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Review: Taking car insurance apps for a spin

When a car problem strikes — like an accident or auto theft — you count on your car insurance company to be there. A new generation of iPhone apps strives to keep your insurance company by your side at all times: A virtual agent is available 24/7 to direct you to emergency roadside assistance, walk you through accident protocol or display your coverage details.

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Here we’ll guide you through the highs and lows of today’s top car insurance apps from some of the largest carriers. Ratings are provided by Insure.com and are based on the following virtues of a car insurance app:

  • User interface: An interface should be easy on the eyes and fingertips, with an intuitive navigation and layout.
  • Accident claims: Car insurance apps really prove their value in a crisis. A good accident app offers a clear path through the process of collecting information, getting help and initiating an auto insurance claim.
  • Services: Car insurance services tap into the iPhone’s 3G-powered information network. Access emergency roadside assistance, find the nearest gas station or view key stats on cars you may consider buying.
  • Account administration: Manage your existing account from your phone or shop for new car insurance coverage. You can pay your bill, view your coverage details or get a car insurance quote. 

Overall, your smartphone should put you in touch with key resources when you need them. Car insurance apps should strive to make the most of your 3G connectivity, GPS, camera and graphical navigation tools.

Farmers iFarmers and iClaim
4 stars
 

 

Highs

Between its two apps, iFarmers and iClaim, Farmers Insurance covers all the bases. The iFarmers app features a full menu of account-administration features, and iClaim lets you file and track insurance claims. The high point of the entire two-app effort is the claims information interface, which integrates the iPhone’s GPS and camera and features spiffy vehicle damage graphics.

Lows

Integration issues are the only downfall of the Farmers suite. Distributing insurance account and claims features across two apps is a recipe for inefficiency. This creates multiple data entry requirements, with no integration of account data across the Farmers Web site and the two apps.

The view from the driver’s seat

Farmers’ apps deliver an extensive roster of features. All the greatest hits of car insurance apps are here: online bill pay, policy management, user-friendly claims reporting and GPS-powered links to nearby services. The star of the iClaim app is the claims reporting, called HelpPoint. The app’s home page exhorts users to call HelpPoint rather than proceed to the mobile. This is an odd disclaimer, given the added value the app provides. Users can complement a claims call by taking photos of vehicle or property damage, collecting the other driver’s information and recording incident details using an automated GPS and time stamp. Claims reporting is well-appointed for a potentially distressed user, with suggested camera angles and a rotatable vehicle graphic for noting exact damage (simply touch the graphic to record damage sites). Altogether, the HelpPoint app is thoughtfully programmed to serve as a steady assistant in a time of crisis. Meanwhile, useful side features are on hand for extended functionality. Two standouts ‘are the Farmers Alerts emergency-notification system and the Home Inventory log. There are also “how to” videos (for example, “How to Change a Car Tire”).

Farmers’ app developers should have quit while they were ahead, however. The remaining features -- video advertisements and irrelevant games, for example -- offer little value to justify their inclusion in an already full-featured app. The “everything but the kitchen sink” design philosophy may account for the most serious short-coming of the Farmers app suite: the lack of integration between the two apps. The two discrete apps may represent a design choice or a technical necessity, but one thing is clear — a single app with all the essentials would have been better than two with some high-value essentials and a lot of high-bandwidth extras.

State Farm Pocket Agent
4 stars
 

 

Highs

State Farm’s Pocket Agent goes the extra mile with visual media tools for accident reporting. Sketch the scene, pinpoint vehicle damage on a car diagram and take photos.

Lows

The app falls short in the account-administration department, which lacks standard features such as “bill pay” and policy details.

The view from the driver's seat

State Farm’s Pocket Agent brings the wow! factor to car insurance apps with its use of graphics and drawing tools for accident reporting. The home-page menu stumbles a little as a user interface, with oddly redundant fields for “after an accident” and “document an accident.” Once you drill into any of the five sections, however, the capabilities are clear and impressive. “Find a repair facility” wastes no steps with an exterior link to Google maps or a request for your location; instead, it uses the phone’s internal GPS to automatically call up a list of service stations near you. “Document an accident” brings together all the pertinent reporting details in a single interface, which functions as a straightforward checklist ideal for accident-stressed users. GPS-defined location? Check. Photos? Check. Robust multimedia tools let you check off areas of damage on a vehicle graphic and even draw the accident on a street map complete with trees, trains, bicycles and other features you can add with the tap of a finger.

