Are These App Services Launched in Houston Worth the Money?

Houston is a market a lot of new technology services want to test out.
Houston is a market a lot of new technology services want to test out.
Photo by Ian Lamont

By living in a major city, we get the pleasure of trying out new things. Sometimes they are untested products or services that are riding the line of legality with the city and government, but no matter, as long as there's a benefit to us for trying them out.

Technologically speaking, we're good with any service we can try out using our smart phones (there's no better way to share your movements with the NSA). In terms of entertainment and transportation, Houston is among cities benefiting from a boom in app-based products that are challenging the standard way of doing business, from broadcast television to taxi cabs. So we tried a small sample of these services to see if they were worth the money, and in some cases the hype.

Aereo

The Supreme Court is expected to decide soon on whether Aereo should be doing what it's doing. Broadcasters really hate this service, which for less than $8 puts the power of digital broadcast television into the palm of your hand (or on your laptop). Houston is one of only ten markets in the country to get this service. Sure, you can get a lot of TV on Hulu or through television station apps, but for $4 extra, you get 60 hours of storage. So that's a DVR for $12 a month that can record all your favorite prime-time shows (or those old Twilight Zone episodes that come on really late.) This service is worth it for TV aficionados. Not so much for dedicated cable-television heads.

 

Lyft

Just as much as broadcasters hate Aereo, local taxi companies really hate Lyft (and a similar service called Uber). The smartphone car-sharing-application market is in growth mode right now, dodging regulation in city after city. While it's a business that wants to make money, without overcoming local livery regulatory hurdles, local laws get broken every time one of these drivers from Lyft or Uber accepts money. Uber is taking the hit (in the form of driver citations) right in the jaw, while Lyft is skirting lightly around ordinances by offering free rides for two weeks to people who download their app. We used the service to go have lunch two blocks away from work. After we contacted the driver, Francesco, via the app, he came all the way down from the Heights to Midtown to take us two blocks. After a pleasant five-minute ride in a car with a pink mustache, we were told how to generously tip the driver via the app (we felt a little pressure there), but that our ride ($5) was free.

This service is not worth it. But it would be better if it were just free all the time.

 

Zipcar

This is basically a car-rental service, but without the ability to negotiate with an agent for a lower daily rate. Plus, there's no using a Zipcar if you don't have the app, which you need to lock and unlock the doors. The problem with this service is all the hidden fees. We borrowed a pickup truck from a lot near downtown. When we returned it a whole ten minutes early, we still got charged $50 because the electronic system on the car didn't update appropriately, and marked us late. Lateness starts at $50. Of course, the customer service gave us a credit, but still. Other fees included changing your reservation, which the company isn't really too upfront about. You have to quiz their telephone agents on the various ways you can be charged more than the $8- to $11-an-hour rate to rent their cars. While that might sound cheap, it's about triple what you would pay with a normal rental. Still, there's something about quickly making a reservation on your smarphone and hopping into a vehicle within minutes.

This service is not worth it. Maybe if you have money to burn and your car is in the shop, or if you are somehow a car-less city dweller who might need your own wheels every now and then. Use with caution though.


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