Depaul UK’s iHobo app sets a new standard

Charity iPhone apps have until now been like buses: you wait ages, then two come at once. Last week saw the launches of “iHobo” from homelessness charity Depaul UK, and Marie Curie Cancer Care’s “Blooming Great Tea Party”.

iHobo, as you may have read, is an “interactive video embedded experiential” application, where iPhone users take responsibility for a virtual homeless young man’s survival as he guides us through his daily struggle.

It’s provoking outrage. “These are real people, not f***ing Tamagotchi,” said one irate commentator on advertising industry website Brand Republic last week; “shameful” and “patronising”, tutted another.

Marie Curie, meanwhile, has opted for a gentler approach to support next month’s Blooming Great Tea Party fundraising campaign. Its app does nothing more controversial than let users decide who is making the next round of tea (users enter names, photographs and milk-and-sugar options, then spin a wheel).

So which approach is right? Marie Curie’s is a good app, but Depaul UK’s “Tamagotchi” sets a new standard. Getting users to make life-or-death decisions confronts them with the brutality of life for homeless people. And an effective way to influence elusive young donors is to understand how they experience and understand the world. If they do so through interactive games, then it’s right to risk trying the format.

And it appears the risk is paying off: iHobo has attracted praise in the national press. What’s more, it has started to raise money through its text-to-donate’ prompt at the end of the game. Almost £2,000 is the total so far. Not a huge amount, but as the charity points out, not bad for the early days of a cold fundraising campaign.