Let’s talk about Apps.
Peer review and community critiquing is critical to the success of our businesses, our products and, quite frankly, it raises the bar to where it should be. So, I’ve selected a couple of apps from folks right here in Santa Fe (including one that we developed), and we’re going to critique them.
Here is our rating scale:
1 Star: Not ready for release, please work on this app more.
2 Stars: Just barely getting away with the basics, amateur and unsuccessful.
3 Stars: Professional, safe, and relatively bug free.
4 Stars: Great UI/UX, awesome functionality, and executed well.
5 Stars: World class app, something to strive for, better than almost all others.
Santa Fe County Trail Maps
This is a Mindshare developed app that was originally launched back in 2016. This year the app was overhauled to be more informational, easier to upkeep, and a redesign was introduced.
This was a fun project to work on as I am an avid hiker here in Santa Fe. I think, among all the apps we’re reviewing, this is the one I am most capable of reviewing… because I actually use it relatively often (we also developed it).
On-boarding: There is no on-boarding, you simply open the app and start using it. I think this is critical for an app like this one. It does give you the ability to save/favorite trails. This information is stored locally so I can see a problem of losing that information should a user get a new phone or delete the app.
Functionality: Overall this is easy to navigate, easy to read and informational. But I think
Design: The design of this app is simple, easy and doesn’t have any thrills. This is exactly what an app like this should be. It does have a sort of old-school and dated navigation structure which I’d like to see upgraded. But that sorta works in the context… I don’t feel like I’m missing any clues or design aspects.
Unique Viability/Usefulness: This is a useful app because it’s the only place that I know of that displays information about trails in Santa Fe County. There are many other sites (Trails.com, The Outbound Collective, and others) that also show these trails, but none of them separate the trails into systems, or segments, or have as much info as this app does. Essentially this is the only place to get this information in a readable way. So, it’s useful… but doesn’t quite go far enough. It could be a website just as easily. In future versions new functionality could be introduced.
Final Thoughts: We’re proud of this app and are definitely looking forward to expanding it with new features.
Meow Wolf’s Anomaly Tracker
This is Meow Wolf’s first official app! Looks to be developed by them and is, essentially, an add-on for the House of Eternal Return.
It is so much fun to see Meow Wolf publish new works and I was super excited to try this app out. It did not disappoint. As it turns out, this is the only app on our list that can only work as an app… which makes it far more successful than the others on the list.
On-boarding: It was annoying that I had to give the app permissions for my camera and my location before even seeing a landing page. I think those permissions dialogs should wait until, at least, I’ve created an account or seen a splash page. I did like that I could use the app without logging in.
Functionality: It’s no surprise that this app just straight up works well. I mean, it’s developed by Meow Wolf and the team over there is awesome.
There are two modes in the app. Mode one is ‘Charter Mode,’ a sort of exploration mode that allows you access to the app contents without actually being at MeowWolf. The second mode is ‘Meow Wolf Mode’ which requires the user to be on location.
This is app is simple and super fun if you liken yourself to a Sherlock Holmes-like sleuth. It allows the user to dive pretty deep into the mysteries surrounding the House of Eternal Return.
Design: The design of this app is risky, interesting and part of the story. I. love. it. It’s rare these days that an app developer (or company for that matter) allows the risks that Meow Wolf has, and it’s paid off for them. To be fair, risk taking is pretty much what defines Meow Wolf. The only critique I can offer is the messy signal effect when navigating from screen to screen. As someone who is already familiar with the app this transition just takes too much time.
Unique Viability/Usefulness: Obviously this app is useful and unique. It’s part of the story and allows users to experience things they would not otherwise experience. No complaints here.
Final Thoughts: It’s awesome to see AR being used for fun, interesting storytelling. Since becoming sorta popular we’ve been inundated with interesting visuals, but nothing to bind those visuals to a real world story or experience. This real world augmentation is what makes AR such an interesting medium and I’d like to see developers/storytellers find new ways of connecting real world experience to digital experience. Meow Wold has done this, at least a little. There’s room to expand, but this is a solid foundation.
Santa Fe – Official App
This is an app Developed by the City of Santa Fe. It provides a sort of directory for local businesses, public services, parks and historical sites and other related content in Santa Fe.
On-boarding: All of the content in this app is available right from the start, without the need to login. From what I can see this is the meat of the app. This is great! I love when I can open and go. There is functionality that requires a login and they do offer account creation through facebook, but I received error after error when trying to use that method. I then attempted to create an account via email. After the app required me to upload a profile image (why?) this did work but it froze the app without any feedback. I had to close the app and re-open before I could continue. The number of bugs and bad user experience during this process was frustrating and annoying. If it was not for this review, I would have given up.
