Two recently released iPhone apps are making waves this week, garnering positive press for harnessing the iPhone’s capabilities to deliver value and enhance the way users interact with the apps’ publishers. Although they aren’t what you might consider “green” green, they offer some good pointers for companies that want to develop an engaging new generation of green apps or plan to extend a green product and service to encompass mobile platforms.
The first is Zipcar’s iPhone App. Customers of the car-sharing program can now schedule reservations on-the-go, but that’s not the only benefit. By exploiting the iPhone’s location awareness, the app can find nearby Zipcar locations and provide directions to customers. The app can also sound the horn and unlock the door for added convenience.
CNN’s paid app ($2) is also getting plenty of attention. On its surface, it’s like other (free) apps that provide a handy way of staying up-to-date on current events. Where CNN Mobile leapfrogs the competition, however, is in how it engages news junkies and citizen journalists. iPhone 3GS users can record video clips and upload them to CNN, turning them into contributors.
How do these apps differ from the majority of apps in circulation? Both offer an intrinsically useful service for users that encourages engagement. In Zipcar’s case, you can now book a ride on short notice wherever you are without ever having to touch a PC or laptop. CNN is courting not only mobile users that desire a multimedia-rich environment to consume news, but also that subset of the population that uploads eyewitness style video clips to YouTube moments after (sometimes during) newsworthy events occur.
A study recently conducted by Flurry Inc. found that “lifestyle” apps — a category that several green apps fall into — are frequently used at first but are soon neglected. Fostering sustained consumer engagement (indicated by repeated use) is especially important for green apps that are designed to influence behavior.
For green app developers, it’s time to start thinking of the iTunes app store as more than a means of repackaging online content that targets at eco-conscious users. One example of an iPhone app that’s genuinely useful is Earth911.com’s iRecycle app, which uses your current location to scout out nearby recycling sites according to your criteria (batteries, electronics, etc.) and give directions. Now, responsibly disposing of that old PC is no longer a mystery.
And soon, owners of Nissan’s EV, the Leaf, will be able to unlock their cars and schedule their charging times from their iPhones. It’s not much of a stretch to think that smart appliances will follow suit in the coming years and allow consumers to manage their energy use via smartphones.
Placing a priority on utility and convenience will improve the chances of getting a green app noticed. After all, there are a lot of apps competing for iPhone screen real estate these days (85,000 at last count). If you’re a green company trying to rise to the top of the heap, engagement just might be your secret weapon.