screen_home I recently got an Apple iPhone and have been going a little crazy downloading stuff from the iPhone applications store ever since making the purchase.   Given what we do here, one of the first applications I tried out was the one produced by the Barack Obama campaignIt is nothing short of fantastic

The application contains all the stuff you’d expect: ability to get the latest news with a few clicks, check out Obama’s positions on a variety of issues, sign up for email and mobile updates, etc.  All that is fine and good, but the real power is in the “Call Friends” area, which encourages users to call friends in swing states to urge them to vote for Obama.  The tools allows you to report back on the results of your call (“Is the person considering Obama?”, “Have they already voted?”, etc.) and tracks who you have and haven’t called.  The application is really well done and really shows off the great potential of iPhone applications in the political space.

Does that mean I would recommend my political and public affairs clients go out and build iPhone applications?  For most of them the answer is probably no. 

The fact is not that many people have iPhones yet.  Estimates are that around 220 million Americans use the Internet, and roughly that number of people have cell phones.  Estimates are that Apple has sold a total of 13 million iPhones.  So by building applications specifically for the iPhone, you are severely limiting the audience of people that can potentially use your tool.  Given this fact, I’d seriously consider the following questions before your organizations builds a fancy iPhone applications like Obama:

(1) Are you 100% happy with your website?  Given their fundraising numbers ($150 million in September alone), the Obama essentially has unlimited funds. Given that, they are rightly surrounding the situation, building tools for Facebook, mobile phones, whatever.   In the world most of us live in, resource limitations are a fact of life, so it doesn’t make sense to build value-added tools on a device with limited adoption, like the iPhone, unless you are already doing everything you can on your website, which just about everyone can see. 

(2) Is there a compelling reason to build your application for the iPhone?  The iPhone has a pretty great web browser built in, so building an application just to publish blog entries or press releases doesn’t make any sense.  People can read that stuff through the web if they want.  What makes the Obama application special is that it makes something that would be difficult through a web interface (getting people to call their friends and family and report back the results) and makes it simple by using the iPhone’s native capabilities.  It cuts out three or four steps in the process for the end user.  Build something unique or just skip it.

(3) Do you actually think people will use your application?  With his massive listserv and ability to generate free press, Obama doesn’t have to worry much about creating buzz or marketing his applications.  If he builds it, they will come.  That isn’t the case for most of us.  Applications are a cut throat game – popular ones tend to be really popular and the rest of them pretty much exist in obscurity.  If you don’t have a big name, a compelling hook to sell and/or a marketing commitment, you might want to take a pass. 

If you can answer all these questions with a resounding yes, then go for it.  If not, your probably better off investing your resources elsewhere, at least for the time being.

About the Author
Todd Zeigler
Todd Zeigler serves as the Brick Factory’s chief strategist and oversees the operations of the firm. In his sixteen year career in digital, he has planned and implemented campaigns for clients including the Pickens Plan, International Youth Foundation, Panthera, Edison Electric Institute, and the American Chemistry Council. Todd develops ambitious online advocacy programs, manages crises, implements online marketing strategies, and develops custom applications and software. He is bad at golf though.