There’s room for improvement in this ambitious reporting tool; namely, the vehicles can’t be oriented on the street map, there aren’t guidelines for photo shots and the damage can’t be marked precisely. The Yes-No checkbox for fatalities exposes technology’s tin ear for tragedy (at least it isn’t a dropdown box). But overall, Pocket Agent wins for setting a high bar and for the most part, achieving the desired functionality.

 

American Family My Amfam
3 stars

 

 

Highs

A no-nonsense user interface makes it easy to take care of business and be on your way. Robust administrative tools are the stars of this practical app.This app is armed with comprehensive bill-pay and insurance claims-tracking functions.

Lows

The app falls short in the incident reporting department. The claims form misses some key points (how about recording the other driver’s information after an accident?) and requires accident victims to tap information into the tiny keyboard. With competing apps offering everything from drop-down menus to interactive mapping and drawing functions, My Amfam is behind the curve on information reporting.

The view from the driver's seat

My Amfam is a sensible app that covers the major bases — account administration and a link to emergency roadside assistance— but leaves plenty of room to improve in key areas such as claims reporting. The user interface is pleasingly straightforward, unencumbered by flashy branding or links to TV ads. Administrative functions offer comprehensive account management, with access to bill pay, insurance claim initiation and tracking, and one-touch links to Amfam’s customer service hotline and local agents. The only downside of the administrative section is its reliance on internal links to the Amfam website. These web-based functions are integrated into the app’s interface, but the links to the website bog down the app with excruciatingly slow page loads and occasional app crashes.

But it’s really in the accident and damage claims section that My Amfam’s utility as a mobile access point falters. And it’s this feature that users are most likely to need on the road. The ability to document the details of a claim at the scene of the incident is arguably the highest purpose of a car insurance app—the ability to pay an insurance premium on the road is not. Competitors have shown what the iPhone can do in claims reporting, setting a high bar with interactive maps of the accident scene, embedded camera functions and a GPS reading of the exact location. My Amfam presents a limited claim form with vague headings like “Description of Incident,” using only the ‘wheel’ selection tool and the keyboard for data entry — even the ‘Location’ field requires a typed answer. This brief form offers no guidance on the key information to collect in the event of an accident, such as the other driver’s name and contact information.

GEICO GloveBox
3 stars

 

 

Highs

GEICO GloveBox does a good job of harnessing the phone’s full range of data-management capability. You’ll find your phone, e-mail, GPS, camera, Internet search and navigation tools all put to use in a comprehensive menu of features.

Lows

Administrative functions fall short of most customers’ expectations, while overloading the phone’s data resources. Sluggish upload of the ID card and account information reveals gaps and limited features, especially for users accustomed to online account-management features.

The view from the driver's seat

GEICO’s GloveBox hits all the right notes, with accident reporting, roadside service, and account features such as Bill Pay. Some users also enjoy GEICO’s friendly cast of mascots (the gecko, the cavemen, etc.), who reside in video links to GEICO commercials. But GEICO’s car insurance app really wins in its accident-reporting interface, sensitively calibrated to the needs of a traumatized user. The app takes you through a decision tree to help you determine whom to call, what to do first, and what critical information to collect. Where other apps simply link to the camera, for example, GEICO specifies which shots to take: the accident scene, damage to the car, and the other driver’s license plate. The Accident Helper’s interface is optimized for an accident scene, but victims of theft or vandalism can repurpose the photo tools for non-emergency reporting. GEICO also adds a non-emergency section of useful instructions to help you out of a jam: Learn to jump-start your car, change a tire or pack an emergency kit. If DIY is not your style, use the easy navigation bar to link to local tow and service stations.

However, the GEICO app falls short of the competition in the account administration department. Several account-access features are missing or unreliable — ID cards are slow to load, for example, and motorcycle insurance accounts aren’t available at all. Accident reporting doesn’t allow you to initiate a claim or e-mail accident information to GEICO.

The Hartford Mobile
3 stars

 

 

Highs

A sophisticated design and thoughtful “roadside” manner distinguish The Hartford’s Mobile app.

Lows

Aiming for competence rather than excellence, The Hartford’s app doesn’t make full use of the iPhone’s navigation and information networking capabilities.

