Apple finally made Zipcar's first iPhone application available today on its iTunes store, only a few months after Zipcar CEO Scott Griffith had hoped it'd show up there. It's a free app geared to the car-sharing company's existing members.
I had a chance to use it today for a lunchtime car rental. Here's my take:
- One of the things I was most eager to try was the app's ability to honk the car's horn (to help you locate the car), and open and lock the doors directly from your iPhone. So I was disappointed to find that the app wouldn't honk the car's horn until I'd "swiped in" to the car by waving my Zipcar membership card over the windshield, and that the app doesn't open the doors without your card. You still need to swipe the card to open the car when you find it and to lock it up when your rental is over. (I've been known to leave my wallet at home once in a while, and was hoping that my iPhone might come to the rescue on those occasions. And at least once, I've had trouble locating a Zipcar in a dark parking garage, when the horn honk would've been handy.) The honk function, as well as locking and unlocking the doors, worked perfectly once I'd swiped in to my Honda Accord this afternoon.
- The app enables you to make new reservations easily, or extend the reservation of the car you're currently using (important if you want to avoid Zipcar's $50 late fee.)
- You can also see on a map all the Zipcars located nearby. The app lets you sort them to see what kind of car is available at a specific time (if, for instance, you want a Mini Cooper for two hours on Friday at 10 AM.) But the car-sorting menu seemed excessively long -- it lists a lot of models and types of cars that aren't available in my neighborhood (no convertibles in Cambridge, for example.)
- The app has crashed twice so far. Not a big deal, but just wanted to note that. Also, sometimes it can get stuck in an operation (like "Loading Vehicles") with no way to get out of it other than exiting the app.
I give the app a B- overall. (It'll earn a B if future releases improve the stability.) I expect that I'll be more likely to use it to make new reservations while traveling to other cities, or extend the reservation time of a car I'm using, than I will to do all that honking and door unlocking that seemed so appealing when Zipcar first demoed the app back in June. (I do give Zipcar extra credit for having already trained their phone reps to answer questions about the app -- one of them explained that I shouldn't try to use the app to "check out" of the car when I was done with it.)
Update: I may have tried to honk the Honda before my official reservation time had arrived yesterday, which Zipcar says would be one reason it didn't work. Honking worked better with today's reservation, but I was vexed today by the slow start-up time of the app every time I wanted to lock or unlock the doors. And the display showed some weird text that read "Null Null Null." So I'm leaving my grade where it is...