The Travelfish iPhone app: Angkor

Want to stay in the loop? Sign up for our iPhone mailing list here.

As we moved our first app into beta testing last week, we thought now would be a good time to let you know about some of the features of the app and show you a few more screenshots — just so you are completely tantalised!

First, a special thanks to those who volunteered to help with the testing. We had more than 100 people volunteer — thank you to you all. Unfortunately it wasn’t practical to get everyone involved in the testing, so we whittled the list down to a dozen or so to put the app through its paces.

I can’t really discuss anything in more detail without letting the cat out of the bag: Our first app covers Cambodia’s Siem Reap and Angkor Wat.

The app is called “Angkor”.

Keeping it simple
One of the tempations with the iPhone/iPod Touch is that few limitations stop you cramming whatever you can into the device, so our immediate approach was to put everything bar the kitchen sink in. The problem with this is that you quickly develop a massive dump of information that is both intimidating and unwieldy for the poor guy on the street that just wants to find a cheap noodle joint.

There’s nothing worse than opening an app packed to the lintels with information, only to get a list that goes and goes and goes and goes some more. So we tossed the list out the window and went with eight simple top level categories:

Background | Sleep | Eat & meet | See & do
Transport | Walking tours | Photos | Maps

Each section contains sub-categories and sections, but at a glance, you should know exactly which section of the app you want to head to. Here is a screenshot:

Screenshot of the navigation

Makes sense?

Delve a little deeper
Each section then has sub-sections. In the Background section, for example, you’ll find information under the headings of History, About Cambodia, and Planning. Each of these may contain smaller sections themselves. History for instance is broken up into more than a dozen chapters, each talking of a specific period and where appropriate matched with a picture. About Cambodia has chapters on Food, Language and Safety (among others), with these often broken into sub-sections — food has Eating Khmer Food, Snacks, Insects and so on. So it’s four levels of fun.

Before you recoil from what sounds like a hellish conflagration of lists, listen to this: No lists are involved. Well, there is a list if you want to use it, but the important thing is you don’t need to. Instead we make use of the great iPhone swiping feature to allow the reader to flick through the sections looking for one that catches their eye — sort of like how you’d leaf through a book. Here is a partial screenshot showing a couple of history snaps.

Screenshot of the history snapshots

What this means is that you can dig deeper and deeper into various subjects, learn a bit (we hope!) and be helped along with the photos.

If you’re scratching your head and thinking “Hey I didn’t read any of this on the Travelfish website!” you’d be right. The app contains around 40,000 words of extra content that we have written purposefully for the app.

Save time and money
As you probably know, many guesthouses and hotels can be booked online. Within the accommodation section, all the contact details are clearly displayed, but if a place works through property resellers (like Agoda or HostelWorld) then we also give the reader the option to click through to that site to make a reservation.

The problem is, resellers often have different rates, meaning that if you’re looking for the cheapest option you have to go check each provider and compare rates. We save you the trouble and show you the cheapest rate in our records that is available at each reseller. See the screenshot below for an example.

Screenshot of the accommodation

Decide where to go before you get there
Most of the sights, especially the Angkor ruins, have been matched with a photo. There’s nothing worse than reading about a site that sounds at least half interesting, only to get there and find four laterite blocks and a sleeping pooch. By matching the sights with pics, and with our straightshooting write-ups, you’ll be able to decide quickly what you do and don’t want to spend your time doing.

Screenshot of the sights section

This is further buttressed by a handful of walking tours that give you a range of different options and routes — helpfully marked on the maps — to help you get the most out of the app.

Stay on the straight and narrow
It’s just not an app without a map right? We’ve packed up some neat bundled maps with the app. You’ll get down to the ground detail for Siem Reap and Angkor Wat along with a bird’s eye view of the rest of Cambodia — including the capital and border crossings. This means you’ll have all you need to plan without needing to get online once, so no need to fret about totally insane roaming bills.

Screenshot of the maps

The maps are annotated with markers that lead you straight to listings (so click on Angkor What? bar and you’ll be taken to their review in the Eat section). It also works in reverse, so if you’re reading about Two Dragons Guesthouse, you can click on the map icon and have the map pop up to show you just where you need to go to pick Gordon’s brain.

And there’s more
The app also contains a photo gallery with hundreds of photos along with the standard stuff like bookmarking, help, glossary and FAQs. Results also can also be reordered and sorted to make it even easier to find what you’re after.

On the subject of search
There isn’t one.

We don’t mean to brag, but we reckon the information is so well organised and so easy to find that there is no need for a search facility in this app.

We thought it was better to eschew one totally rather than go for what would have been nothing more than a glorified filter — a solution that has been much derided in other travel apps. If you can’t find something in this app, we’re willing to bet that is because it isn’t there.

That said, if you’re reading this and just happen to be able to write a natural language search algorithm for the iPhone, please do get in touch ;-)

So when is it going to be available
We’re planning the final beta-build tomorrow (Tuesday) and as long as no last-minute problems flare the app should go to Apple shortly afterwards. Once they have it, we need to bide our time while it runs through the approval process.

Once it is available, we’ll be celebrating and will be giving away coupons for the app at the iTunes store. If you’re a blogger interested in receiving the app for review purposes, contact me at stuartmcdonald@travelfish.org.

Want to stay in the loop? Sign up for our iPhone mailing list here.