Thursday, November 22, 2012

Note to Location-Based Services - You Suck!

I moved to a new neighbourhood a few weeks ago and I'm directionally challenged at the best of times. So when I found myself lost a couple nights ago in a strange part of town (all the Danforth is strange) I thought it'd be location-based services to the rescue. How wrong I was. Four separate location-based services let me down.

Yes, I could have easily asked someone for directions, but the lesson drilled into my from childhood has me reluctant to talk to strangers - and I was determined dammit to use my mobile device (after all this is my research area)!

I was headed to a pick up a package from the Canada Post at a new Shoppers Drug Mart. I knew the major intersection - Danforth and Pape - so I got out at the correct subway station. But as I walked to where I thought the Shoppers would be, I was checking my mobile device and walked past the store without knowing it. Mobile device usage and walking is probably almost as bad as texting and driving, but so far I haven't had too serious of accidents (aside from walking into a few posts and dog poo). I should learn my lesson though.

After walking for over 20 minutes and not noticing that I had come to the Shoppers yet, I finally looked up from my mobile device and figured out that I had no idea where I was.

So I figured my trusty, new mobile device would help me! How wrong I was...

First, I tried Google Navigation. It correctly determined my location and even the direction I was headed (which was helpful as I was walking the opposite direction than I thought I was), but it couldn't help me locate the store. As I never considered that I had passed it without noticing, I figured something more odd had occurred.

So I tried Google Local they could locate where I was but didn't have any Shoppers locations listed as near me when I searched. (In hindsight, the two Google apps probably use much of the same back-end so a failure in one is bound to be the same in another.)

Starting to get desperate, I tried Foursquare. I mostly use Foursquare for their geosocial networking functionality, so I haven't really tried their newish "Explore" functionality. There was no point in trying it though. Foursquare also correctly located me but insisted that the nearest Shoppers Drug Mart was about an hour public transit ride away. No other Shoppers Drug Mart came up in a search of their database, despite the fact that I had previously checked into other Shoppers' location (and was once the mayor of the Forest Hill one).

I'm not a big fan of the mobile web, but I figured I'd give that a try.

At this point, I'd been standing in the cold November weather for about half an hour and my fingers were going numb. I was thinking those gloves that you can get to use your mobile device in the winter weren't such a bad idea after all and probably worth the price. (Great Christmas gift idea for your friendly lost-in-the neighbourhood Webslinger.)

So I searched Google on the Chrome browser for Shoppers and Danforth and nothing returned (despite their numerous stores on the Danforth). I went to Shoppers' website and tried their store locater functionality. ;It didn't work and it is almost impossible to use. It correctly located me, but it said the nearest store was incredibly far from me. Also, their map feature wouldn't display and the phone numbers couldn't be dialed or even really clearly seen.

Then, I remember the Yellow Pages app that I had on my Blackberry and had such great luck. Well, a search for Shoppers (in its various forms) turned up no locations near me.

At this point, I gave up and started to walk home. I did find that direction from Google Navigation. To my great surprise, I found the Shoppers right near the subway station.

Okay, how is it so hard for four mobile apps to not be able to execute basic functionality. If they can't get the location part of location based services right they are rather useless. I'm also puzzled at how so few Shoppers locations came up when I searched.

I tried the same search from my home again tonight and they all worked except for Foursquare and Shoppers' mobile webpage (which is indeed impossible to use).

Apparently, the other apps haven't heard of fuzzy search as if one types in Shoppers but not Shopppers Drug Mart they get the problematic results. (I thought for sure I tried various name combinations - but I won't rule out human error, as it surely wouldn't be the first time). Still, why would a shortened version of the name pull up some results but not others?

So I'm still convinced that although location-based services have a lot of promise - I still assert that - THEY SUCK!

(Buy me the gloves and I'll forgive you.)

No comments: