July 4, 2010 | by Ed Clark
iPhone Ad: “Family Travel”
Today’s iPhone ad is titled “Family Travel.” If ever there was a great example of Apple’s marketing abilities, this is the one. The commercial looks so cool, but the actual products don’t live up to the hype. Why not? Read on after the video.
The commercial starts with the woman checking in for her flight with the Southwest Airlines app on the way to the airport. She then uses GateGuru to find her kids a “snack near the gate.” Not surprisingly, she already has her kids’ favorite movies ready to go on her iPhone. And finally, she remotely turns out the lights at her house by using the Schlage Link app after a reminder from her husband.
Whoa. Sounds pretty cool, huh? Well, beyond the fact that the parents probably should have checked in earlier in order to get better seat selections and should have made sure the house was secured before they left, there’s a dark Apple secret here. I was surprised to find that some of these apps aren’t as cool as one might think from the commercial, at least as far as iPhone customer ratings are concerned. Southwest Airlines is free and gets 3.5 stars on the App Market, which isn’t too bad. However, GateGuru (also free), gets only 2.5 stars from 1,771 customers. Similarly, Schlage Link (“Free”, but $12.99/month to use) gets decidedly muted support, with 2.5 stars from 4,113 ratings. Hmm.
Doing it the Android way
Despite the ratings, let’s see if we can do this the Android way. As always, if I get it wrong, let us all know. If there is a better version or a cheaper app, tell us.
First, there is no Android app for Southwest Airlines. Oh no! But wait, don’t panic–there’s a quick workaround that works just as well as the app. Open your browser, go to mobile.southwest.com, and add a bookmark. Now, simply long press on your screen, add a shortcut, select bookmark, and then choose your new Southwest page shortcut. Voila! Press your new Southwest “app” and book flights, check in, etc, whenever you want–even on the way to the airport. If you want to be really cool, use Bettercut ($1.99, 10,000-50,000 downloads, 4.3 stars) instead and change the associated icon to anything you want–including the Southwest Airlines app icon from the iTunes Store. Oooh. Tricky. The best benefit of this approach? You can make your own Delta, Continental, and United “apps” too.
Dan Gellert, author of GateGuru, tells me that he hopes to have an Android version of his app “towards the end of the year.” Until then, GateGuru has two Android competitors: Airport Maps (Free, 5,000-10,000 downloads, 2.1 stars), and Airport Maps Mobile ($2.99, 100-500 downloads, 2.3 stars). Interestingly, the gripes seem to be similar for both the iPhone and Android apps: some missing airports, inaccurate or missing maps. Heathrow Airport Limited seems to have done a good job with Heathrow Airport Guide Free (Free, 1,000-5,000 downloads, 4.3 stars). Of course, no one will want to download a separate app for every airport they fly to, but perhaps HAL’s model could be adopted in future attempts to get this type of application right.
Getting new full-length movies on your phone is much easier on the iPhone because of the iTunes Store. Until Netflix gets their Android app out, that’s all there is to it. There are ways to purchase videos on iTunes and convert them for playing on your Android, but it’s not easy (and may be illegal depending on where you are). Old text: The better way in the meantime is buy a DVD ripper and convert your movies to .MP4s that are optimized for your particular phone. Which DVD Ripper? Andrew Kameka posted this review of Wondershare’s DVD Ripper Platinum in December, which would certainly do the job. Edit: In the meantime, there is an incredible app that can convert your videos on the fly from your computer to your device and provides an iTunes style interface: DoubleTwist (Free, 50,000-250,000 downloads, 4 stars). (I originally thought Doubletwist was just a Android Media Player replacement, but I was wrong.) Simply install DoubleTwist on your computer and on your Android phone and sync and convert your media to your heart’s content.
The last iPhone app, Schlage Link, is getting ripped by its customers on the App Store. It costs $12.99/month unless you buy a full year subscription, which reduces the price to $11.90/month. You also have to buy all of the matching Schlage components for the Z-Wave automation system, plus have a dedicated machine running the server. Ouch. That seems like a lot to pay for the privilege of turning your lights off remotely. The matching Android app seems to be Autom8. Autom8 (Free) requires x10 hardware and a CM15A controller run by a Windows machine. Since Autom8 is not on the Market and I don’t have a need for an x10 system, I can’t vouch for how well it works. Anyone willing to give it try should let us know how it goes.
As you may have noticed, today’s edition was a bit tougher than usual. I am surprised that Apple chose to highlight some apps with less than stellar reviews, and I’d have to say that the matching Android versions haven’t fared any better. The lesson is: “Don’t buy a phone just because an app looks cool in an advertisement.” Regardless, you now have your own version of Apple’s “Family Travel,” Android style.
Bonus: I came across a fun game while searching for airport related apps: Flight Director ($1.99, 10,000-50,000 downloads, 4.6 stars). Give this one a try as you prepare for your next flight and hope that the air traffic controllers are doing a better job than you are.