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Developers unveil new mobile apps for shopping, restaurant reviews at DEMO Mobile

Check-ins and color comprised two themes among several startups at the show

Snaptiva wants to add a bit more color to the experience of shopping for home design and fashion products, literally.The company's early-stage mobile app is designed to take photographs snapped by users on their mobile devices and employ a matching algorithm to suggest complimentary products based on color.The idea is that a person could snap a photo of, say, a blue dress, and then be directed to a page of listings from retailer partners of say, necklaces or high-heels that would go with that dress. Or the user could take a photograph of a wooded forest, and suggested furniture pieces for decorating a rustic cabin would appear."We want to disrupt the $480 billion home and fashion industry to answer the simple question, 'What should I buy?'" Snaptiva CEO Ramsay Hoguet said. The Marblehead, Massachusetts-based company is among several other mobile startups trying to stand out in the increasingly crowded market of mobile apps.Snaptiva was one of several companies, along with Just.Me, Stash, Traffic Labs and the Monkey Inferno, pitching their social mobile products Wednesday to a panel of Silicon Valley veterans at the DEMO Mobile conference in San Francisco. The trade show, which is put on by the International Data Group, is intended to provide a launch pad and a spotlight of sorts for new emerging technologies in mobile. The panel of judges expressed support for Snaptiva's app, although some questioned the accuracy of the color-matching algorithm, especially given how subjective fashion can be, and also was unsure whether there were too many steps the user had to take first before receiving a list of matches.Meanwhile, Traffic Labs, another company exhibiting at the show, unveiled its restaurant recommendations app at the conference, which its founders referred to as a stripped down version of Yelp.The app, which is available now in the Apple App Store, uses only the three colors of a traffic light -- green, yellow or red -- to rate various restaurant listings that its users log into the app.The app, its founders said, is designed to provide more trusted recommendations for places than, say, Yelp, and filter out the resulting noise, because users are seeing  only the rating and check-in activity of their friends.  Users also have the option to share their posts on Facebook and Twitter, and provide additional comments about the business in 140 characters or less.One judge on the DEMO Mobile panel signaled agreement that the Traffic Labs' app achieves what it sets out to do. "I like the less is more aspect of it," Flipboard cofounder Evan Doll said. "What Twitter is to blogging this could be to Yelp," he added. Still, Traffic Labs' founding team, all former workers in the restaurant business, were questioned how they planned to motivate users to check in and rate businesses when that concept is already so prevalent within other apps like Foursquare and Facebook.Their hope was that the app's simplicity would solve that problem.One other company unveiled an app that in many ways screams social: Beer Hunt, made by San Francisco-based Monkey Inferno.The app, which is available now in the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store, lets users check in not the name of a business but rather the name of a beer whenever they start drinking, and as they log more drinks they earn rewards and can play various games with other users. The app's standout (and most revealing) feature, though, is its "drink-o-graphic," which generates a rich profile of users based on their drinking activity, complete with an atlas showing which countries' beers they have imbibed, and what their last beer was.The app features plenty of whimsical expressions too such as "You drink a bathtub full of Guinness in the last month."Companies building more serious mobile products for enterprise were also present at the show. One, SocialSign.in, wants to make it easier for businesses to learn about their customers by providing social logins to free Wi-Fi networks at participating locations.Essentially the company exchanges free Wi-Fi access at brick-and-mortar locations with customers' social presence. The person signs into the network with his existing social networking account credentials such as through Facebook, and then the business gains access to certain types of demographic information about the customer such as gender and age, as well as aggregated data about social activity such as music listening habits.The only information provided to SocialSign.in hosts is that which is explicitly authorized by users, the company said.During SocialSign.in's demonstration, the company faced questions from judges over how attractive Wi-Fi networks still are to users in the age of super-fast carrier cellular networks like 4G, but the company argued that users often want a way to get online that doesn't feed into their paid data plans.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is [email protected]


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