Both sides of the political aisle have figured out that mobile is a highly effective platform for political engagement, particularly among young people. With smartphone penetration at an all-time high (comScore’s latest research now puts the figure at 47 percent) and the U.S. presidential election just 12 weeks away, it’s no surprise that both President Obama and Mitt Romney recently launched campaign apps–Obama’s on July 31st and Romney’s just last week. How effective are they? Whose is more impressive? More innovative? Did both learn from previous missteps and double-check for spelling errors?


Well, let’s take a look.


Though not bad looking, Romney’s “Meet America’s Comeback Team” app (at right) is both inelegant and incomplete in functionality. Even more disappointing, it failed in its stated promise to give users exclusive first access to Romney’s VP pick. While it does facilitate Facebook, Twitter, and email integration — and, of course, includes a prominent donation tab — the app does not provide real-time campaign updates or offer ways for Romney fans to connect with fellow supporters. Moreover, following last Saturday morning’s announcement of Paul Ryan, the app has become more or less useless. This point emphasized by the “There’s no telling who Mitt will choose as his VP…” message still posted to the app’s site. Not surprisingly, Romney’s app has garnered low ratings (60 percent of the reviews for the iOS version were 1-star), with most expressing frustration with the app’s embarrassingly late VP announcement and a lack of campaign resources for constituents. For digital-savvy voters looking to learn more about Romney and/or to gain access to events and like-minded voters in their area, this app will be a major disappointment.


Obama’s app, which features a simpler, more streamlined interface, echoes the President’s campaign message of empowering local politics. Unlike Romney’s the “Obama for America” app connects constituents to other registered democrats and alerts them to nearby volunteer opportunities and campaign events. To drive grassroots engagement, the app makes use of geolocal technology, soliciting users’ coordinates via a “Your Current Location” input. Another useful feature is the events calendar, easily accessible from the main menu and readily populated (and updated in real-time) with goings-on in each user’s respective zip code. Much more so than Romney’s, this app will satisfy younger voters’ curiosity about the who/what/where/why/how of Obama’s campaign.


Where both apps miss the mark is with a user-friendly campaign donation function. As one Obama app reviewer noted: “if the ‘donate’ button launched an in-app ‘purchase’ that [would] bill my iTunes account, I’d have donated already.” Seems logical, but instead, both apps cumbersomely reroute would-be donors to Safari, requiring them to dig out a credit card and re-enter their entire billing information. For young people on the go, needless extra steps like this aren’t just frustrating, they’re enough of a digital barrier to close out of the process altogether.


Rather than broadcasting the same message across all of one’s digital media properties, a successful campaign communicates its message through the unique features of each, specific platform. While Obama’s app is a fitting extension to his grassroots-oriented campaign, Romney’s one-off VP announcement was not enhanced by mobile technology. In the end, the attempt made the Governor look even more digitally clumsy.


(Images via The White House Official Flickr account and iTunes)


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