Functionality: This app is full of bad UI and bugs. This is likely because this app is a glorified web browser. Many of the sub pages are simply websites displayed in the app. In fact, on one of the map pages I can actually use my google account to login to google maps. And, I guess, the rest of google. Depending on how the analytics of the app are integrated, this could be a security concern.
Once I understood the bugs and UI challenges it became easier to navigate, but my initial use was difficult, confusing and frustrating. I cannot imagine a non tech-savy person using this app successfully. To start, I received errors whenever visiting a page with a map. Secondly, each sub page seems to adopt the scroll position of a previously visited page. So, I almost always had to scroll up to see the beginning of the content. In addition to this scroll behavior, the sub pages initially loaded a cached version of a previously visited page making me believe I had clicked the same button again. After a few seconds, it would load the new content.
There is a little heart icon at the bottom of every screen, but I’m not sure what it does. I thought at first I could save locations for later use but I cannot actually find where to save things. The heart brings me to a blank page in the app. This could be a bug, but I think it’s actually a UI/UX design error. Users need directions on how to use it. Even I, an app developer, could not figure it out.
There is a hidden feature that allows you to search and save users as contacts. When I tried to use this save contact functionality the app crashed. I’m still not sure why I can save user’s or how users relate to the content at all, but the feature is there… sorta.
Often when navigating to a sub page I was asked to download additional apps… I’m not a fan of this. To me this means there was little thought of what to include in the app and the answer was “everything, I guess.”
Design: All this app really does is display external web pages. This means there is no cohesive design. The initial landing page does speak to the breadth of things to do in Santa Fe, which is nice. That page in particular is well laid out and easy to use. But, beyond that, there are some basic design problems that I’m not even going to get into… it’s just not critique-able as there is not cohesion, UI design or UX design. It’s like a collection of juxtaposed websites.
Unique Viability/Usefulness: There is a fairly useful searchable business directory but I fear that I’d just use google to ensure I’m getting a complete list of results. I don’t know where this information comes from, but I doubt it’s as complete as a google search. Also, most of the pages in the app are just the relevant city website, but displayed in a hard to use interface… why would I use the app when I can just go to that site? Hmmm…
Final Thoughts: I’m disappointed in this app. It would work better as a web site (and much of it is). It’s a bummer that the City didn’t take the opportunity to create something useful, and user-friendly. I sure hope this app gets replaced/upgraded soon.
Margarita Trail Passport
The City of Santa Fe has been on an app development binge! Yet another developed by the City of Santa Fe. This is, by the looks of it, a popular download.
On-boarding: Upon opening the app there is a little slideshow that displays different features and offers some direction. This was nice. I imagine the audience for a margarita trail app might appreciate a little direction. Once through the slideshow I was presented with the exact same permissions screen as on the Santa Fe Official App. This is fine, but it did clue me into why Santa Fe city apps share the same bugs and functionality problems (hint: they are template based… probably.)
Once I was in, I got a blank screen that read “no posts over here…”. In fact, there is no information in this app. I thought maybe I had downloaded an older version of the app, so I went back to the app store and downloaded the lite version… and had the same problems. Update: After a few days of checking back the content has appeared… but all locations are displaying twice. (Are they compensating for being down for awhile?)
This app, unlike the Santa Fe Official app, offers account creation with both Facebook and Twitter. With Facebook I had the same problems as I did with the Santa Fe Official app. The Twitter account creation simply didn’t work, nothing happened when I clicked the button. So, once again I created an account with my email address. (on a side note, I’m curious how many emails I’ll be getting.)
Functionality: There are multiple aspects to this app but the main focus is a directory of places on the Margarita Trail. Upon visiting a location, there is a QR code that you can scan to ‘check off’ that margarita. The goal is to complete the trail by drinking all the margaritas. Cool!
I took this app out for a test run and the three locations I visited didn’t actually have a QR code to scan, so I wasn’t able to check those locations off, or test the QR code. So, I used a QR code that I generated. And, well, it worked. It opened a web page…. over and over and over again. Typically when using a QR code scanner you disable it upon a successful scan, the developers did not do this, so as long as my phones camera can see a code, it continues to open new windows. The good news… the scanning worked, and it seems usable and fun. But, unfortunately has run into some adoption problems with the trail’s local establishments.
There is a filtering option to display results by location (ie block, mile, city, state, global.) The Margarita Trail only exists in Santa Fe, so I’m unsure why a user would need state and global options. This, also, points to this app being template based and not uniquely developed.
