Reforest the Planet With Your iPhone

The iPhone is a lot of things to a lot of people. You can control your home, buy movie tickets, track projects, play games, and more. Now, you can also use it to help the environment. A Real Tree, a recent addition to the App Store, offers users a chance to use their iPhone or iPod touch to give back, in what could be the first in a wave of charitable apps.

Mokugift, the developers of A Real Tree, designed their application to stand in stark contrast to the much-publicized I Am Rich application, a vanity app which offered no utility and carried a very high price tag. A Real Tree also offers limited utility, in terms of adding functions to your iPhone, but that’s where the similarities end. The app is inexpensive, costing only $0.99, and it is designed not to show your wealth or massive ego, but instead your generosity. Using revenue generated by app sales, A Real Tree plants real trees in areas significantly threatened by deforestation, making it possibly the most appropriately named application available in the App Store. There is a one-to-one ratio of app purchases and trees planted, so the idea is simple…you buy the app, they plant a tree.

The real purpose of the app is clearly the real world tree planting, but it does have some features as well. Starting A Real Tree results in an animation of a tree growing, and then brings you to a screen where you can click a Safari link to view the existing forest. Mokugift tracks purchases of the app, and displays a running total of trees planted on their website, along with a visual map of where the real world trees are planted. The countries that receive trees bought through the app’s sales are Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Burundi, Senegal, Zambia, India, Philippines, and Haiti. Each is located near the equator, in tropical regions where deforestation has the most significant effect on global warming. Clicking on the tree image on the app’s home page will also start a short animation of a bird flying in and around the tree. Mokugift promises additional features in future updates.

The model is simple, and has shown some early success (nearly 100 trees have been planted so far), so it could attract the attention of similar organizations. LIVESTRONG.COM previously released their Calorie Tracker app, but it’s designed to simply heighten brand awareness, whereas A Real Tree is attempting to actually generate charitable revenue. The iPhone/iPod touch platform is a good place for this sort of thing for a couple reasons. First, overhead is low. Developing a simple iPhone app and submitting it to the App Store is not expensive, especially when compared to the cost of things like mailing and door-to-door campaigns. Second, iPhone/iPod touch users are a good demographic to go after, if you’re looking for charitable donations. They’re more likely to have disposable income, and as we’ve recently seen, they’re generally comfortable with marketing on their devices, and with buying and downloading applications of all kinds. Let’s hope A Real Tree begins a trend of socially responsible iPhone/iPod touch development.

A Real Tree is $0.99 in the App Store.

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