A couple of months ago, Papa John's marketing manager Jim McDonnell was quoted as saying that their "iPhone application" simply wasn't delivering as well as their mobile display advertising was. The implication behind his statement was that iPhone apps weren't all they were cracked up to be when it came to bringing in new sources of revenue for businesses. Of course, we took a bit of offense to that seeing as how Papa John's didn't even have an iPhone app to speak of - they had a mobile web site. And as of today, they have a little more competition.

Pizza Hut, a company that apparently understands the difference between an app and a web page, has just released a brand-new iPhone application that puts Papa John's lackluster attempt to shame. We wonder: will this be the start of a new trend in company-branded applications?

We thought it was humorous (and a little sad) to hear McDonnell discuss the company's disappointment with their iPhone application. In fact, McDonnell said the numbers were so low that Papa John's had decided not to branch out to other mobile platforms. But a quick search through the iTunes App Store quickly revealed that McDonnell, and clearly Papa John's as a whole, thought that a mobile web site was the equivalent to an actual application. There was no Papa John's iPhone app in the iTunes Store; it simply didn't exist.

The Pizza Hut App

Today, however, a user searching for the keyword "pizza" in iTunes will come across a number of restaurant locator apps and one new one that will jump out at them: Pizza Hut (iTunes URL). That's right, Pizza Hut has released a new application designed specifically for the iPhone. The app will complement their already robust lineup of alternative ordering methods that currently include ordering by text message, web site ordering, mobile web site ordering, and even a Facebook ordering system.

The Pizza Hut iPhone app offers a simple interface that includes a menu and a checkout function, as expected. However, the company has also smartly included a "virtual fridge" where you'll find coupons to add to your order and a free game called "Hut Racer" which you can play while you kill time waiting for your pizza to arrive. Altogether, the app seems to be well-thought out, well-designed, and simple enough for anyone to use.

Will Pizza Hut Encourage Other Restaurants (and Companies) to Follow?

However, the most revolutionary thing about the app may be the fact that it exists at all. No other pizza delivery company has launched an iPhone application yet. For that matter, no restaurants have done so either, not even Apple partner Starbucks. (Correct us if we're wrong about that, we searched for numerous popular chains and found none...but we're sure you'll let us know if there are some out there. At any rate, there are very few if any.)

We once wondered why so few companies, not just restaurants, but also retail stores, travel sites, and other big businesses had eschewed the App Store entirely, opting instead for mobile web sites (or, sometimes no mobile sites at all). Why shouldn't companies build iPhone applications to complement their other online offerings? The cost of development isn't prohibitively high and the iPhone represents a huge chunk of mobile web traffic both here in the U.S. and on the worldwide stage.

Some commenters on that original post argued that an iTunes store filled with branded apps from companies would clutter things up, but as the App Store now offers some 65,000 applications (give or take), is clutter really that much of an issue anymore? Others worried instead about cluttering up their phones' screens and becoming overwhelmed by the number of applications. That issue, too, has now been somewhat addressed thanks to OS 3.0's extended springboard and Spotlight search feature. You can now fill your phones with apps and find them exceedingly fast via search.

Of course, we don't think that users would download and install every single application for every single business they've ever patronized - just those they use on a regular basis, probably only a handful at most. Because really, how many businesses, restaurants or otherwise, do you visit or use multiple times per month that would make a dedicated app worth your while?

Finally, multiple commenters noted that designing a mobile web site made the most sense since it could be used on any platform. Of course we agree that companies should have a mobile site - that should be par for the course these days just as having a web presence is - but why ignore the 59% web traffic marketshare delivered by the iPhone here in the U.S. or the 43% of web traffic worldwide? Why not build for this dominating platform?

It will be important to watch Pizza Hut's success in this space, as they're leading where so few others have so far failed to go. If they see increased revenue driven by their mobile application, other restaurants - especially those that offer delivery and carry-out options - may end up doing the same. We hope this will bring about a new trend of company-branded applications, but it's far too soon to tell. We'll just have to wait and see...I guess we'll play a little "Hut Racer" in the meantime. 

Image credit: Adage