Yesterday saw the launch of two auto-related iPhone apps -- one from Daimler, the other from Chrysler. And if you think you know which was more impressive, you might be in for a surprise.
Daimler's app was designed specifically for owners of the new Smart EV, though anyone can download it if they like. Called Smart Drive, it's similar to the Android app being developed for the Chevrolet Volt, but with a couple of thoughtful add-ons. In addition to the navigation and vehicle maintenance features we saw on the Volt app, Smart Drive also has internet radio capability, a handy-dandy charge locator (in case your battery's running low), roadside assistance (in case your battery completely runs out), and a car finder (in case you've lost track of your car altogether). At a grand total of $9.99, it offers many of the same benefits that expensive telematics systems do, but at a tiny fraction of the cost.
And yet, Smart Drive wasn't the application that really made us sit up and take notice. As you might've guessed from the title of this article, that was reserved for Chrysler's.
That app was developed by pentastar's parts and service arm, Mopar, in collaboration with the Tweddle Group (which we'd link to, except their site is Silverlight-only, and who does that?). Like the Daimler app, Chrysler's is designed for a specific vehicle -- in this case, the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee. Unlike the Daimler app, however, it doesn't provide much in the way of infotainment. Chrysler understands that navigation and radio functions are provided by a wide range of devices, including most popular in-dash sets. Instead, Jeep's iPhone does something very different: it effectively replaces the owner manual and acts as an means of communication between drivers and the brand. In addition to info about Grand Cherokee maintenance, operation, and such, the app lets users contact Jeep customer support as well as roadside assistance.
And in a nifty move, Chrysler has also included links to Jeep's social media outlets, like its Facebook page, Twitter stream, and YouTube profile. True, we'd prefer seeing social activity take place within the app itself rather than on third-party sites -- after all, how hard could it be to tie in a Yelp-like forum, maybe with a slice of geolocational check-in activity thrown in for fun? Still, these functions serve to reinforce Jeep's social media presence, keeping owners close to their brand and to one another. For Jeep and its fans, that's a great thing.
Now, we're not implying that Daimler's app is chopped liver -- not by a long shot. However, it does replicate a number of features we've seen on other apps, while Jeep's offering presages a sea-change in the way that consumers interact with their vehicles via their mobile devices. Instead of being something that's kept in the garage or in a parking lot, cars are becoming something drivers carry with them -- and access -- anytime they like. Furthermore, the app is a great tool for Chrysler's marketing and customer relations efforts, which haven't exactly been positioned at the forefront of automotive social media.
For a fuller demonstration of the Jeep Grand Cherokee app, check the video and the press release below:
Chrysler Group LLC is First Automotive Company to Introduce Vehicle-information Apps
June 17, 2010 , Auburn Hills, Mich.
Last year, Chrysler Group was the first automotive company to replace traditional, bulky owner manuals with DVDs and user guides. This year, the company is introducing the industry’s first smartphone vehicle-information application. Information that used to be stuffed into the glove box will now be at your fingertips. In addition to general vehicle information including vehicle operation, maintenance and warranty, this new app offers product-feature video demonstrations, connections with fellow owners via the company’s brands on social media sites, and access to customer care and 24-hour road-side assistance.