Sunday, September 22, 2013

I Wonder What the App Developers Were Thinking?

Every year, we take our daughter to an amusement park to celebrate her birthday.  This year we went to a nearby amusement park, Canada's Wonderland, after the summer break in the hopes of avoiding jam-packed crowds and endless lines. We didn't.

We went the past couple of years and have always found it difficult to find one's way around the park. There are almost no way-finding aids such as signs in the p0ark. Even the mountain in the park central that used to be a reliable landmark for years is no longer visible from much of the park.  So we rely on the paper map that Wonderland distributes (at the front gate). The map is more of a stylish map with a high-level artistic rendering and listings of restaurants and shops.  It's not great for finding the rides as, for example, the entrances to rides are never indicated on the map and are often difficult to locate.

Considering that one wants to get in the maximum number of thrill rides and that easily 80% of one's visit (even on a good, less-busy day) is spent waiting in line (there are lines even for the men's bathroom). Time is of the essence and thus the need to plan an optimum route and get from ride A to ride B in the shortest amount of time possible is essential.

My daughter passed a height restriction milestone recently so she was now able to go on some wild rides. My wife hates rides, so I've had a thrill ride drought lasting decades.

So it was clear that this year pre-planning our trip was mission critical.

Our first stop was Wonderland's website to read up and prioritize the rides. Their website is good but not fantastic. I tried to download their mobile app based on a QR code they provided. But once I scanned the app instead of commencing my anticipated download of their app it took me to their mobile website and a pop-up message said I should download their app. When I clicked it nothing happened. It would have been easier if they just linked to the app on the various app stores.

Their mobile website is actually pretty good - and would serve the needs of most visitors. I'm a big proponent of the mobile Web, particularly when does not need to interact with a business/service very frequently. Most apps that people download never get used more than a couple times and the habit of endlessly downloading apps is not sustainable for users - so eventually we are all going to have to embrace the mobile web.

But the app promised to have GPS Enabled map, which I thought would be invaluable and would be difficult to do with only a mobile website. So I had to go to my device's app store and find the official app (annoying - as they should have had a link to it in the first place and it's difficult to find the official one).

After installing the app, I realized it is not significantly different from their mobile website. Mostly, it offers brief static content - most of which is useful, if not spectacular. The have an events feature that doesn't appear to work as it has pulled up nothing for September or October (despite at least a couple of events that I know are occurring). There is a "Friend Finder" feature that seems promising (as I frequently lose track of my wife) but they have no description of what it is anywhere and one need an individual and their friends PIN numbers before it can be used.

But the worst disappointment is the map function. Granted, they do have their illustrated map, which is handy as users can look up an attraction and have it flagged prominently on the map. But it has flaws: it's not completely accurate, it does not the ride entrance, and it does not zoom to a high level. Despite the claim that it is "GPS Enabled" it does not indicate where one is in relation to the desired attraction, as one expects with GPS-enabled maps. I can't see any GPS functionality whatsoever and it doesn't even have a manual way to highlight the route between two points.

Of course, there is even more they could be doing with their app - not only with maps such as showing where the nearest snacks or bathrooms are or where one parked their car - but also buying tickets to their attractions that cost extra, or delivering geo-targetted promotions.

What I'd like most is an excellent planner feature that would let me plan my day on their website and then view it on their app in a timeline or map. I'd also love it if they had dynamic information on the wait times so that I could hustle to a ride with short lines and avoid those with killer waits. Hell, since no matter what I'm going to be waiting for a long time - at least give me some content to pass the endless time!

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