The Mobile App
The ability to locate, pay, and interact with parking using a mobile app has been available for many years. However, the pandemic’s impacts have caused many parking operations to revisit contactless methods and have encouraged a new look into mobile parking apps. Our question this month deals with the varieties of these mobile applications.
There seems to be an ever-growing number of mobile parking apps at this point. Some of them are offering a “white label” option for our organization. What is a “white label” app, and why would we want one vs. other types of apps?
Wondering in Washington
Hello, Wondering in Washington,
Thank you for your question. With the increasing number of parking apps, it can be hard to keep them all straight. To answer your question, I will break down mobile apps into four basic categories: Standardized, Location Dynamic, White-Labeled, and Customized. These delineations refer to how unique an app is for your operation.
A Standardized app has the same design, workflow, name, and icon, no matter where it is being used. There might be small configurations available, uploading a photo of your facility, for example, but overall, the app is the same. An excellent example of this is Yelp. No matter which type of business you are looking at or what city, it has the same design and name, but will display locally appropriate information based on your search criteria.
This app type can be beneficial for a few reasons. First, because many locations are using the same app, you can take advantage of the network effect, in which, as more people use the app, it encourages even more people to use it, as well. This impact can be particularly felt in areas of higher municipal density. If multiple towns are close enough where parkers from different locations can regularly park in other spots, then having the same app across a geographic location makes it easier for the parker to use that same app in all of the parking locations. This cross-location use can help app adoption as typically, getting users to sign up and make using this app part of their routine is key to widespread adoption.
Additionally, since more people are using the same code, the likelihood of issues being found and fixed is higher. These problems can typically be resolved quickly and new features released on one single (generally, more stable) codebase.
The downside to a Standardized app is you lose the ability to have a unique app name and icon, and you are limited to the configuration options available in the app. Depending on the features desired, this limitation could require either operational changes or selecting a different type of app.
The Location Dynamic app provides most characteristics and benefits of a Standardized app while changing some aspects of the app dynamically based on its location or the company represented. For example, when arriving in a city, a unique city landscape photo is displayed, a location-specific welcome message shown, and the sites listed are automatically updated for that city.
An example of this is the app Zomato, which automatically lists restaurants, reviews, and images from the town in which I am currently located. This feature allows for additional location-based brand configuration while maintaining the benefits of a Standardized app. While there are clear benefits of these apps, some operations have functional needs that require a different type of app.
A White-Labeled app is developed by a company that provides the core framework needed for the app to function while allowing a customer to change the text, colors, app name, icon, and in some cases, the workflow. However, there are limitations to what can be adjusted based on the core design of the app. An example of this type of app is from the restaurant ordering company UEAT. The Google Play store shows 16 different restaurant order apps from this same developer. Each app looks like it is from a unique restaurant, they each have distinct names and icons, but when looking at the screenshots, you can see the same basic layout and design across all of the apps despite the different types of food sold in each unique restaurant.
This type of app shares some of the code stability and testing of a Standardized app while giving up (in many cases) the network effect benefits that a single app can provide. Additionally, there is more local responsibility for testing and customer adoption because it looks like a unique app for users.
One downside to this approach is long term maintenance. It can become complicated for the company to successfully maintain all of their apps as the number of individual apps increases. It is primarily dependent on how these apps are architected. Additionally, new app releases for new functionally and bug fixes tend to be slower than on a Standardized or Location Dynamic app.
If the ultimate levels of control and unique functionality are needed, a Customized app could be required. This option provides an organization with the highest levels of configurability and full control for the app’s look, feel, and operation. This approach requires the longest lead time and highest budget, both upfront and ongoing, of any other option. An example of this type of app is the Chipotle Mexican Grill app. It is unique from any other restaurant app and provides complete control of branding, design, and distinctive functionality.
The trade-off is Chipotle is fully responsible for the ongoing costs of maintenance, upgrades, and testing. For a company such as this, where branding is critical, and revenues are available to support this spending, this approach works well. But this type of app gives up most of the benefits of a Standardized app and requires more resources, both in time and money, than most parking organizations can provide.
Each app type has its benefits and trade-offs. Still, no matter which app type selected, I would recommend parking organizations keep in mind an upcoming trend that will impact their organization. While we have always known that parking is part of a broader transportation ecosystem, the impacts are beginning to be seen in larger mobility apps.
Apps such as Google Maps, Apple Maps, Waze, and in-vehicle navigation systems have displayed parking locations for years now; many are starting to offer the ability to pay for parking in those systems as well. This idea has been discussed for many years now, and it is starting to become a reality.
I predict this trend will only accelerate and will cause the use of stand-alone parking apps to begin to decline overall. As this trend progresses, it will become more critical to have a platform that allows you to control, monetize, and audit the use of your parking assets across these various systems instead of just in one app. This more extensive network connectivity should be a key feature of your parking apps as time and technology progress.
Good luck with your new app!
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