Sometimes it's nice not to have an app for that

How a car-rental service lacking a smartphone app beat out the one that does.

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
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  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Scott Stein
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My Thanksgiving was spent in the New York City area, since my family all live on Long Island. But, since I live in the city in an area that's not conducive to owning or parking a car, I'm a renter when it comes to trips. As a result, services like Zipcar and other rental agencies are of great importance to me, as is the quality of their services as opposed to their apps.

When it comes to Thanksgiving car rentals, the city's supply dries up incredibly quickly--weeks in advance, if my attempts were indicative. In particular, Zipcar--the service that's high-tech enough to have an app that unlocks your car for you and offers a mobile rental portal for phones--showed me a map full of unavailability. My car savior came from another service, Connect by Hertz, that happened to have plenty of cars available. And, by coincidence, there's no app. I'm also an iPhone user, and I've become dependent on my apps. But this weekend, I learned a bit of a lesson about phone dependence: sometimes, perhaps, it's better not to have an app for everything.

A me-too competitor to Zipcar, Connect by Hertz is another car-sharing service that has prices and vehicles similar to Zipcar's, as well as a system that uses your membership card as the access key. Connect by Hertz requires a yearly membership equivalent to Zipcar's and works off the same car-sharing model, using your membership card as the car key and offering free gas fill-ups.

It's far from ideal to be subscribed to multiple services, as I am. But the difference is availability: a day before Thanksgiving, Hertz had cars in the city ready to go, many of them, on its Web site. I'm inclined to shift over to Hertz simply to not be stuck on major holidays.

Now, the question is: does not having apps or mobile portals make services like Connect by Hertz more off-the-beaten-path, and thus paradoxically easier to reserve with? Does not having an app make you the equivalent of that below-the-radar cafe that's somehow avoided crowds despite serving delicious food? And am I, by posting news of this, possibly doing the very thing I'm trying to avoid in the first place, blowing this secret up?

Of course, there's always lesson No. 2: don't drive anywhere for Thanksgiving.