The view from the driver's seat

The Hartford is a solid companion at the roadside, with emotionally astute accident copy (“take a deep breath . . .”) and straightforward reporting navigation. The app wins extra points for its accessibility features such as a large-print option for the display. It covers all the bases, with base-bar links to accident reporting, services, and account administration and solid navigation within these tools.

The app isn’t quite optimized to mobile technology, however. Despite solid use of the GPS, checklists and drop-down menus for accident reporting, the app quickly reverts to Web links and 1-800 numbers for other services. The app misses an opportunity to make full use of real-time customer information updates, preferring links to extensive general policy information (see “service details” for example) that require the user to scroll down into infinity. The word-packed copy is reminiscent of a paper handbook; it’s out of place on a Web site and unusable on a mobile device.

Nationwide Mobile
3 stars

Highs

Nationwide hits all the bases in this comprehensive app, which includes an easily navigable menu of links to emergency assistance, accident reporting and claims, account administration, and more. The app’s user interface puts functionality ahead of flashy branding, creating a pleasant, Nationwide-orange-tinged experience.

Lows

The devil is in the details: Reporting tools fail to integrate the collection of information, creating an erratic data-entry experience for users at an accident scene.

The view from the driver's seat

Nationwide's app is one of the most comprehensive available, with an accident toolkit, auto claims feature, “my insurance” info bar and search tools for locating a repair shop or car insurance agent. The app even includes a “Flashlight,” which turns up the iPhone’s bright white background (beware the battery drain of this feature, however, which could deprive you of a phone in case of emergency). A separate Nationwide app, Cartopia, does justice to iPhone-enabled vehicle-buying assistance, going miles further than Progressive’s cursory Car Buying Tools with vehicle specifications, monthly payment estimation and fair third-party pricing data.

But the user experience hits a wall in accident reporting and claims. While other apps offer an integrated interview experience to collect key information, Nationwide splits up information collection into discrete sections. With no flow-chart questionnaire to keep you on track, it’s up to you to remember to hit the menu back button and choose the next item on the reporting menu. It’s unlikely that the accident victims for whom these tools are designed will have the presence of mind to dip in and out of each information field to create a full report. Key information available only at the accident site — photos, the precise GPS-defined location and the other driver’s information — risks being lost in the mix.

USAA – Mobile Banking
3 stars

 

 

Highs

USAA – Mobile Banking packs a lot of utility into one app, with everything from check cashing to car-buying support.

Lows

Breadth is a double-edged sword, however. USAA – Mobile Banking does it all, but without the depth and finesse of more robust apps dedicated to car insurance support.

The view from the driver’s seat

As the name implies, USAA’s mobile app has a broader mandate than the car insurance apps on this list. Accident assistance is overshadowed by the app’s innovative banking utilities, including a virtual check-deposit function, bill pay, funds transfer, stock trading, an ATM locator and loan calculator. Deposit@Mobile is the app’s star feature, allowing account holders to deposit a check from wherever they are – “Just point, shoot, and click, and the money’s in the bank.” If this were a banking app review, USAA might claim a five-star rating.

USAA – Mobile Banking offers respectable car insurance and accident support, but it doesn’t quite measure up to the best of the breed. Features include an Auto Incident Assistance resources section, a virtual auto insurance ID card and even a car-buying feature. Accident assistance covers all the bases, but lacks the usability of dedicated accident reporting apps. The Accident Notepad, for example, features an extensive questionnaire with GPS-pinpointed location detection. But the user interface limits the utility of this reporting tool. Reporting questionnaires are segregated across five different categories, requiring constant back-button and save-button pushing and risking the loss of key information. Meanwhile, the forms rely almost exclusively on typed data entry, cluttering up the interface with a keyboard that blocks all but one or two lines of the form. There is no integrated camera for photographic evidence of an accident scene. Overall, the Notepad is cumbersome and not optimized for quick, critical accident-scene reporting.

Usability issues confound the app more broadly, making the entire accident feature suite difficult to navigate. For example, the app’s most useful accident feature, the Accident Notepad, is buried at the bottom of the Accident Checklist; meanwhile, “Accident Assistance” is simply a flowchart for phone service links rather than a mobile accident reporting tool. Generally, developers appear to have focused on adding more features than refining their usability.

