John V. Pinto is hardly a technophile. As owner of a Silicon Valley realty business, the 52-year-old is constantly on the go. And, until recently, a long day on the road would be followed by an even longer evening in front of a computer, responding to e-mail and typing up documents.
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"I was tethered to my desktop," said Pinto. "When I was in my office, I didn't have as much time to spend with staff because I needed to get caught up with backed up e-mail and tasks."
Pinto imagined that perhaps a new fangled gadget like a PDA could help him make use of his downtime more efficiently, but he hardly saw himself as a candidate for mobile technology. The learning curve seemed too steep.
"I'm an idiot with a keyboard," he said, "but I'm brilliant with a sketch pencil."
Then, at a real estate conference last year, Pinto found the tablet PC. Specifically, he spotted Criterion Corp.'s Red Tablet, a tablet manufactured by Motion Computing and customized with Criterion's own software designed specifically for real estate professionals.
A beautiful thing
Calling the discovery a "beautiful thing," Pinto was able to make better use of his downtime. In between appointments, he often takes advantage of the tablet's 802.11 and wireless wide-area network (WAN) access capabilities by following up on sales leads and scheduling appointments in Microsoft Outlook.
"Suddenly," said Pinto, "my office calls me, asking 'Where are all these appointments coming from?' I had booked a half-dozen appointments, and I would not have had access to do that before."
In the real estate market, he said that rapid response capability can be a huge advantage because "customer interest is at its peak when they contact you," and if the connection isn't made quickly, the business opportunity is often lost to someone else.
And it's that demand that Criterion is counting on, as it exclusively serves real estate brokers, home inspectors, appraisers and credit providers. The San Bruno, Calif.-based company's president, Daniel Tealdi, said people working in those fields spend a surprisingly large amount of time waiting in parked vehicles.
"If you've ever been in a driver's seat, with a steering wheel there opening up a laptop isn't going to happen ," said Tealdi. "So with the tablet they can quickly send an e-mail or browse the [multiple listing service] while in the driver's seat."
A feature-rich experience
What makes the tablet so effective for real estate pros, Tealdi said, is customized software. Criterion developed its own supply chain application that allows a broker to manage the process of selling a home entirely from the tablet. For example, he said it enables an agent to place orders for good and services, such as scheduling an appraisal, and send title and escrow documents to that appraiser in native PDA format.
Pinto said another application enables him to use a satellite to get an overhead image of a property, which can then be sent to prospective buyers to show a location.
Additionally, Criterion has worked closely with Microsoft to integrate its digital ink feature with its own instant messaging application. That same technology is now in use on Microsoft's MSN Messenger software.
Pinto said all the features help him do his job more efficiently, and even though it's difficult to attach a hard-dollar ROI to the $1,600 price of the average tablet, not including WAN access, he said the tablet has played a crucial role in helping him sell nearly $100 million in real estate over the past year.
But perhaps most importantly, the tablet has not only helped Pinto save time, but also avoid much of the stress that comes with trying to stay one step ahead of the competition.
"For somebody that's been in the business for 30 years and has become reliant on support staff," he said, "it gives me a new freedom and a tremendous outlet for my creativity."
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