Questions Raised Over Dueling OC iPhone Apps

OCEAN CITY — The iPhone advertisements claim there’s an “app” for just about anything. If that’s true, you can include not one but two Ocean City “apps”.

Ocean City was primed to be one of the first East Coast resorts to be able to say that there “was an app for that”, but some in the town’s hierarchy were surprised to find that there was already one in existence. That surprise quickly turned to disappointment for some, however, after it was revealed that the “app” came from someone who had been a big part of all the discussions.

When MGH Advertising previewed the forthcoming Ocean City iPhone application at last month’s Tourism Commission meeting, MGH President Andy Malis boasted that it would be the first of its kind when compared to what the town’s resort competitors were doing in the realm of advertising and would be one of the many cutting edge components of the town’s $3 million ad campaign.

Yet, this week, when it was discovered there was already one in existence that not only appeared to be the town’s official application, but also featured some of the same color schemes and features that were to be offered up in the MGH model, some proverbial eyebrows were raised, particularly it was discovered who created it.

John Gehrig, president of D3 Corporation and president of the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce, said he raised his hand in “either November or December” and told members of the Tourism Commission that he was in the process of developing an “app,” and he says that in no way did he steal the idea, but rather, he just got his up and running first.

“We’ve been building this thing since last year, because you can’t just snap your fingers and build an app,” said Gehrig. “Nobody should be surprised because I told them that I was doing this back in the fall, and I’m pretty sure the app wasn’t invented when Andy [Malis] brought it up.”

Gehrig’s app, which is registered at www.oceancitymobile.com and acquired for free through the iTunes application store, launched in early February, but was first registered in March of 2009, according to domain records at GoDaddy.com. By comparison, MGH was working on the town’s new website in March of 2009 and didn’t pitch the idea for the iPhone app until a November 2009 Tourism Commission meeting.

Yet, virtually no one who was at the proverbial table seems to recall Gehrig informing them that he was developing an application for the iPhone and urges that if he had, there would have most certainly been further discussion.

“John is a smart business man and he’s always working on something,” said Ocean City Tourism Director Deb Turk. “If he did raise his hand and say that he was developing an app, he certainly didn’t say that it was going to basically be doing the same thing as the one that MGH was developing. If he had said that, someone would have said ‘time out’ and we would have had a lengthy discussion about that.”

Malis said he was surprised and disappointed when he was told about the existence of Gehrig’s app, but conceded that he didn’t believe that Gehrig did anything wrong, but he did question his ethics.

“You can’t steal the idea of a destination Iphone application. We live in a free society and John has every right to do what he did,” said Malis. “We knew that eventually there would be other apps that ours would have to compete with, but what stings a bit more is when someone who was sitting at the table is the one who created one and will be our direct competition.”

Malis said that even with the existence of Gehrig’s app, the town’s ad campaign won’t be adversely affected, but the impact of that particular portion of the campaign will be essentially cut in half.

“When the mayor goes out on his radio and television tours, one of his talking points was going to be this app and all it can do to help get people to Ocean City, but now there already is one out there, and it’s essentially a duplication that will divide the success of the app, and dilute the drawing power of either one,” Malis said. “Basically, no one is going to have two Ocean City apps.”

Malis noted that since Gehrig’s app is already live and available, whenever people search for the application via iTunes, Gehrig’s app will pop up first, and it offers some of the same features as the MGH app, such as hotel bookings and information listings, and upon first glance, it appears to be the town’s official application.

Gehrig says that his app is just an extension of his services to his client base, saying that “it’s my job to make sure that I’m offering the newest technologies to my clients.” In addition, he also noted that he didn’t have any “monetary strategy” attached to the Iphone app as of yet.

However, according to Ann Hillyer, Vice President of Stategic Marketing and Planning for Oceancity.com, the app will essentially be driving traffic to Gehrig’s clients’ sites, and in turn would generate income based on room commission agreements.

“Any reservation he makes for his clients he makes money on,” said Hillyer. “We make money the very same way with not only selling advertising on the sites but also getting a room reservation commission.”

Industry trends say that Internet hotel room booking has become almost the norm throughout the industry, but the next step is the growth of bookings done on smart phone applications such as iPhones.

City Manager Dennis Dare said that he was a bit torn on his stance and had approached Gehrig upon learning about the app in recent weeks.

“On one hand, I think that it’s a more-the-merrier kind of thing where the more exposure for the town is great, but, on the other hand, I’m not so sure that a little more disclosure and teamwork would have been better here,” Dare said.

With that said, Gehrig, who is known for being pro-active on the latest advancements in the electronics world, may have just beat the town to the punch. Yet, he doesn’t see it that way.

“People may see this as an unfortunate situation, but I see it as a very fortunate one,” said Gehrig. “These applications are where people are going and it just so happens that my business and the town were both being proactive at the same time. It’s not competitive, and there’s no reason for anyone to be bitter. It’s good for Ocean City, and that’s what we all want.”

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