USAA’s mobile app  handy bells and whistles such as the quick login option and the “flashlight” —but its car insurance features lack the UI refinement and depth to rival top performers.

Allstate Mobile
2 stars

 

 

Highs

Navigation is a high point of Allstate’s auto insurance app, with a clear menu and base-bar access to key tools and features.

Lows

The technology itself drags this app down. Each page in the app uploads stored data individually, disrupting the user experience with constant page loads and slow system performance.

The view from the driver's seat

 You’re in relatively good hands with Allstate’s user-friendly car insurance app. The flowchart accident reporting format, interactive reporting checklist and the ever-present base bar navigation make for an intuitive information management tool. Features cover the basics, with a couple noteworthy extras. For example, the app includes a direct link to send your insurance info to the other driver involved in an accident. But the basic functionality falls short in some key areas. The app does include an accident-reporting interface, for example, but it doesn’t use the iPhone’s capabilities to create a full record. The app doesn’t link to the camera, and there’s no way to record detailed information about the accident scene and vehicle damage. The claim form is really designed to initiate a claim rather than collect information, with fields covering just the basics. Account administration also aims no higher than basic functionality, omitting access to account information (deductibles, etc.) and online bill payment.

The real problem with the app, however, is its sluggish performance. Each move in the menu requires a time-consuming data upload — even if it’s not linking to personal information. For example, the claims section takes you through two steps, a disclaimer requiring an “OK” click and a “loading” screen to call up a standard “claim type” menu, before you can select “auto” and begin entering information. The constant stalls and “retrieving information” or “processing request” notices are likely to frustrate users, especially at the scene of an accident.

Esurance Mobile
2 stars

 

 

Highs

Esurance’s car insurance app features a stylish user interface with some valuable features such as bill pay, a mobile copy of your insurance ID card, and a vehicle-repair tracking feature.

Lows

The slick look does not do much to conceal the absence of deep functionality. Claims reporting is the low point of this app, offering a menu of links to the same 800 number rather than the more robust data-entry and claim submission features of other car insurance apps.

The view from the driver’s seat

With a name like Esurance, one would expect this app to lead the mobile app market. Esurance Mobile does strike a next-generation pose. Hip graphics on a glowing green background and links to social media hot spots gesture Esurance’s comfort with a media-savvy Web 3.0 generation. The base-bar menu links to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, MySpace and more. The Flickr link proudly displays shots of Sasquatch and other trendy music festivals underwritten by the company. These may add to Esurance’s cool factor, but they don’t have much to do with car insurance.

Esurance Mobile’s insurance tools, meanwhile, don’t aspire to anything more than basic functionality. The account-management features include a bill-pay option, basic account information and a digital ID card (not valid as proof of insurance in all states), and claims-management features include a basic claims-tracking interface and a limited claims-reporting interface. The claims-reporting function exemplifies Esurance’s “form over function” app design. “Report a claim” takes you through a couple of steps before revealing an itemized menu of seven claims options. Nearly all of these options link to the same 800 phone number. Since all roads lead to Rome, there’s no purpose for the flow chart — if the app is not engineered to offer real reporting tools, then it should simply connect the user to the 800 number immediately, instead of requiring a circuitous data-entry route to create the impression of guidance and information.

Of course, what’s really missing here are the robust reporting tools of savvier apps like State Farm Pocket Agent or Geico’s Glovebox, which provide photos, time and date-stamped accident information, accident-scene graphics and a form for recording the other driver’s information. Instead, Esurance offers a unique repair photo feature designed to support a mechanic’s photo-upload progress report to customers. This feature seems gratuitous -- it’s not clear why you would need photographic evidence of a repair in progress, or why the mechanic would want to take on this additional obligation. Photo evidence of an accident scene, by contrast, is absolutely crucial and missing. Overall, the substitution of apparently innovative features for real function is a problem throughout the app. At some points, the app seems to use the iPhone’s navigation tools to create a false appearance of functionality in lieu of the real thing. For example, drop-down menus and finger-slide paging imply the presence of multiple options and multi-layered information, when in fact the information is superficial enough to fit on a single page.

Esurance Mobile is ultimately not much more than a pretty (inter)face, with car insurance features taking a back seat to hip branding.

Progressive
2 stars

 

 

Highs

Progressive earns stars for its claims-reporting tool. For non-injury car accidents and damage, the app provides a detailed claim-reporting questionnaire designed to help you record the pertinent details on the spot, when your memory and the evidence are fresh.

