Friday, July 22, 2011

The RAGBRAI App is Here! But Lackluster... (Review)

2 days ago, the RAGBRAI committee released the RAGBRAI App.  I was eagerly anticipating this since my wife and I are participating this year and we definitely longed for a smartphone app after dealing with information gathering during last year's trip.  When I heard that iMapMyRide was doing the app, I was definitely interest to see what they could build.



After last year's RAGBRAI, we basically came up with a wishlist of what we wanted in an app.

  • Access to the general information
  • Everything is locally cached so as not to rely on the internet in a rural area.
  • Daily maps of each day with rider and driver routes highlighted
  • Quick access to overnight websites
  • Current location
  • POI locations for camping, food, showers
  • Group messaging
  • An easy to use interface
The Review
So I was excited to see the app come out Wednesday, and I immediately downloaded it to my Droid X.  I signed in with my iMapMyRide ID and found a nice colorful interface.  I went through our wishlist to see if it did everything we wanted.

General information and FAQ is handled well.  Each heading is expandable for quick access.  There is a list of Expo vendors and their descriptions.  This is great, however each vendor has a website listed and none of them are clickable links.  Transposing a website is not user friendly on a phone.  I did notice that the app was continually accessing the internet for this info.  Not good when you have no signal in rural Iowa.

Maps are pretty key when navigating RAGBRAI.  The app has a single map button that displays the entire map for the week along with all points of location.  Good idea, bad execution.  Where is the driver route?  Loading all POIs and the route definitely puts a load on the system.  My Droid X can handle it, but this is going to be a stuttery mess on older Android phones and the iPhone.  If you tap a POI, it brings up a small window of information.  That is a good feature because just about all the icons look the same.  But the user cannot another area of the map and have the window disappear.  This is particularly annoying when the extra info window covers a quarter of the screen.  You can click other locations, but you can't make the windows go away.  

Turning on and off the different types of POIs is nice.  There is no display of your current location so you don't know where you are in relation to any of the points.

There is no group messaging.

You have to pay to track other riders.  Really!?

Any part of the participant button does not work.  If you search for a rider, the app does nothing.  

Overall, I would give this app a 2 out of 5 starts.  It looks nice, but there are a lot of problems.  The fact that the app relies on the internet constantly will be a very difficult thing to deal with in rural iowa with 10k other people trying to use the internet.  Plus if they are going to expect a rider to run this app using the GPS and internet all the time, they are going to have some very angry riders when their batteries are drained after an hour of riding.  Aside from the General Information button, the poor functionality execution makes this app next to worthless.  And users are certainly not going to pay $3.99 for a broken experience.  What a waste of an opportunity...

Alternatives
There are some alternatives apps that will help you out during RAGBRAI.  Glympse is a FREE app that does an excellent job of displaying your current location and route history and sharing it with anyone that has an email address.  If you are part of the Google+ beta, using the huddle feature is a great way to group message. I think printing the maps from each of the overnight towns websites is a much more effective plan. Though not possible in android it would be nice to put the rider route or the driver route in Google navigation.  That would a particularly good use for drivers.

My advise: don't use this app if you are a rider.  It will destroy your battery in a heartbeat.

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