of the complex, even if the person knows almost immediately the place won’t work. Plus, if you get a bad agent…oofta…enjoy zoning-out during the 2-hour sales pitch.
For people still in this ‘hunting’ part of the process, PropertyGuru has introduced a new product that helps people mix the online and offline.
For Hari V. Krishnan, the CEO of PropertyGuru, it came down to a theory that most of our technology is filtered through our cameras. While smartphones are great, it is the cameras that transformed smartphones from a tech-upgrade to a fundamentally life-altering tool.
So, as the boss of PropertyGuru, it would make sense that his company also looked towards the camera.
“Why wouldn’t you use a camera as a discovery-maker as well? Wouldn’t it be great to take out our camera, point it at a building that you are interested in and discover the listings that are inside?” he asked during the demo.
Called ‘Lens’, the product is an augmented reality feature that allows people to move their phone camera around a given area and see what apartments are available.
e27 took the tool for a spin (it is in beta mode) and the word that came to mind was “nifty”. I can’t call Lens an app (because it is a feature within the PropertyGuru app), but it is minimal and functional, unobtrusive and playful, specific in its use but weirdly addicting.
It is remarkably fun to stand on a street corner in Singapore and started moving the phone around, checking out the gossip of what properties are vacant and which require a waiting list.
As I hovered over buildings that looked particularly intriguing, a little home would appear that would show the number of units that were available (some buildings had a shockingly hight amount of vacancies). Then, if I clicked the home, I could get more details about the specific units, like the asking price.
Here is the PropertyGuru advertisement video to help visualise the product:
The hope of Lens is to minimise or eliminate a common process:
Person visits friend’s apartment.
Person asks about pricing, neighbourhood and amenities.
Person then goes online and types in various search terms to pinpoint the property.
Person then sees if they can afford a place.
With Lens, a person can just point their phone camera at a building they like and see if they want to pursue it further.
PropertyGuru Lens is currently in an invite-only beta launch phase. The plan is launching to the Singapore public in the near future.
While Lens showed a lot of potential, it was definitely a beta product. The tech was a bit clunky at times and the loading process was not instant. Occasionally it felt as if Lens was, “bumping into bugs” while I was using it.
During the demo, PropertyGuru was aware that Lens was not perfect, and released it to a bunch of journalists anyways.
Krishnan actually made the beta-phase a talking-point for a good chunk of the demo.
The logic was to encourage a culture whereby Southeast Asian tech companies start releasing beta products fairly often. By launching beta versions of features, it allows users to stress test the product, test load management and discover unforeseen bugs.
It also facilitates a corporate culture and customer expectation that experimentation is part of what happens in a given company. If nothing gets released before it is “perfect”, bugs will get hyper-criticised by the user-base. But, if a company consistently releases beta products, customers will understand it is a tool to play with and will be a lot better 6 months after the beta.
Plus, it is just fun to play around with a product that is not fully actualised. It is a nice change of pace.
According to a PropertyGuru spokesperson, PropertyGuru has received positive feedback from Lens and “is learning so much more”, which is point of the launch strategy.\
The final imperfection that has to be mentioned is that the AR does not show the specific location of the flat (aka the floor). This won’t change in the future as privacy concerns outweigh convenience in this instance.
Overall, the bugs never overwhelmed what is a delightful product. Lens won’t alter the trajectory of PropertyGuru, but it will bring smiles to the faces of its customers.
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