ZipCar: Car Sharing/Renting With Your iPhone


Perhaps one of the most amazing partnership announcements made during WWDC’s keynote yesterday is ZipCar‘s exciting story of iPhone app design. But it could easily fall through the cracks, for a couple of reasons: One, hardware announcements took center stage, and two, people who don’t live in major urban centers might not be aware of what exactly ZipCar even is. Most people will be familiar with the wacky science fiction future portrayed by “The Jetsons,” however, and that’s the sort of tech magic the two companies previewed yesterday.

For those who don’t know, ZipCar is a car-sharing alternative to vehicle ownership that operates in big cities like New York, London, Chicago and Toronto, to name a few. The idea is that many urban dwellers don’t need a car often enough that it makes financial sense to own one, so instead ZipCar provides an accessible fleet available for use when you need it, where you need, for as long or as little as you need it. It’s almost like a car subscription service, and though I’ve yet to use it myself, friends review it very favorably.

The new app from ZipCar takes advantage of the iPhone’s geolocation and wireless communication capabilities to allow it to help users locate, reserve, and even remotely control cars in their fleet. Before you get excited, this doesn’t mean that you can drive your ZipCar remotely, thereby fooling onlookers into believing that ghost cars are real. But it does mean that you can unlock the car, and/or possibly even honk its horn, so that you can pretend it’s recognizing and greeting you, if that’s what suits your fancy.

The app even looks good, displaying car images for each available model, and featuring a detail view with the rate and model information for the car of your choice. Two tabs not demoed in the app are the Drive and My Alerts pages, which it’s not a stretch to imagine might provide some kind of maps or navigation app, and maybe a traffic or severe weather alert system.

If you don’t happen to live in one of the cities where ZipCar has a presence, I can understand if you’re stifling a yawn right about now. But think about what this means not just for ZipCars, but for cars in general. Major car manufacturers could conceivably outfit their automobiles with the same kind of tech. It could be the death of the key fob, and the advent of iPhone integration that extends beyond just media and phone functions. Combine ZipCar functionality with Bluetooth stereo/calling connectivity, and turn-by-turn GPS navigation as demoed by Tom Tom, and your road trip just got a whole lot less complicated.

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