Apperian Builds iPhone App to Lead You to New England Hikes—and Timberland Retailers

9/11/09Follow @wroush

Chuck Goldman, CEO of Boston-based mobile app development house Apperian, called me this week to let me know about the launch of Timberland Expedition. The new iPhone application, which went live in Apple’s iTunes App Store today, was designed by Apperian to appeal to the outdoor-enthusiast types whom Stratham, NH-based Timberland (NYSE: TBL) considers the core market for its footwear and athletic clothing.

I’ve been playing around with the free app a bit today, and I’m impressed by its combination of slick design, useful features and content, and entertainment. The app is important for Timberland because it’s the company’s first venture into the burgeoning world of mobile marketing. And it’s important for Apperian because it’s exactly the kind of application that the startup, which I profiled when it came out of stealth mode back in March, says it’s best at building: those that help big companies extend their brands into the mobile universe.

“It’s shaping how users interact with a big brand that’s fun and exciting for us,” says Goldman. He calls the Timberland app, which Apperian built in conjunction with Mullen, Timberland’s Boston-based advertising agency, “an ‘edutainment’-type app that combines the core location features of the iPhone with user-generated content and a blend of catalogs and other content to extend Timberland’s marketing efforts onto a brand-new platform.”

Which is a mouthful. What the app really does, more than anything else, is leave the user with a warm-and-fuzzy feeling toward Timberland. That is, assuming he or she has a penchant for outdoor exploration, electronic gadgets, and shopping, which is not-unusual combination in New England. While Zumobi, a Seattle-based mobile application developer, has worked with REI to produce a snow-report application for iPhones, BlackBerrys, and Windows Mobile devices, the Timberland app represents the first time an outdoor gear retailer has come out with a multipurpose mobile application, Goldman says.

Timberland micro-catalogWhen you open the Timberland app, you see an antique-looking compass that gives you four options:

1. Expeditions—a selection of suggested hikes, bike rides, scenic views, and local attractions around, initially, six cities: Boston, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and New York. (Here at Xconomy, we’re lobbying for the addition of Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, and San Diego.) Each expedition comes with a brief description, a photo, a link to a Google map, and directions to the spot from the user’s current location. Whenever you click on “expedition” on a map, you also see the locations of nearby Timberland stores, which Goldman says was part of Apperian’s strategy to use the app to drive traffic to bricks-and-mortar outlets. Interestingly, Timberland plans to expand the Expeditions section over time using destinations, photos, and writeups submitted by users. (That’s the “user-generated content” Goldman mentions.)

2. Gear—what Goldman calls a “micro-catalog” showcasing Timberland merchandise, with an emphasis on two brand-new footwear lines called Earthkeepers and Timberland Mountain Athletics, both made with recycled rubber. You can’t actually buy shoes from the micro-catalog—Goldman says that function is coming later—but you can click on Timberland’s phone number to order from a telephone rep.

3. Timber Trail—a game that challenges the user to cross an outdoor expanse without running out of energy, food, or water, and without being attacked by bears, snakes, or bees. At the beginning of the game, players gets to choose which Timberland accessories to take with them on the trek—a jacket, hiking boots, a flashlight, a compass, or a knife. Choose carefully, because you never know what hazards you’ll run into! The game, to be honest, is the cheesiest aspect of the Timberland app, but I guess any amount of time potential customers spend “engaged with the brand” is good thing, from a marketing perspective.

4. Tunes—a mix of free and paid pop songs that, in the judgment of somebody at Apperian, Mullen, or Timberland, make a good accompaniment for outdoor activities. The feaured track today is “Don’t Give Up” by the Noisettes, and there are also tunes by The Fray, Asher Roth, Black Eyed Peas, and Modest Mouse. This part of the app works pretty much like the iPhone’s built-in iPod interface.

Timber Trail“I think it’s a great first step for a company like Timberland onto the iPhone with something that’s engaging and two-way,” says Goldman. “With the user-generated content, people out in the field can recommend new ideas, so it taps into that social-networking aspect of what great apps are—they’re viral, networked, and they leverage the wonderful aspects of the iPhone like location and the beautiful user interface and fun gaming.”

While Apperian continues to work with big brands on consumer-facing apps—its greeting card generator for American Greetings recently hit number 8 on the list of the most popular free apps in the iTunes App Store—it’s also working behind the scenes on an application development framework that other companies will be able to use to build their own apps, Goldman says. Many of those will be enterprise apps, he says: imagine a healthcare organization, for example, providing visiting nurses with an app that pulls up the appropriate medical records automatically when a nurse arrives at a patient’s house to collect blood or urine samples.

“We’re basically moving from being a one-off professional services company using our own software [to build apps] to being a product-centric company that’s developing frameworks that will allow other companies to do their own development,” says Goldman. “But it’s a process.” And meantime, iPhone users can expect to see more fun brand-driven apps coming out of Apperian.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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