Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Two new apps for the Travel category leave out essential features like AirPlay and translations for potential tourists

The travel category is one that has really benefitted from Apple's introduction of the iPad. While travelers – both business and pleasure travelers – can now use their smartphones to secure reservations, check on the flights and more, the iPad's bigger real estate makes reading travel magazines, books and guides immensely more pleasurable than print only.
Today the National Geographic and Fotopedia have released their second universal app together, Above France. This app, unlike the previous one, Dreams of Burma, will cost readers $2.99 to download.

In addition to the two apps released with National Geographic, Fotopedia also has several other apps that appear in the travel section, including Fotopedia Paris.

“We are thrilled to collaborate with National Geographic Traveler again,” said Jean Marie Hullot, CEO of Fotopedia in the company's announcement of the new app. “If you think that France is beautiful, wait until you see this app. It’s a love letter written with a camera and a helicopter. We are grateful that Frank Mulliez decided to share his extraordinary adventures with us in this brand new app.”

The app certainly delivers a lot of photography content, and has lots of bells and whistles such as social media sharing.

But the apps produced by Fotopedia have two problems, one small, one huge.

The small problem is that they consistently have load problems. One or more sections of either app I have on my iPad will give you that loading symbol forever unless you shutdown the app and reopen it. Upon reopening the app all appears fine, hence why this is a small problem.

The second issue is the lack of AirPlay built into the app. With all these great looking photographs why wouldn't you want to share them with the rest of the family by streaming them to your television? I found it astonishing that AirPlay was not built into the Fotopedia Paris app, and even more astonishing with the new one.

So far all the Fotopedia apps look identical indesign which tells me that the new company, which has raised some $6.5 million from investors so far, is more a tech company than a publishing company. As I've written in the past, app producers who end up making lots of clone apps often stop innovating. Hopefully this won't with Fotopedia – their apps could certainly use some simple upgrades.

Another travel app that immediately got my attention today was for the French town of Albi. Albi is a modest sized town of around 67,000 residents located in the south of the country. For me, a student of the Albigensian Crusade, Albi a natural destination, though it did not play as big a part in the actual crusade against the Cathars as Carcassonne or B├ęziers.

Albi, the free universal app, is far more of a travel app than the photography based apps from Fotopedia. While Fotopedia apps can act as a way of experiencing a destination from afar, the app from l'Office de Tourisme d'Albi wants to encourage you to visit their town.

But here again an app fails simply because it has left out one vital detail. Here the app is completely in French – great if you already live in France and have not done much traveling around the country, but terrible if you are English, American, German . . . you get the idea.

Because Albi, the app, does contain a few photos, and some important information on hotels, I suppose I will keep this app on my iPad. But this app was simply not well thought through. Again, the photographs can not be stream using AirPlay, so sharing the experience with your travel partner is out of the question.

I should add here that if you are really familiar with your iPad you can get around the issue of AirPlay streaming. The answer, of course, is to take screenshots of the photographs you find in any app and then from the Photos folder stream them to your Apple TV.

But good UI would prevent readers from having to do all the work. The developers of these two apps should have thought about the end user a bit more when creating their new travel apps.