CategoryMarketing

Smartphones replace cars. Cars become smartphones.

Teens’ smartphone use means they don’t want to drive. Car makers’ solution? Turn cars into smartphones.

The Los Angeles Times reported in March 2013, along with many other outlets, that “fewer 16-year-olds are rushing to get their driver’s licenses today than 30 years ago as smartphones and computers keep adolescents connected to one another.”

Smartphones maintain friendships more than any car can. According to Microsoft researcher Danah Boyd, who’s been interviewing hundreds of teenagers, “Teens aren’t addicted to social media. They’re addicted to each other.” (Plus not every teen needs a car if their friends have one. Where’s Uber for friends? That, or transit or safe cycle infrastructure, would help solve the “I need a ride to work at the mall” issue.)

Driving is on the decline as more people choose to take transit, bike, walk, or work from home (and not unemployment).

intel cars with bicycle parts

Marketing images from Intel’s blog post about cars becoming smartphones.

What’s a car maker to do?

The first thing a car maker does to fight this (losing) battle is to turn the car into a smartphone. It’s definitely in Intel’s interest, and that’s why they’re promoting the story, but Chevrolet will soon be integrating National Public Radio – better known as NPR – as an in-dash app. It will use the car’s location to find the nearest NPR affiliate. Yeah, my smartphone already does that.

The second thing they do is to market the product differently. Cars? They’re not stuck in traffic*, they’re an accessory to your bicycle. Two of the images used in Intel’s blog post feature bicycles in some way. The first shows a bicycle helmet sitting on a car dashboard. The second shows how everyone who works at a proposed Land Rover dealership is apparently going to bike there, given all the bikes parked at an adjacent shelter.

The new place to put your smartphone when you take the train.

* I’m looking at you, Nissan marketing staff. Your commercial for the Rogue that shows the mini SUV driving atop a train full of commuters in order to bypass road congestion (and got a lot of flack) is more ridiculous than Cadillac’s commercial showing a car blowing the doors of other cars, while their drivers look on in disbelief, in order to advertise the 400+ horsepower it has (completely impractical for driving in the urban area the commercial showcases).

Android versus iOS: my Chicago Bike Laws experience

Chicago Bike Laws: dooring info

Screenshot of Chicago Bike Laws, highlighting the dooring law.

For all this talk that more people use Android, and Android has the biggest and still-growing chunk of the smartphone market (in the United States and the world), I’m not seeing that reflected in how many downloads there are of my two apps.

Chicago Bike Laws is a free app that has been available for Android (download) since November 4 and on iOS (download) since November 9, a 5-day difference. Yet the iOS version has had more installations (58) since then while people have downloaded the Android version 32 times (but 5 people removed it).

What gives? The app is exactly the same for both platforms.

Are Chicago bicyclists more likely to have iPhones? I don’t do any platform-specific promotion so you can count that out.

(The experience I’ve had with Chicago Bike Guide activity is different because the Android version came online over a year later and has always been a paid app – Android apps cannot switch between free and paid while iOS apps can. By the way, the Chicago Bike Guide is free for iOS right now and half-off for Android. The comparison is that the adoption rate is much slower for the Android version.)

Divvy considers my suggestions in bike-share kiosk map redesign

The new design that will appear at the newest stations first and then rolled out to all stations. 

I posted two months ago a critique of the Divvy bike-share maps, seen at 284 stations scattered around Chicago, focusing on the clutter of having so many maps (with the third being useless), unclear labels and labels that covered map objects, and the low prominence of the smartphone app and map legend. Two weeks ago the Divvy public relations manager emailed me a screenshot of the new map design and said that these points had been changed. He said they considered four of my suggestions:

  1. Make CycleFinder, the official Divvy smartphone app, more prominent
  2. Change “You are here” design to make it clear where you are
  3. Make streets and streets’ label text smaller
  4. Removed service area map and make legend more prominent

I replied to the manager and suggested that the “You are here” label be made slightly transparent to show that the road does continue beneath it.

Close-up of the original “you are here” design that covered up other objects and wasn’t centered in the walking distance circle.

What people will say when Ventra comes out

Ventra is not a replacement for the Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus. It’s a single card that replaces the following fare media*:

  • Transit Card (pay per ride)
  • 1-day pass
  • 3-day pass
  • 7-day pass
  • 30-day pass
  • 30-day reduced fare pass for seniors 65+ and customers with disabilities
  • U-Pass
  • Chicago Card (pay per ride, linked to personal credit/debit card)
  • Chicago Card Plus (pay per ride or 30-day pass, linked to personal credit/debit card)
  • Military Service Pass
  • There might be another pass type I’m forgetting

When people see how simple this really is, and how not inconvenient Ventra makes it for them and for CTA to administer, they will be shocked. You’ll hear things like:

“I can use my credit or debit card now to pay for passes at every vending machine?”

Previously, only certain stations had the correct vending machine. O’Hare airport is notorious for having three vending machines, none of which do the same thing but that do have overlapping functions.

“I can buy a 1-day or multi-pass at all 145 train stations, and not just at Walgreens or CVS, who tend to sell out? And with a credit or debit card?”

