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Toyota's mobile app mandate: iPhone, iPad first

Tom Kaneshige | March 14, 2011
ow did Toyota navigate the tricky road between designing for multiple platforms and pleasing phone users who want native apps? Hint: Follow the signs to Apple.

Nelson thinks he's found a way to sidestep the native platform vs. multiplatform dilemma: Build for Apple iOS using tools that make it easy to port to Android and BlackBerry. Toyota uses top advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi to design the front-end of the iPhone and iPad apps, and Kony Solutions for the back-end ties into Toyota's database.

While Kony supports multiple platforms under the "write once, run anywhere" mantra, Bjorn Hildahl, director of product management at Kony, says his company employs more than 100 research-and-development employees dedicated to various platforms (including Android OS flavors) in order to deliver the native user experience.

"We make sure it feels and looks like, say, an iOS app," Hildahl says. "We take all the native widgets, such as a day picker or scroll wheel, and expose it to the Kony APIs."

If a new device comes out on a platform Kony supports, Kony promises to support the device in 30 days or less. For a new OS version, it's 90 days or less. "You don't have to worry about who's going to win in the mobile platform arena," Hildahl says.

Follow the Leader

By developing for Apple first, Nelson says, you get the best of both worlds. Why? "iPhone is really the standard bearer for smartphones," Nelson says. "We design specifically for the iPhone. Android is the same functionality and somewhat of the same user interface."

As long as the innovation leader continues to innovate, the thinking goes, it makes sense to follow the leader and port to the copycats. It also helps that the majority of potential Toyota customers use Apple mobile devices, Nelson says.

Such a strategy helps Toyota continually improve the mobile app, such as adding the VPN-photo feature. "The person, the vehicle, the product that you have today can always be better tomorrow," Nelson says. "That's what we always try to do."


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