Edinburgh Outdoors mobile app reviewed

Edinburgh Outdoors Screenshot

This week the City of Edinburgh Council launched a new service aimed at encouraging everyone in the city to make more use of the city’s parks and green spaces.

The service includes a website, a free mobile app, a twitter account and a Facebook page. The development work was funded by NESTA, and taken together it looks as though there’s a lot of potential for the service to provide a far better window into the full range of things that happen in the city’s parks.

But this isn’t a post about another council Facebook page. This is about the apps. As we thought some of members would be interested in downloading it, we thought we’d take a look.

This quick review is based upon the iOS mobile app – there’s also an Android version out too.

First impressions

When the app is opened, there’s a quick ask for permission to use your location, and then you are straight in. The user interface is very clean and simple. There’s a menu button in the top left corner which let’s you choose between four options – “Map,” “Parks,” “Park Features” and “Contact Us.”

By default the app opens up in map view, centred on your current location.

The map view

In many respects, by far the most useful bit of the app is the map view. This is because you can use it to find information on things near your current location – or you can go off and explore other parts of the city.

The app currently focuses on four types of “things” on the map. They are: trees, monuments, public toilets and play areas.

So, this app could certainly come in handy, if for no other reason than the fact that a Google Maps search for “public toilets Edinburgh” currently doesn’t bring up anything very useful at all.

Into the listings

The markers on the map, currently link through to a listing page for each point on the map. And it’s the quality of these listings that is currently the most disappointing part of the app at the moment.

The quality of the entries varies greatly – and almost seems to reflect the priority given by the council to different green spaces. So, almost every tree, and statue in Princes Street Gardens has a fairly detailed – and often fascinating – entry.

Stray further away though and you start to see some holes in the database. For example, here’s the entire entry for the Dovecot in Lochend Park:

This isn’t an isolated example. A week after the app was launched there are a huge number of entries with missing photos and sparse details.

Amusingly there’s no entry for Holyrood Park, presumably because it isn’t managed by the council. Tourists are going to find that a bit odd, given that it’s Edinburgh’s most prominent green space.

But also, it’s a shame that the council has not provided richer details about other aspects of the parks. It’s surprising that there is not more information on how to get to each park by public transport, and what active travel links and facilities there are, for example.

Also if you have a look at the effort that the council is making to promote the service using social media, then you can’t help but feel that it would have been nice to see more of the conversations people are having about Edinburgh’s parks and time-based information, like events, or recent blog posts about the parks, in the apps too.

So to sum up:

Pros:

  • Proves that there is still plenty of information out there that you can’t find on Google.
  • It’s easy to use.
  • Includes some fascinating detail on some of Edinburgh parks.
  • It’s free

Cons

  • Feels unfinished (will probably improve with age.)
  • Very focused on council assets and information.
  • Locals might find the Twitter account more useful than the app for up to date info on parks.

Lastly, for the techy folk, you might be interested in this blog post by James Baster who worked with the council to build the service. It turns out that as a condition of funding, all the code for the project has been made available for free.

If you’ve downloaded the app, let us know what you think of it in the comments below.

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