Once Gowalla announced their API in February, I knew it wouldn’t be long before we started seeing native iPhone applications to help us find our missing items. After a couple weeks of silence two such applications popped up in within just 3 days of each other. Gowalla Sniffer was released on April 12th and Gowalla Swag just landed yesterday (the 15th). Sadly, neither of these apps were free, but being the Gowalla addict that I am, and having a few iTunes gift card credits available, I decided to give them both a try. Here’s what I thought of each:
I was both intrigued and suspicious of the $1.99 price tag on this app. Remember that we’re talking about helper apps for a FREE service that has given free access to an API. While I happily paid a dollar more than this for my preferred Twitter client, I did so because the reviews confirmed that it was worth the money. Unfortunately, I don’t have much good to say about Gowalla Sniffer.
The home screen of this app has 4 buttons:
- sniffer – As the title feature, I’m guessing this is supposed to be “the big one”. For me, it just shows a loading spinner for a few minutes and then pops up a time out error…every time.
- trackr – Allows you to bookmark something from your pack so you can see it’s activity after you drop it. Coming to Gowalla from Geocaching, I like the idea because it reminds me of travel bugs. I really don’t care to do this while I’m on the hunt for missing items though. If I really wanted to track an item, I can do so by bookmarking the item url in my browser (which I could even do via Mobile Safari) and I’m not limited to bookmarking items I currently have in my pack.
- monitor – You get two options in the monitor page: locations or friends. Locations seems to show a list of the places you’ve checked into most in different areas. When I hit this screen I get my neighborhood and my previous workplace. Supposedly it watches the available radius of those 2 locations for items you need, but of course it didn’t find anything for me. Clicking on friends tells you that it will automatically monitor your friends to alert you of missing items. All I get on this page is a list of my friends. Clicking on each shows the items in their pack after a few seconds of watching a loading spinner. I assume that if one of them had something I needed, it would show up at the top? That would be nice. Both of the monitor features seem half-baked.
- vault – If you use Gowalla, I’m sure you know what this does. It’s nice to be able to see your collection on the go, but now that Gowalla tells you if you already have something in your collection, this feature isn’t really necessary.
Overall, most of the time I spent messing with the Gowalla Sniffer app was wasted on watching a loading animation. It seems to me like the app is nothing more than a mobile safari instance loading everything from the web as you click each button. I even had to re-authenticate a couple times. I had planned to let a few users who had a lot more items to find try this app out from my phone, but when I upgraded to OS4 Beta, this app suddenly stopped working altogether. I guess I would have been better off investing that $1.99 in a cup of coffee.
After the disappointing experience that was Gowalla Sniffer, I was actually pretty leery about spending 99¢ on another Gowalla helper app – especially with an icon featuring the dreaded “Marker Felt” typeface. The description for Gowalla Swag is pretty short, and so is the feature set. I’m happy to report though that for the few things it does, it does very well.
When you open the app for the first time, you’re presented with a login screen. Once entered your Gowalla credentials, you get a list of the closest spots with items up for trade. Clicking on a spot shows you a list of the available items there. At the bottom of the screen are Next and Prev buttons that allow you to quickly browse the stash at each location. That sounds pretty basic, but it does this lightning fast. To give you an idea what I mean, I closed the app and timed myself. It took exactly 35 seconds for the app to start up and for me to browse through all the items available at the closest 22 spots to my current location. See something you need at a spot? Just click on the spot name and you’re automatically logged into the Gowalla web app where you can quickly check in and snag your prize. It’s not a complex tool, but definitely one that I’ll be using.
Long before the API was ever released, mad scientist and iPhone developer, Ben Dodson started creating his series of web-based tools to help Gowalla users find items. I credit his map tool specifically for helping me find many of the items I have in my collection.
Ben has been working on a native iPhone version of his suite of Gowalla tools for several months now and as one of the beta testers for this upcoming app, I can’t wait to get my hands on it. Functionality-wise, it’s sure to blow any other Gowalla helper apps out of the water. I’ll be sure to post details here as soon as I’m allowed. In the mean time, I’ll be reviewing any and all Gowalla apps that aren’t ridiculously priced and don’t *cough* have 5-star reviews from their developers posing as paying customers…because that’s just pathetic.
Quick update from @GowallaTools:
“And just to reiterate, the GowallaTools iPhone app will be free and awesome – full details coming very soon ;)” ~ 04/15/2010
I knew it was going to be awesome, but wasn’t sure about the “free” part. Thanks Ben!