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Zipcar — the car rental service with a Web 2.0 twist — has launched its hotly-anticipated iPhone application. It had stalled for a while in the Apple App Store’s approval process, but today Zipcar users have the power to not only find nearby available vehicles and make reservations from their phones — they can even unlock their rental car’s doors from their handhelds. Pretty impressive.


To understand why a mobile tool is so key, you need to be familiar with the Zipcar model. Operating like many city car-share programs, the company allows its members to use vehicles parked in various central locations on an hourly basis. You can reserve these cars online, and, without ever speaking to someone at Zipcar or visiting a rental office, you can go straight to the vehicle you chose, unlock it by tapping your RFID-enabled membership card to a windshield sensor, and start driving.

Now, with the new iPhone app, you can complete this entire process while on the go. Most of the cities with Zipcars keep them in disparate, high-traffic areas, guaranteeing that you are never too far away from a designated lot. Let’s say you are running late to a meeting — you could theoretically search for the Zipcars closest to your office using GPS technology, reserve one of them, and zoom to your meeting, even if you happened to forget your Zipcar membership card. Heck, you even if you couldn’t find your car in the lot — the app has a built-in feature that remotely honks the horn for you!

zipcarapp1Granted, a lot of this functionality already existed on Zipcar’s mobile-accessible web site (the reservation-making, not the door unlocking or the horn honking), but the official app has made going through the motions simpler and swankier. That said, the Boston Globe’s review of the app says some of its top selling points aren’t all their cracked up to be. For example, the horn wouldn’t honk and the doors wouldn’t unlock until the regular RFID membership card had been swiped — defeating the purpose. The point is that you shouldn’t need your card anymore. Hopefully these bugs will be fixed in future iterations.

Considering that Zipcar may be eyeing an IPO in 2010 (at least according to a slip by CEO Scott Griffith back in June), it would behoove the Boston-based company to polish up its offerings, especially one that appeals to so many of its devotees.

The Zipcar app is available now in the Apple App Store for free for existing Zipcar members. It’s unknown whether the company is working on the same for the Blackberry or any other smart phones.

The company, operational in 25 cities, including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, London, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, Toronto, Vancouver and Washington D.C., has close to 6,000 cars and more than 250,000 members in its system. It is backed by Benchmark Capital, Greylock Partners, Boston Community Capital and Globespan Capital Partners.

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