Two weeks ago I was given a copy of the first Travelfish app for iPhones and iPod touches, Angkor. Here’s my review and your chance to win a copy of your own.
Angkor aims to cover Angkor Wat and the nearby town of Siem Reap. It’s written for independent travellers and covers restaurants and accommodation options for a variety of budgets. Travelfish, the publishers, have years of experience in producing top-quality independent travel information for South East Asia.
When I first opened the app and admired the pretty splash screen, I was a bit disoriented. The app runs in horizontal mode, rather than the vertical way I normally hold my iPod touch. Navigation was easy with eight clean icons leading the way into different areas. Since I’m still several months away from Angkor myself, I headed straight to the Background section.
The layout, which is similar right through the app, allows you to swipe left and right to navigate different sections such as history, background information and planning advice. Each section has a short blurb and the invitation to drop into the different sub-chapters. It’s written in a relaxed style, but is packed with details, making for good reading. Research is done by mysterious and secret Travelfish researchers, and recommendations and reviews are up to their normal, high standard.
The highlights of all the practical research sections — Sleep, Eat & meet, and See & do — are linked with an interactive map, which can be quickly filtered to show you nearby attractions, amenities or … bars. There’s also a geo-location system which, not having the iPhone GPS system, I couldn’t play with. Not that it would have done me much good from Auckland, New Zealand.
The maps also play a big part in the four walking tours that the app offers. I think these are an excellent way to help plan a day or half-day around Siam Reap and the historical sites, like Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. Skimming through the offerings gives me a good idea of layout and the time it would take to navigate what the area has to offer. They seem perfect for those with limited time, who need to see a lot before running off again.
The whole app comes together with the bookmark function, which is available from every article and description. This allows you to save your personal highlights and pertinent information to a central place, meaning you don’t have to go searching for it every time you want to find it. A universal search function is sadly missing, and something I hope to see included along with all the social functions that are planned (see interview below).
An interview with the creator
I wanted to get a bit more information from Stuart McDonald, the author and co-founder of Travelfish.
1. You’ve previously complained about the quality of many iPhone travel guides. Were you concerned about putting your material out there in this format?
Stuart McDonald: No, not at all. We saw the current lack of really well-designed travel guide apps to be an opportunity. Designing for the iPhone gives you the ability to add in all sorts of neat features — like the interactive maps, walking tours and photo galleries. And because there is really no limit to how much information you can put in, we decided to write a lot of new material just for the App, so it contains around an extra 40,000 words of information. The App turned into a great way for us to really showcase Angkor Wat and Cambodia and we think we’ve nailed it.
2. Are you happy with the first edition of the guide? What are some improvements you’d like to see in the future?
SM: Yes, we’re delighted with it! A few minor bugs have popped up (typos etc) but overall, for a first go at iPhone App making, we’re very happy with it.
A raft of new features will be built into the App through 2010, including the ability for users to download information updates into the App — so it really becomes the guidebook that updates itself. There are also plans to add in the ability for users to add new properties themselves along with reviews and photos. These updates will all be released as free upgrades to the existing App (and the other apps on the way).
3. The iPhone guide is different to the material in the PDF guide you sell to the region. What kind of editorial and style decisions went into writing for an iPhone app?
SM: You’re a little more restricted structure- and style-wise in writing for the iPhone than say for the web or for a PDF, but the same basics hold — the information needs to be easy to digest. We achieved this by breaking up each section of the App into smaller chunks, so for instance while it contains a 9,000 word history of Cambodia, that has been broken up into 16 chapters, each of which is in short paragraphs and accompanied by relevant photos.
We wanted to present an experience that was akin to standing in a bookstore flipping through a book. The App contains a gallery of 200 photos, plus about another 100 or so outside the gallery. The user can “swish” through the different sections of the App and see clearly written text accompanied by a relevant photo. We think this effect really differentiates the App from any of the other travel guide Apps currently on the market.
At US$7.95, I think Travelfish’s Angkor app is a valuable addition to your travel planning. It’s a steal, if you think about the information you get. Because you don’t need an internet connection, I would certainly consider it as an alternative to a traditional paper guidebook to the region, and I look forward to the series being filled out so I could potentially avoid killing trees entirely.
Win a copy of Angkor for your iPhone or iPod touch
Travelfish has given us a copy of Angkor to give away. You must supply your own iPod touch or iPhone and have access to iTunes and the iTunes Store. The competition is open to everyone but you have to be able to use (or create) a US iTunes account to use the redemption coupon.
To enter, leave a comment below telling us why you love South East Asia or why you’d love to visit. You can get one bonus entry by tweeting the following:
Win a copy of @travelfish’s Angkor app with @indietravel – http://su.pr/7Yhgpj – I just entered.
The competition closes at 12pm NZ time on 27 January 2010.