Brands that embrace iPhone apps deserve credit

Aug 20, 2009
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In the tradition of Zima and Miller Lite on the early Web, consumer brands have been among the first to dive into iPhone apps with the hope of finding some funky new ways to connect with the market.

And like those early efforts on the Web, a few of the brands’ apps are interesting, many are OK and quite a few are downright clumsy.

So let’s start with clumsy. For instance, the first menu item on the GM Mobile app is “Buick News.” How many iPhone owners do you suppose are also devoted Buick fans? Think those demographics cross?

The Bud American Ale Finder points to the nearest bar serving that particular pour, as if that’s how anyone has ever chosen which bar to go into. (“Hey, this place has ugly people and a jukebox that only plays Renaissance music – but it’s got Bud!”)

Burger King Now: Phone Ordering lets you send in your order before you arrive so you don’t have to waste a whole minute talking to the squawk box at the drive-through lane.

Or there’s the Wal-Mart/Hershey BlowAKiss app. Here’s the description in the App Store: “Blow a Kiss into the iPhone to send a virtual Easter Kiss along with a personalized e-mail message to all your favorite bunnies.” Ummm, right.

A handful of brands have done better than that, creating apps that are at least helpful if not inspiring.

FedEx Mobile puts package tracking into an iPhone app, the Avis Reservation App bundles rental car reservations, and the State Farm Pocket Agent keeps your insurance information handy in case of a car accident. There’s nothing there that couldn’t be done by simply accessing the company’s Web site, but the app makes it easier on a phone. Target’s Gift Finder and Best Buy Weekly Deals get a little beyond the mundane by pushing ideas your way.

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One brand that seems to be onto something is Kraft. Its iFood Assistant wants to help when you’re standing in the grocery store, trying to figure out what to make for dinner. Browse recipes, pull one up, then get a list of what you need to buy to make that dish. (No doubt it will involve some Kraft product, but that’s the price we pay for a 99-cent app.) Weber’s On the Grill is heading down a similar path.

MasterCard might offer the most inventive, though flawed, app of all.

Spinning off its “Priceless” ad campaign, the app is called Priceless Picks. Anyone using the app can upload, say, the perfect Central Park spot for sunbathing, or the best Philly cheese steak in Philly. The iPhone’s GPS tags it with the location. If enough people upload enough stuff, presumably you could find something wonderful to do wherever you happen to be. And yet, many users find the app doesn’t give them enough information, and it doesn’t yet have a big enough crowd to offer great crowd-sourced choices.

At least, though, the MasterCard app tries to go beyond the Web, and makes use of mobile and GPS to shoot for something new and different. Let’s hope more brands do the same.

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