: New:

I finally tried a Detour audio tour. These tours are like a neighborhood audio tour that you listen to on headphones, but use your phone's geolocation to figure out if you're at the right place to hear the next bit. They work by means of an iPhone app; but for the Market Street Prototyping Festival (I love all of the undefineds on that page, little gaps in JS APIs reminding us of what we can expect of prototypes.), the kind Detour folks were loaning out iPhones, so Android users such as myself could try it out. (Though it took me a few minutes to figure out how to turn the phone on. The next person who tells me about elegant iPhone ease-of-use should brace for cussing.)

tl;dr: Detour's a cool app, but the wise content creator won't lean on the newfangled features too hard; rather, concentrate on creating some great audio and let the app features complement that.

I was curious how/if this app could work. Playing with Munzee and Ingress, I knew the frustration of an app that only worked right if it at least kinda knew where you were—because with geolocation nowadays, your phone is all-to-often a half-block off. This sample audio tour took place along Market Street, which is pretty bouncy, GPS-signal-wise. How could the audio-tour folks put together something that worked smoothly if it was only dimly aware of where I was?

Well, it didn't know exactly where I was. At one point, it told me to go stand next to a BART entrance. I did, and wondered why the app's narration didn't resume. I hauled the phone out of my pocket, looked at the app's wayfinding compass—and saw it was directing me 100m forward, crashing through a construction fence. Instead, I Brownian motioned around until the app un-confused itself and resumed telling me where to go.

But that only happened once. I doubt that's because the app always had a firm grasp of where I was. Rather, it's because the tour's content built in some "wiggle room" for geolocation. It told me where to go and gave me plenty of time to get there. It gave me so much time, I think I walked past its waypoints a few times. At one point, it told me to cross Market St. to Midtown Jewelry—which was behind me by a block.

(I may have walked even faster than my usual jumble hop. I think the distraction of the audio made me concentrate more on walking, concentrate more on dodging around people. Janet Cardiff's video walk in SFMOMA made my brain concentrate on dodging things that were no longer there. This audio tour got me similarly focused, but only on things that were there.)

Parts of the tour took place inside the Main Library. These didn't seem to use geolocation. (Obviously not GPS inside. Did it try to geo-locate? The app has permission to use bluetooth. Is there such a thing as a bluetooth beacon that you could put inside the library? IDK. Anyhow.) Instead, these relied on user pausing the narration if they fell behind.

It makes you think: Was this app with its fancy-pants geolocation easier or harder to use than a plain ol' audio player with a pause/resume button? I think it's easier. Not for me, not on this particular tour, but in general: this app is easier than a plain ol' audio player. This particular tour only sent me to places that I knew about. It was easy to get ahead of the narration; I never felt lost. But what if I'd been an out-of-towner? Or what if I'd been in some part of the city I didn't know? Then that built-in wayfinding compass, the built-in map—those would have been darned nice to have.

Tags: pedestrian

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