How do you get from Hot Topic to Orange Julius? With Bing Maps for Mobile, of course! Microsoft's innovative but too-unloved mobile map search service announced today that it has added floor plan maps for 400 shopping malls to m.bing.com. I'm not able to access the feature yet, but this wouldn't be the first time an announcement like this preceded go-live time.

This is honestly the kind of thing I can imagine using and I can imagine other people using it too. "I often cannot find my way out of Baby Gap," confirms ReadWriteWeb's Dan Rowinski. Mall navigation is a serious problem genuine inconvenience that mobile technology ought to solve.

The URL of the announcement (new-airport-maps-for-bing-and-mall-maps-come-to-mobile.aspx) implies that airport maps are available as well but I'm not finding much detail on PDX or SFO. That will be a nice feature as well.

Malls of the Future

Someday indoor maps will probably be ubiquitous. A base level of place data that will be built on even further; mall messaging, store-created mobile experiences and other technologies are likely. For now it looks like a very handy innovation as is.

What will mobile retail look like further down the road? Some interesting perspective is available from marketing agency White Horse Design's recent research report titled "The Future of In-Aisle Mobile: A Framework for Consumer-Centered Innovation."

"Mobile's role in the overall in-aisle customer experience is at a very early period in its evolution... some retailers are beginning to recognize the importance of the mobile context as an opportunity to deliver richer digital experiences directly to the consumer in the right place (in-aisle) and at the right time (in a browsing/buying frame of
mind)...

Awareness is growing that retailers have been excluded from the hidden conversations happening within their aisles: conversations with both external agents (both competitive and informational), as well as with consumers' own personal advisors, brought invisibly with them into the stores through text messages, micro-blogs, and location-based networks. These hidden conversations create an imperative to monitor, engage, and ultimately influence the in-aisle experience. Retailers can do so by leveraging the advantages inherent to the contexts they do control: physical place (macro and micro, wall, and shelf), and announced opportunity (shopping occasions)...

To the extent that retailers' failure to create a welcoming in-aisle mobile experience stems
from a false belief that in-aisle mobile usage is only for price checking (which just favors
discounters), our data contradicts that perception."

(Disclosure: I am a member of one of White Horse's advisory boards but haven't mentioned the report here until it was relevant. See also PSFK's recent Future of Retail report, which I was also consulted for.)