Design: This app delivers content in the same way facebook or another content feed might. Photo, description, and some basic tags. There are also comments, presumably by users of the app (although no comments existed during this review.) Unfortunately, every location was displaying twice, this is obviously a bug. I’m not sure if the bug exists in the app, or if locations are somehow allowed to have multiple listings. Either way this makes for a poor user experience.
Unique Viability/Usefulness: This app allows users to track what margarita’s they’ve had along the trail and provide information on prizes, local business and other useful information. So, it seems super fun and unique.
Final Thoughts: At $2.99 this app does offer a unique experience but the whole functionality is broken by establishments on the trail that don’t offer a QR code to scan. Using template based apps is always a little frustrating and this one is no exception. I’d like to see this idea implemented better with less bugs.
Santa Fe Art Experience
This is a privately developed app that showcases art in and around Santa Fe. This app also acts as a directory, this time for local art, galleries and museums.
Ok, cool. First impressions are good. I was starting to worry I wasn’t going to see a solid app about Santa Fe, but this one might be it.
On-boarding: Right out of the gate I’m greeted by a nice loading page and I’m asked to share my location. Hopefully this comes in handy while I’m using it. There is no account specific functionality in this app, so therefore no account creation or login. Cool.
Functionality: I have yet to find a bug. Everything works as expected, the app loads quickly and the information is well laid out. This app should be a website as it just doesn’t do anything other than offer a sortable directory of art galleries. I was hoping I could get directions from my current location, or a link to gallery websites. Neither of these things are available which feels like an oversight. It’s an ok directory, but not much beyond that.
Design: Easy, simply, intuitive. This app has react-native written all over it… I bet that’s the language they used in development. It’s good. There is nothing that really stands out about the design, but it’s executed well. I’d like to see a little more risk… I mean, Santa Fe is the third largest art market in the US, there is some opportunity here to stand out.
Unique Viability/Usefulness: This is, yet another, directory app. I’m unsure about the usefulness of it. I feel like I’d rather like a website with this information as the app doesn’t offer any functionality beyond what a website does.
Final Thoughts: This app falls squarely in the great execution but doesn’t need to be an app category. It’s well developed, but could be a website.
Fetch – Local Delivery
This app is the entry point to a gig based business. It provides access to local fetchers that will bring you anything you need. It was launched back in 2017 and has become popular recently.
Ok, I’m loving this idea. Fetch claims to be able to deliver anything. The home screen in the app presents various categories like food (obviously), groceries, packages, office supplies, gifts, etc. Awesome idea!
On-boarding: Creating an account was super easy. I had the option to use Facebook or Google for account creation, which was nice. Both worked well and pulled in information that I expected (photo, name, email, phone.) It looks like I’m able to edit that info as well. I like that.
Before I’m able to do anything in the app it requires that I share my location. I’m not even able to browse businesses before sharing. There is an option to not share my location (‘skip for now’). But that just returns an error and brings be back to the landing screen.
Once I shared my location I get a solid list of local locations that (I guessed it) are all sourced from Google. This is an excellent choice, I mean, why re-invent the wheel? All businesses are (or should be) on google already.
Functionality: Creating an order was straight forward, although a little web 2.0 feeling. Creating an order felt more like a business process than an easy (fun) way of ordering items. It was difficult for me to keep track of what I added to the order, or what the running total is. This made things difficult when I had to go back and change things. Overall, it felt tired, sluggish and like I needed to have decided on items before opening the app.
Design: The design is just old. I’m not sure how best to describe it. Imagine the internet from the early 2000’s, that is what this app looks like. There are metallic gradients, dark backgrounds, serifed fonts… I mean, it’s all there. I almost feels like they’re going for nostalgia in their design, but it doesn’t play well, instead the design feels amateur.
Unique Viability/Usefulness: So, we have food delivery in droves. But, this app offers to deliver anything… any. thing. So, that’s awesome! I’m not sure if there are things they wouldn’t deliver, but having that option in my pocket seems awesome.
Final Thoughts: I think the intent is solid, the plan is visionary, but the execution feels old.
OF the 6 apps we reviewed the two developed by the City of Santa Fe were, by far, the worst on the list. Neither met basic development functionality and both had debilitating bugs. The privately developed apps (Meow Wolf’s Anomaly Tracker, Fetch – Local Delivery, and Santa Fe Art Experience) were all designed well and functioned properly. Meow Wolf’s Anomaly Tracker stood out as the most unique, and the one best suited to be an app.
I can’t say that I’m surprised at the lack of quality by the City Developed apps, but I sure hope someone at the city reads this and reaches out to us. Please let us help you!