Yep. Isn’t that convenient?

“So you’re saying that when school is out and my U-Pass doesn’t get me unlimited free rides until the next semester, I can just hit up one of these 2,000+ retail locations and throw $20 – cash or credit, no difference – on there, or add a 3-day pass because I’m running around for internship interviews?”

Yes, that’s what I’m saying.

“Boarding this bus is way faster now that everyone has a contactless card. And this only took $5 at the vending machine, a 2 minute phone call after which I got that $5 back?”

You can even register online with your smartphone.

* Paper 1-day passes will be available. A single-ride paper ticket will be available.

Metra finally updates its marketing strategy

Photo of a new billboard by John Greenfield. 

My Streetsblog Chicago partner John Greenfield writes about Metra’s new push to get more riders: free tickets.

The transit agency will be giving away two free tickets to any destination in the system to 500 people per week for fourteen weeks – a total of 14,000 tickets, good for the next 90 days. The recipients, who must be 18 or over, will be randomly chosen from those who register at MetraRail.com/TestDrive.

While there doesn’t seem to be any method for preventing current Metra riders from scoring free tickets, the hope is that the lion’s share of the winners will be newbies. To promote the giveaway to people who currently commute by car, the agency is spending roughly $390,000 on marketing, including billboards visible from expressways and radio spots in English and Spanish following traffic reports and gas price updates, as well as Internet advertising. The billboards emphasize the financial, time-saving and relaxation benefits of making the switch.

It’s about time that Metra got serious with its marketing and used messages that actually sell the service. Focusing on the kind of marketing that actually convinces customers – of any product or service – is the right move. That focus? Our product costs less than the alternative.

Metra’s current marketing consists of boring-looking billboards on its tracks as they cross expressways with things like, “Fly to work”, “We’re on time, are you?”, and “Easy come, easy go” (what does that even mean?).

There was no call to action, and no information for drivers to respond to immediately (or when their call is stuck in bumper to bumper traffic).

An example billboard over the Kennedy Expressway, south of Grand Avenue. This sign says “Easy come, easy go”. 

New Honda commercial tells people it’s okay to drive their car while sleepy

Eff you, Honda.

Partial transcript:

We know you.

[Shows guy yawning.]

We know you have to rise early and work late.

[Shows someone drinking coffee. Shows “Lane Departure Warning” signal and an obscured person driving on a rural road driving their Honda Accord in the opposite direction lane, then swerving back into the correct lane.]

With not enough sleep in between.

[Shows hands of driver moving the steering wheel to maneuver the car back into the correct lane with driver’s shoulders moving dramatically to either show that the steering wheel had to be yanked or that he’s shrugging off the moment.]

The rest of the commercial shows different features and makes stupid comments about your needs and desires.

It’s not okay to drive in that condition.

Customer reviews for my bike map app

Only reviews left for the current version are displayed on the iTunes Preview page, and the default view of the iTunes Store. 

I’m appreciative of the two reviews people have left for my app – it’s a bike map for Chicago stored in your phone, download in iTunes. Their positivity and the slight increase in sales this past week has increased the ranking of my app. I don’t know what the ranking means.

When my app first ranked, in its Reference category, it was 385, then 289, and now stands at 315. I’m not sure on what factors the ranking is based, but I’ve gathered some clues from other bloggers:

[In addition to the number of downloads, other] factors play into the ranking equation such as how long the app is opened as the active app and how often the app is opened.

There’s no mention of reviews on that page, but I found another article that mentions more ways to improve your app, which includes having positive reviews. (Another factor it mentions is frequently updating the app.)

I’d like to hear from my app’s users what their feedback is before they leave a review in the iTunes Store. I can address issues directly with users and discuss how they can (or cannot) be incorporated in a future update to the app. You can send your feedback to me, and your love to the app store. (A major downside of the customer reviews process in the iTunes Store is the inability for the developer to respond.)

My app’s received two reviews (both 5 stars!) so far:

Saw this app being discussed on Twitter and thought I’d check it out. So, on the hottest day of 2012, I jumped on my bike and rode around my area checking out the apps features. Color me impressed! I rode to a few areas that I was not over familiar with and activated the app to peruse my options via my bike (or CTA). I look forward to using this on my far south/far north bikiing adventures soon!

The first reviews about the first version:

Would be great if it could locate on the map with GPS. Also if it could zoom out more. These bike lanes have come a long way recently. There are some really nice new places to ride like the cycle track on Kinzie. But there are also some old routes out there that are great biking such as the Boulevard System (Humboldt, Logan, Palmer Sq) that you could show on your map. And it says it supports German, but it is in English 🙂

The part about my app being available in German was true for v0.1, but I’ve fixed that for v0.2. If you’re going to leave a review, I’d like to leave you with this advice, for I feel it makes for a constructive review:

  1. Describe what is good about the app, and what you like about the app.
  2. Describe how you’ve used the app.
  3. Suggest ways the app could improve.

This was what the first version looked like. It wasn’t very good. 

The Chicago Fire Department has one of the least useful Twitter feeds, but sometimes it’s hilarious

20 minutes ago, when the Twitter outage probably corrected itself, the Chicago Fire Department’s Office of News Affair tweeted three photos, without comment. I’ve posted them in reverse order.

