Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney's big running mate announcement looms just around the corner, whipping political pundits and talking heads into a frenzy of speculation over who he will choose. Die-hard Republicans and politically savvy technophiles alike can set aside fears they might miss the biggest news of the summer-there's an app for that.
When Romney announces his pick for vice president later this month, the news won't come through the media elite or Washington insiders. It will come straight to Romney's supporters, as long as they have an iPhone or Android smartphone. The campaign promises its supporters will know the news before anyone else, a tactic experts say is designed to solidify the candidate's base among young voters.
"Users of the app will be the first to get the news on the biggest political decision of the year through an instantaneous alert on the one device most people carry around the clock -- their phone," said Zac Moffat, Romney's digital director.
Users who download Romney's free app are directed to enter their name, email, address, ZIP code and cellphone number. The app also allows Romney's team to see users' locations, which could be used to target potential voters in battleground states.
Who Romney picks for his running mate, and when exactly he will make the announcement is still anyone's guess. The Republican National Convention starts Aug. 27 in Tampa, Fla., and in the past, candidates have typically announced the vice presidential nominee before delegates arrive for the party's big event.
Not to be outdone in the technological world, President Barack Obama's re-election campaign announced that it too has an app. But it's not quite as popular as Romney's, at least for now. BuzzFeed reports that Romney's app, appropriately titled "Mitt's VP," is currently the 15th most downloaded free app from the iTunes store after its July 31 release. Obama's app is 165th on the list.
The 2012 election marks the first in which presidential candidates will take full advantage of the smartphone revolution, which had just begun at the start of the 2008 elections.
Dr. Mark Smith, director for the Center of Political Studies at Cedarville University, in Cedarville, Ohio, applauds Romney's decision to utilize social media.
"This is clearly an effort to attract younger voters to Romney, or at least an effort to appear interested in younger voters," he said. "This is smart because Romney is at such a disadvantage with the youth vote, relative to President Obama."
But Smith isn't convinced the app will succeed in getting younger voters more involved.
Romney's previous attempts to engage voters through their smartphones ended in embarrassment for the campaign. The"With Mitt" app, which allowed users to post pictures of themselves with Romney-inspired slogans and frames included a typo-- "Amercia," rather than "America." But the new app doesn't appear to include any cringe-inducing gaffes.
Critics have said the "Mitt's VP" app is simply a rip off of the 2008 Obama campaign, which announced its vice presidential pick via text message to registered supporters. Many critics also called the app a thinly-veiled attempt to collect users' data and get them involved in the campaign, with the ultimate hope that users will become financial contributors.
But Smith thinks that starting a relationship with users, especially young voters, is Romney's real goal.
"The ultimate point of the app may not be to deliver the news first, but to develop the beginnings of at least a digital relationship," he said. "In the end, that may be far more crucial."