October 27, 2011 at 11:54 am

Mobile Spectator App Shows Potential of Truly ‘Live’

When you’re trying to navigate something unfamiliar, or even something familiar but specific, the right mobile app makes all the difference.

City guides, live music apps, music festivals, sporting events, or any other large gathering can keep attendees in sync with each other and enhance what they’re seeing. You know those people who sit there in the bleachers listening to the radio commentary as they watch an athletic event? For smartphone apps, that’s just the beginning of what is possible.

Still, most of the festival and live event apps we’ve encountered are stale: calendars, band listings, and other stuff that doesn’t get updated — or if it does get updated, does so in a way that makes us not care.

Live event apps need to feel ‘live,’ and the information needs to be good. Duh. Still, this is easier said than done. The next version of Mobile Spectator App for Android and iOS, created by New York Road Runners and MapMyRun (an agreement that lasts until 2013), the subject of the second-most-popular story on NYTimes.com right now despite not having launched yet (the event is 11/6), sounds like it has the right idea. The companies behind it expect 100,000 people to download the app (free or $3 for premium features) this year — double what they paid last year, according to the New York Times.

The parallel isn’t perfect between a marathon spectating app and music apps, which concern us here. But you could do all of the following at a music event, or even on a particular night in a particular city or town.

For starters, this New York marathon spectator app tracks runners using RFID chips or smartphones — something performing artists might not want to do, especially the ones with too many groupies. But much of rest of it could apply to live music in big cities, music festivals, or any other large event that unfolds in real time:

Either on a full screen or split screen, users can watch live feeds of the broadcast as well as streamed video clips called Daily Cool Down (which includes behind-the-scenes looks at the top runners) and NYRR [New York Road Runners] live, which focuses on the strategies and careers of the elite athletes. There will also be a live Flickr feed for photos…

…By tapping on other tabs, users can identify the locations of live music along the race course, mile markers, shops selling official merchandise and the locations of retail outlets like [donut store] and [sandwich store]. If they opt in, users can receive offers for discounts to these shops.

‘We’re providing them with direct access to consumers,’ said Ann Wells Crandall, the executive vice president for business development at New York Road Runners. ‘We’re just scratching the surface on this.’

Indeed.

Imagine the same thing, but for a music festival or, say, “Thursday Night in Brooklyn,” and you’ll see what I’m driving at here. (Sure, more venues would have to install cameras for some of this stuff to work, but the costs of doing that drop every day, even if the licensing remains complicated.) Hosts, GPS, live views, Flickr-sharing… where is the music app equivalent?

The allure of Turntable.fm, Facebook music, and other group listening apps is that they bring people together at the same time, or close to it, which lends online environments air of importance and immediacy that they wouldn’t have otherwise.

Still, I have yet to see an app for a concert, festival, or local shows that offers the level of immediacy and, for lack of a better word, “live-ness” of this “Mobile Spectator App.”

What am I missing? Please let me know.

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Saucy Salad