The Chipotle App Update Is the Most Important App Update

Illustration for article titled The Chipotle App Update Is the Most Important App Update

If you want to contribute toward the pixelated glory of the species, look away from Foursquare, Uber, Snapchat, Temple Run, "Path," or whatever the hell else. These are sideshows and baubles. Chipotle's first update since 2009 is why tech matters.

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Most apps, and the wide-eyed money-funnels who make them, start from one premise: what's an idea that's simple enough to explain to a teen, but confusing enough to get an investment from an adult? And so you have your Social Geo Photo stuff, your Sharing, your Social Photos, your Collaborative Shoes. You have what amounts to an inventory by Mad Libs—silly names for silly products that solve silly problems no one really has.

But the Chipotle app was different. There were no gimmicks, no conceit. It didn't begin with a false claim that we want to know what our friends are watching on TV, or how our aunts taste, or which way the wind blows. It began with the same premise as Chipotle itself: people like burritos and want to eat them. The faster, the better. There should be as little friction in the burrito process as possible—ideally, you'd tilt your head back like some sort of fragile bird, a burrito would materialize above your head, and it'd slip down into your throat like a pneumatic tube.

How many apps directly improve your quality of life?

This one did. You took out your phone. You found the nearest Chipotle via military satellite technology. You customized your burrito. Extra cheese? Sure, man. Pile it up. Pile it high. You pre-paid for your burrito with a credit card—currency, wired across the planet at will. Your burrito was prepared for you using swift, dirt-cheap labor and acceptable ingredients, and when you arrived—here's the best part—it was waiting, bagged, at the front of the line. You walked to the front of the line, skipping all the hungry schmuck's who'd decided to wait instead of using an iPhone, and then you just walked the hell out, grinning and flipping them all off.

Chipotle then abandoned the app for four years. Not a single update acknowledged the change in resolution, screen size, and functionality in the iPhone. It was a grotesque little gremlin of an app, and it fell out of use. Chipotle stores were offering brown rice for the benefit of our bowels, and the app was still stuck in 2009, fuck.

Today, without warning, the switch is flipped. The update we've been anticipating—and deserving—since the first Obama inauguration is here, and you should care. A lot! Not because you like Chipotle (there's a good chance you don't), not because you have an iPhone (there's a good chance you don't) or not because you're lazy enough to be excited by a food app. You should care because this is one download that actually tries to make human lives better. A rarity. This is the moon base, the steam engine, the smoother road and deadlier artillery. This is why we combine pieces to make something new and better, why we dream of colonizing Mars and subjugating its inhabitants to our cruel sexual whims. This app is humble, but it's why we try better.

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It makes ingesting something tasty enjoyable by stripping out the physical and emotional annoyances—lines, waiting, talking to people, touching money—and replacing them with a screen. It's just a burrito app, but it's a burrito app that will make you feel like a Latin American superman, who can summon food with his fingers, knows not the feeling of coinage, and skips to the front of the line. Every app should aim so high. [iTunes]

DISCUSSION

"and when you arrived—here's the best part—it was waiting, bagged, at the front of the line."

Okay this is the part that I take issue with. I was very quick to adopt this app when it came out in 2009. I was about as enthusiastic as the guy writing the article. The convenience, oh how I love the convenience (or the idea of the convenience). But here within lies a problem, and the problem is not with the technology, screen format or brown rice option. The problem is where the technology met the human element. EVERY SINGLE TIME I arrived at Chipotle I found that burrito hadn't yet been made. The ticket would just be sitting there while the workers tried to get people through the line as quickly as possible. The other problem is that I often had to awkwardly explain that I ordered my burrito via an app, an app that most of the employees had never heard of and didn't know the procedure for. I soon discovered it was actually more efficient to wait in line like the rest of the schlubs.

Have written all this, I'm suddenly reminded of the "First World Problems" meme. So lets just be clear, I'm not saying "OMG, my life is so terrible, I can't use an app to get my burrito instantly, I have to wait 5 seconds." I more was just responding to all the enthusiasm in the article. The app hasn't been life changing, at least to me.