Whether you're charging your car at home or using a public charging station, electric car charging often goes hand-in-hand with a charging app on your smartphone. However, there are many different charging apps out there with different functions, features, and use cases. How can you differentiate between them?
In this article, we dive into the topic of charging apps and explain the main differences between each kind.
1. Public EV charging apps
The type of EV charging app most people think about first is a public charging station finder. These apps mainly consist of a map that shows all the charging points in a given area and includes details such as the sort and number of charging stations. There are many different public charging apps that can be downloaded either for free or for a small fee.
Of course, other apps like Google or Apple Maps can also show charging stations around you. However, these services generally miss a lot of important details when you’re charging on the go, such as the status of a charging station and whether it is available, making them a less reliable option for planning journeys.
A crucial piece of information when driving electric, especially on long-haul trips, is the availability of a charging station on your route. Having to wait for the previous user to finish charging could add considerable extra time to your journey. Even with a fast charging station, it takes at least 15-20 minutes, so knowing whether a charging station is available ahead of time is beneficial to a smooth trip.
Using a charging app, you can check the availability of charging stations on your route and find out whether they are occupied. If they are, the app can help you find the nearest alternative that fits your trip, ensuring you don’t spend time waiting for charging stations to free up.
Beyond a charging station’s availability, its status is also important to consider when planning a charging stop. Like many other appliances, charging stations can sometimes break down due to hardware or software faults or problems with the grid. In either case, turning up to a charger and finding it out of service is a frustrating—and often stressful—experience.
A charging app can help monitor this aspect as well, letting you know when a charging station is out of order. As most public charging stations are connected to the internet, they can easily send information about their status in real-time to a database, which can then update charging apps with the charger’s status. This way, you can be notified if a charging station is out of service ahead of time and plan an alternative stop.
While most EV drivers charge their cars at home for everyday use, charging on-the-go is often required for longer trips. Generally, public charging costs more than home charging, as the charge point operator often adds a margin on top of the cost of the electricity used. As these differ between providers, it’s useful to check pricing ahead of time to select the most cost-efficient option for charging your car.
A charging app can provide information about prices in one touch, allowing you to easily compare prices between charging stations. If you have multiple charging stations along your route and enough range, you would be able to decide to charge where it’s more convenient and cost-effective, rather than stopping to charge at the nearest available charging point, which may not fit your needs.
Charging costs are particularly relevant if you’re planning to use DC charging, as it can be significantly more costly than slower AC charging. By checking beforehand, you can avoid any surprises.
Of course, charging speed is another key differentiator between charging stations. While an AC charging station can generally charge a car in a couple of hours, depending on the power output, a DC fast charger may be able to charge an EV up in as little as 15 minutes.
Both have their advantages, and the most optimal charging speed depends on your needs at a given moment. Regardless of which one you opt for, a charging app can make it considerably easier to find a charger with the required speed. Indeed, some apps allow you to search for charging stations with a specific power output, ensuring it suits your needs.
Charging experience and reviews
Beyond practicalities about a charger’s functionality, another helpful feature of a charging app is the possibility to check other EV drivers’ experience with a specific charging station and read reviews. In doing so, you can discover aspects about a charger that may not be obvious otherwise: for example, whether there are recurrent problems with a charging station or what kind of services that location offers.
This is a useful way to get a feel for a location and ensure it has amenities that meet your needs. Going back to the example of a long-haul journey, you might want to ensure that the charger’s location will have restrooms, vending machines, or a café, to name a few.
2. Home EV charger apps
Besides public charging apps, which mainly serve as a tool for finding charging points, home charging apps give you control over a charging station in a domestic setting. It is typically provided by your charging station’s manufacturer and designed to work with your charger.
Like public charging apps, these apps enable insight into the charging process and allow you to check the status of a charging session, manage your charger’s electricity consumption, and gain insights and collect data about energy usage.
In turn, a home charging app gives you control over your charging station by allowing you to manage many of its features with a tap on your smartphone. For example, you can remotely start and stop the charging process, receive notifications when your EV is done charging, schedule charging sessions, set reminders, and track electricity consumption in real-time.
All these features become very useful for homeowners who would like to schedule charging, for example, to avoid charging during peak hours, when the electricity (usually) costs the most, or to avoid powering many appliances at the same time.
Dual compatibility of EV charger apps
In some cases, a charging app can be used to manage both public and home charging, giving drivers the convenience of a single app for all their EV charging. This is often the case for home charging apps which also incorporate a map of available public charging stations, allowing users to find and manage chargers on-the-go as well.
3. Charging apps in electric cars
For most EVs, controlling charging is not limited to an app on the driver’s smartphone. Indeed, electric cars typically come with preinstalled software that helps manage charging from within the vehicle, often in more precise ways than an external app does.
This is because this app is constantly communicating with the car and can collect real-time data, which it can use to suggest adjustments to optimize battery life and charging. For instance, it may suggest that the driver slow down if it notices that battery use is higher than expected and the range needs to be maximized.
Similar to public charging apps, in-car apps can also communicate with charging stations, allowing them to know the status, availability, and costs at a given location. With this information, the app could suggest route changes if the nearest charging station is unavailable or add or remove extra charging stops depending on your driving style.
In-car charging apps can also be connected to the EV driver’s smartphone, allowing them to receive information and control charging remotely, similarly to home charging apps.
As EV adoption grows, charging will become a more crucial consideration for drivers. A variety of charging apps can help manage this process, each with different strengths and uses in different situations. We hope this article has provided you with a good overview of the different types of charging apps and their strengths.
There are, of course, many more features that modern charging stations are capable of, including a range of smart charging features that can optimize energy use, track and manage costs, and safeguard your home’s electrical circuit. To learn more about these, read our in-depth blog on smart EV home charging.