News Labs launches FoneFood‘s Labs team have today announced the launch of their first mobile application FoneFood – an impressive European-wide multi-lingual restaurant table reservation service.  The best apps explain themselves so…

FoneFood 1FoneFood 2FoneFood 3

Awesomely simple the application takes your location and food preference, displays a list and Google map of options that are bookable.  Users can then book and receive an SMS confirmation direct from the handset – no credit card required (genius!).  As it’s connected to the same system that provides online bookings through Lastminute’s regular website it also shows special offers that are available (as above).  It’s brilliantly effective and backed up by their impressive catalogue of around 6000 restaurants Europe-wide (with more being added) the value and ease are immediately appealing.  Users in their home town can discover new restaurants and take advantage of the special offers, users away from home can book in their native language – no problematic phone calls or help from the hotel reception required.  Being Europe-wide it also ensures users see the same service wherever they are rather than needing to negotiate specific booking processes for each country.

To celebrate the launch the team behind it have created this video which demonstrates the concept (and a lady dressed as a phone…).

[Hmmm… maybe that’s an option for Whatley in the next podcast…]

However, this isn’t just the launch of a new service for the Labs team.  Speaking to Marko Balabanovic, head of innovation at Lastminute Labs, he explained that they see this effort as research rather than just the launch of a new service.  FoneFood, he told me, was first in a series of public experiments to test the market and the mobile technology.  Their task is to seek out new areas to engage with customers, not to provide mobile versions of their existing services – they’d picked restaurant booking as a free, but useful service to start things off.  The applications and services they are building may not always have much to do with travel and bookings and they didn’t expect all of it to become successful, but that learning would be crucial to developing and the relationship with its customers. It would also, he hoped, highlight Lastminute wasn’t stuck in the current market’s mind-set.

Chatting to the team that Marko has built up there’s a real enthusiasm for mobile technology and an air of excitement about being given the opportunity to experiment.  Whilst there I played with some games they had developed that utilised the accelerometer in the Nokia N95… Location-based services were also on the agenda, with native applications for platforms such as Symbian’s S60 and the iPhone under consideration to access the device’s more advanced features.  FoneFood is a useful service, but it’s much more a statement of intent from Lastminute Labs.

My special report interview with Marko is available below and in the audio podcast feed:

[audio: 018_Special_Report_(Marko_Balabanovic_of_Lastminute_com_Labs).mp3]

By Ben Smith

Ben is an expert on enterprise mobility and wireless data products. He has been a regular contributor to Mobile Industry Review since 2007 and is also editor of Wireless Worker.

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