Tweet 3

The third photo (above) shows a BMW X5 SUV on top of a Jaguar sedan and Mercedes E320 sedan in a multi-level parking garage. The parking garage appears to be a split-level, and it seems the BMW SUV was moved forward from an upper level to the tops of these cars, which you can see in the second photo (below).

Tweet 2

Tweet 1

The photos appear to have been taken with a cellphone, using the flash. The license plates are obscured by their reflection of the flash. The car broke through the cables leading me to ask two questions: What is the level of tension on the cables? How fast did the car travel?

The @CFDMedia account is often cryptic. The Chicago Sun-Times provided more information an hour later:

A 74-year-old man driving a 2012 BMW X5 crashed through cable barriers separating two levels of a Loop parking garage Thursday — and his SUV came to a stop atop a 2005 Jaguar and a 2003 Mercedes-Benz parked on the level beneath him, police said.

Police cited the 74-year-old with driving too fast for conditions.

Updated 16:18 to add a report from the Chicago Sun-Times.

GM hired a transit rider to promote their Volt, I think

A screenshot of the GM Chevy Volt ad I saw on Hulu. 

If you’re like me and most Americans, you probably see an advertisement for a car at least once a day. In an ad I watched on Hulu tonight, it appears GM filmed someone who takes buses and trains (or rides her bike) to sell people on the Chevy Volt.

The woman (the ad’s overlay text makes it seem like she’s a real owner) says, “I don’t event know what it’s like to stop and get gas” and “I am probably going to the gas station about once a month, probably less”.

With a car that only gets 35 MPG city, 40 MPG highway,* and has a range of 379 miles, she must be taking the bus for all those other trips she has to make each month! Or she walks to work each day and bikes to the grocery store on weekends. Or she just rarely leaves the house. But I don’t think the ad implies any of these things: instead it’s telling viewers that this automobile has amazing gas mileage (the ad never mentions it has an electric motor component).

The “average American” makes 3.79 trips per day with an average trip length of 9.75 miles. If this Volt driver was that average person, she would be driving 1,108.58 miles every 30 days. And her car doesn’t have that much range. It has a third of that.

She might have bad memory, though, about visiting gas stations.

The Toyota Prius, for comparison, gets 51 MPG city, 48 MPG highway,* and starts at $7,000 less.

* These are only estimates. The Chevy Volt gets 94 MPGe when running on purely the electric motors.

N.B. The Chevy Volt website shows a photo of the car in the position where it will spend most of the time: parked. I appreciate that accuracy!

Dealing with the four-wheeled foe

My comment on the Streetfilms post. 

First, Streetfilms’s Clarence Eckerson posts a video showing Mazda’s support for the movie “Lorax”, which is based on the Dr. Seuss book about destroying the environment.

Then, I commented on Bikes Belong’s partnership with Volkswagen that was announced almost a month ago but I had just found the news yesterday.

It’s about as crappy as Bikes Belong partnering with Volkswagen.
In January 2012 they announced a “two-year partnership to help develop biking-friendly communities, foster healthy lifestyles and create a cleaner environment.”
I thought Volkswagen’s job was to market its cars, but it seems now it will market its goodwill which must have a calculable impact on increased car sales.

Bike Portland and road.cc both wrote about it. One commenter, Hart Noecker, wrote on Bike Portland:

Agreed. They recognize their oncoming irrelevance and are trying to re-image their brand while still promoting unsustainable automobiles that incentivize McStripmall sprawl.

And “9watts” replied:

As someone who has long felt that VW offered some of the most fuel efficient cars available, and was therefore to be lauded, patronized, etc. I’m inclined to agree with Hart. VW is really good at selling cars, and their commitment to fuel economy (which is a far cry from what we need now: a phaseout of car-dom, which isn’t going to come from the car industry anymore than a phaseout of coal consumption is going to come from the electric utilities) is only skin deep.

Crumbs for bikes, and a slick PR move that might even help them sell more cars. Never underestimate the middle class’s eagerness to swallow feel-good nostrums.

Today it seems the pact is getting attention again, brought to the forefront by the Mazda + Lorax (Universal films) deal – at least among a few people I follow on Twitter. Hopefully for its inanity. Car manufacturers, the bull in the china shop as Mikael of Copenhagenize talks about it, have been shutting down bicycles as a mode of transportation for decades. They’ve even thrown support behind making jaywalking criminal.

The Volkswagen deal with Bikes Belong is nothing more than buying goodwill. If there was a store for companies looking to improve their environmentally friendly image, partnerships with cycling advocacy organizations would be in aisle one.

As they are a company interested in making money by selling cars, I’d like someone to help me understand if there are any other reasons they should promote cycling (which they admit reduces congestion and lowers a traveler’s impact on the environment). Maybe they want to start selling bikes?

Car culture is carnage culture. The way out is a balanced transportation system that focuses the highest investments into sustainable and efficient modes, and one that educates system users on the costs and benefits of each mode, for every trip. Photo by ATOMIC Hot Links.

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