Lows

Navigation is a challenge, with some of the app’s most useful features embedded several levels down within the menu. The user interface also emphasizes branding over functionality.

The view from the driver’s seat

Progressive’s car insurance app features several useful utilities—namely, a detailed non-emergency claims-reporting tool and vehicle-purchase information. The claims tool is unique in its specificity, offering five questionnaires to cover every possible damage scenario: glass-only damage, accident, fire, theft or vandalism, and weather. The “who-what-where-when-why” format covers all the bases but makes you work to record many of the answers. There are some auto-complete features, such as graphics to indicate vehicle damage, GPS-powered accident-location data, and the ability (with log-in) to populate the customer information fields.  If you dig deep enough, you’ll also find hidden gems like a camera for recording vehicle damage. Other fields rely heavily on the keyboard for typed-in data. Overall, the claims tool wins in the level of reporting detail but is bogged down by unintuitive navigation and data entry in some areas.

Overall, the app puts branding over functionality. Evidence of is can be seen in the opening screen, which leads with a manic close-up shot of Flo, Progressive’s spokeswoman. Three links on the bottom bar of the screen and an information icon on top right corner are the only live areas on the screen—most of this critical navigation page is devoted to Flo. Branding priorities also undermine the utility of the car-buying tool, which is heavily biased toward promoting Progressive’s products and services. Nonetheless, the car-buying tool offers useful features such as crash test ratings and recall notices. But again, the app’s gems are hard to find; in this case, they are embedded in a laundry list of menu options that include offers to call for a car insurance quote, find a local agent, watch the latest commercials and find a local Progressive “concierge” repair facility. Once you find your way to the crash test ratings, you’ll find they are up to date through 2005—not too useful for the majority of shoppers who are considering a new or lightly used purchase. The cost-comparison tool similarly disappoints—after collecting detailed information about the make, model and year of your intended purchase, the app simply ranks “cost to insure” on a scale of 1 to 10 rather than offering a premium estimate or relative cost (such as 10 percent more or less than average).

There’s plenty of utility embedded in Progressive’s app, but users will have to learn the ins and outs of the navigation and user interface to ferret out the most useful features. A more user-friendly app would play down the branding and streamline menus to bring key utilities to the forefront.

Travelers Auto Accident Help
2 stars

 

 

Highs

A versatile and thoughtful accident reporting app gets the job done with minimal flashiness and robust use of the iPhone’s data tools.

Lows

Despite a solid performance in accident reporting, the Travelers app falls short (or fails to show up at all) in critical areas such as service information and account management.

The view from the driver's seat

 Travelers' accident reporting tool is firmly focused on function rather than form. Some unique features include the dual-level reporting forms — one for detailed information, one for quick reporting — and the multimedia reporting interface. The multimedia form offers a central interface for taking photos, writing a description, and best of all, recording your audio account of pertinent details. The app prompts you with talking points such as weather, your driving speed and road conditions. This no-nonsense accident tool rivals State Farm’s flashy visual interface — it’s more accessible, if less cool. At a time of crisis, photos and voice recording are likely to be better ways to record accident information than line drawings with props and typed answers on a miniature mobile screen.

Unfortunately, the strong accident reporting tool can’t make up for the limited or nonexistent functionality elsewhere in the app. As the name suggests, the app is designed to showcase the accident reporting tool. Gestures toward broader functionality such as account management and services, however, only serve to draw attention to the app’s omissions. The major absence is integration with Travelers car insurance accounts. Travelers promises to add this feature in the future, but at present it’s impossible to access any account information via the app. With other apps offer bill pay, a virtual insurance card, policy information, and online account management, the absence of real-time account information puts Travelers behind its peers. The “services” function also falls far short of the competition. Where other apps offer one-click access to services near your GPS-determined location, Travelers catapults users out of the app and into Google maps to search for roadside assistance and service stations on their own.

The road ahead

Mobile iPhone apps offer a new means for car insurance companies to provide service where their clients need it most — on the side of the road. Emergency assistance, accident reportingee and insurance claims make the most of mobile voice and data technology, connecting users and the insurance company with the right information at the right time. At their best, auto insurance apps support the driver and facilitate the claims process — all while delivering extras such as online account management and car-shopping tools.

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