WWDC: The Cosmopolitan App
The Cosmopolitan recently released an iPhone app to highlight the resort (actually, the version history shows this release as an update but I'm not sure the original version was ever public - I believe this is the first time we've seen it).
It's easy to make the same 'wrong amount of wrong' joke every time they do something that's a bit off. Well, strap in and get ready because after poking around a bit with this app, I'm wondering why they bothered.
Every hotel has to decide how they want to make information available to potential visitors. Those options usually include at least a Web site (possibly mobile optimized/responsive for smaller screens) and maybe an app. Up until now, Cosmo has had a reasonable Web site (not bad for casino hotels, though that bar is low) that displays a mobile optimized layout when visited on an iPhone (and other devices, I presume). The mobile site is nothing to write home about but it does include basic info like maps, phone numbers and the like. Serviceable.
So why would a hotel decide to make an app? There are lots of reasons, actually. Many technologies, from geolocation to communicating with other hardware (i.e. slot machines, hotel room doors, etc...) to advanced camera options, are only truly viable with an app (yes, I'm glossing over the technical details here but trust me on this). That said, 95% of hotel apps eschew these opportunities and instead simply reproduce the same content that's available on the Web.
That brings us to this Cosmopolitan app.
First, let's talk about what they did (and didn't) decide to include and then I want to talk a little bit about the design and user experience.
The app is based around several main feature areas:
Resort - As you'd expect, some information on the hotel, restaurants and casino. Surprisingly though, there's even less information here than on the Web, despite it being rendered via what looks like a similar mechanism (it would not surprise me if these screens are HTML from the Web site vs. native app screens). Booking a room takes you to Safari and the normal flow on the site. The app crashed when I attempted to get back to the menu / main navigation screen.
My Stories - If this app currently does anything outside of reproducing the Web, it's 'My Stories', a feature designed to let you take and group photos from your vacation to share. You can invite others with the app to join in and contribute to the timeline as well.
That said, people already have apps that do this and they're called Facebook and Twitter. I can't imagine why I'd want to use the Cosmo app's clunky interface for this instead of just going right to the source.
Notifications - This part of the app allows the hotel to send guest messages, almost like a personal inbox. The app asked for permission to send Push Notifications so I'd assume they appear via that mechanism as well.
My Trips - Here you are able to view details about upcoming reservations. According to the app description, it also allows for mobile check-in where they claim you can use a dedicated line and simply pick up your keys. Would love to hear from folks that use this to see how it works in practice.
Identity - More canned info from the Web site, in this case, a breakdown of the various Identity levels and perks associated. It also does include a link to check your Identity points online (though it wanted me to login each time, which was annoying).
That's basically it for features - there's not a lot to it. No slot finder, no indoor mapping with iBeacons, no cocktail-waitress-summoner. No magic. No surprise and delight.
If all this app were about was the boring feature set, I would have just shrugged and gone about my day. So why am I writing any of this at all? Because the app has such a poor experience that it pissed me off.
User experience is a term we use in software to talk about a user's attitude toward the product - is it easy to use, intuitive, etc... and this is where I really got frustrated because they've made several choices that make the app harder to use and as far as I can tell, there's no reason why it had to be this way (I'd bet on 80% them thinking they are clever and 20% lazy developers).
"Touch to Begin"
Every time you start the app, you're greeted with a moving background of shadowy naked people (looks like something you'd see on the video pillars in the hotel's lobby) with a button that says 'Touch to Begin'. Why?!? I already tapped your app icon to begin, why do I have this pointless interstitial screen in my way? This is not a kiosk in the lobby! Launching the app should have been a hint that I wanted to get started, not watch a pointless looping video... and to show this every time I launch it? Who in the world that that this was a good idea? Sort of unbelievable.
Once you make it in, the first time you use the app you're greeted with a alert telling you that you need to agree to their terms of service to continue. Again, why is it so important to get my consent here (their Web site doesn't do this and neither do their competitors apps) and why was the App Store's built-in licensing system insufficient? (Apple allows app developers to embed any special legal terms and make them visible in the App Store when you download an app). Not a good first impression.
After promising to surrender your first born (ok, I didn't actually read the terms), you're deposited on a screen that serves as the main navigation for the app, with buttons for the major feature areas. This screen also supports the ability to swipe left and right between settings and the 'My Stories' feature but the swipe gesture is improperly tuned and it's very easy to overshoot and end up in the wrong spot. Whoops.
This navigation screen also has a motion background, the result being that it's often very difficult to read the labels on the buttons. They're prioritizing supposed style over legibility and usability because they're ohhh so hip, dontchaknow? I don't want creepy ghost people behind my buttons, I just want to be able figure out where I'm going quickly. Do you want to stumble around looking for the right spot to tap when you're in a hurry to check in? No, you do not.
Perhaps the worst part about the navigation screen and in my mind absolute proof that they care more about looking cool than building a usable app is the ~3 second delay between tapping a button and the resulting feature screen appearing. They've got this glowing effect when the button is depressed and I'm quite certain they want you to see that in all of its glory. This shows a total lack of respect for the user that is just trying to get some information and get the hell out and on with their vacation. This sort of anti-usability is the height of arrogance. It makes me angry.
Beyond that I had all sorts of other quibbles with how the thing worked: many screen transitions have no animations (jarring), some are clearly just rendering Web pages (again, why make this app at all?) and some limits seem artificial (why is the contact form text area limited to 131 characters and why don't they use the right specialty keyboards for fields like email addresses). It's just not thoughtfully designed.
Today (Monday, June 2nd), Apple will introduce iOS 8 which is expected to build on the radical user interface changes introduced with iOS 7 a year ago. Despite being on over 90% of devices, this app still does not embrace iOS 7 conventions. 'Left-edge-swipe to go back' was a feature added last year (probably to help with larger iPhones supposedly coming this fall) but of course that doesn't work here (which is kind of funny because that feature is built in - they had to work to turn it off).
Wrap Up The Future
In its current form this app has little reason to exist. It's mediocre feature set and user-hostile experience actually damage the entire category. There are rumors of future features such as being able to use your phone as a room key. If implemented well, I would possibly revisit my opinions here but seeing how they've not even been able to get the basics right, I have very limited faith.
Generally speaking, operator apps are such a disappointment. They have the ability to do things that a third-party app developer like myself could never do - access internal systems to build truly useful, 'amazing future' type tools. Instead, they churn out crap apps that offer little.
At least it was easy to delete.
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