A funny thing happened on the way to the airport. I searched through the iTunes App Store on my iPhone for a Southwest app that allowed for flight check-ins, only to find that it didn’t exist. I don’t know why I expected it to be there, but I did. Southwest is one of those companies that seems so “with it” when it comes to this digital age we live in. They have a blog, a Twitter account, a Facebook page, a flickr account, and a YouTube channel. So why no iPhone app?
It was so surprising to me that there was no Southwest iPhone app, that I initially didn’t even believe it. I switched over to Safari and performed a search. That’s when I stumbled across this page. Apparently, someone had built an Southwest iPhone check-in application in the absence of an official version and the company had asked him to take it down. What’s going on with that? We hope that means Southwest is busy building their own app and didn’t want any competition.
Yet they’re hardly alone when it comes to big businesses that are missing out on leveraging this new mobile platform. Several companies that should have apps, don’t. Why is that?
Listen Up: We Want Apps!
Today, there are numerous companies that could and should have iPhone applications or, at the very least, an iPhone-ready mobile web site, do not. Another that comes to mind immediately is My Coke Rewards. Coke Rewards are the points you can collect from the bottle caps and 12-packs of Coca-Cola beverages. You enter them in on the company’s dedicated web site or via SMS in order to receive free prizes and discount coupons. Yet, there’s no iPhone app for this. In fact, the entire site runs entirely in Flash, so there’s no way to browse to the site using the iPhone at all. It’s a terrible mobile experience from one of the world’s biggest retailers.
Other companies missing the boat are those in the travel industry – companies like Priceline for example. Although Priceline operates a mobile site at www.priceline.mobi, there’s no app available in the iTunes store. Imagine the missed opportunities! Who doesn’t want to get a cheap flight or hotel? However, one of their competitors already has an app up-and-running: Travelocity. The Travelocity app offers several travel tools and a one-touch button for booking tickets. But where are the other big players in travel? Orbitz? Expedia? No apps from you?
While still on the subject of tickets, the giant ticket brokerage Ticketmaster is also sorely missing from iTunes. Instead, the lesser known Tickets Direct is getting all the iPhone owners’ business as their app lets you search and purchase tickets for thousands or concerts, sports, and theater events.
Then there is Apple’s partner, Starbucks. Given the integration between the two companies when it comes to music, it’s hard to believe there isn’t an iPhone app for ordering your latte by now. Although a lot of iPhone owners desperately want this, we do understand that building a system to handle mobile orders would take time. (Still, we hope this is something that they’re working on.)
For that matter, we hope all the restaurant chains and pizza places are working on mobile ordering systems. Many chains have mobile web sites, but this isn’t enough for us anymore. We want one-touch access from our homescreens. Especially for those restaurants who already provide curbside-to-go services. Why not have an app for this? It just makes sense.
Other businesses that should be leveraging the iTunes platform are the shipping companies like UPS and FedEx. There are severaldifferentmobileshippingtrackersavailable now, but all are third-party applications. None come from the actual shipping companies themselves. Without their own apps, these companies are missing out on an opportunity to establish a brand presence on a platform that is increasingly being used in the workplace, thanks in part to the iPhone’s ability to receive Microsoft Exchange email…not to mention the CEOs who are now demanding that I.T. support the device.
Also missing from the App Store are apps for major retailers. Where’s our Best Buy app? Circuit City? What about our favorite clothing store? Grocery store? Car dealership? Although there are price comparisons apps aplenty and Amazon’s app of course, several brick-and-mortar operations are still missing from the store. And while Jaguar’s iPhone-only magazine launched in 2007 was clever, we want more. We want real apps.
Finally, why haven’t local papers thought to use the iPhone platform to save their dying businesses? Most papers of any decent size already have developers on staff who work at maintaining the paper’s web site – why not ask them to build an app instead? Some larger news organizations have already done this including AP News, USA Today, and the New York Times(Disclosure: RWW is syndicated by NYT). But where are the smaller, local news organizations? This could be how they could save themselves. Who wouldn’t want to read the local paper on their iPhone? Add in mobile coupons and ads from local businesses to the app and you could breathe new life into the industry.
Who’s Getting it Right
Surprisingly, some of the companies getting the iTunes experience right are the ones that don’t immediately spring to mind when you think about companies needing an iPhone presence. For example, you may be surprised to find that retailers like Nike and Kraft have recently launched iTunes applications. Kraft’s iFood Assistant helps customers create shopping lists and find the nearest grocery store, all while maximizing exposure for their product line through the 7,000 searchable recipes it contains.
Major retailer Target not only gets points for knowing to advertise within Pandora’s mobile app, but they have their own iPhone application, too. The app is a gift finder app that lets you search for gifts by price and gender. Clearly, the app was launched just the for holiday shopping season as it came out in November, 2008. However, this app could be so much more that what it is today. We could use our iPhones to add items to our Target gift registries, collect mobile coupons, or check out the latest sales. So Target, you only get half credit for this one.
According to AdAge(link behind paywall), apps will be the new way to engage and advertise to your customers, but frankly, we’re not seeing many big companies with apps just yet. We hope in 2009 we’ll begin to see more. It’s certainly time.
Let us know what companies you think should have an iPhone app. You can comment here or on our earlier discussion on FriendFeed.