Thunderpaw “Best Use of an App Award”

Wednesday, September 7, 2011
By: Angela Render

And the award goes to: Dragon*Con and Core-Apps’s “Follow Me.” If ever there was an event that needed an app, Dragon*Con was it: 5 hotels, 4 days of programming on 37 different tracks (subjects), 87 exhibitors, 97 dealers, 189 guests (including big-name actors, artists, writers, and musicians), and 40,000 attendees—most tech-savvy. Plus hundreds of unofficial meet-ups, photo-shoots, and parties.

Dragon*Con has more daily scheduling changes to publish than most conventions have programming. Their pocket-guide has always been huge and difficult to coordinate with the “unofficial” events and even planning lunch. Last year, I had most of my schedule mapped out in an Excel spreadsheet and even that was subject to change. Not to mention, It’s hard to juggle a stack of papers, camera, phone, money, id, and aspirin when you’re dressed up as a super-hero, have no pockets, and need to keep moving your purse out of the way whenever someone wants to take your picture.

On stage: Core-Apps.

Their “Follow Me” app offered up a brilliant solution: a full schedule available by track or by guest with the ability to see when and where things would be, then add them to your calendar. The app boasts the ability to link your friends into your schedule, add custom events to the calendar, and even rate the panels! Maps of all the hotels as well as news and alerts and real-time updates to the schedule were all at the finger-tips of Dragon*Con attendees.

In practice, I don’t believe any app could have had a better stress-test. From my un-official looking around, I think about 1 in 3 attendees were using that app…a lot. 3 out of 4 members of my group used it. I know I had it open for about 5-10 minutes every hour of the con. Looking around, there were a lot more people on their phones and a lot less copies of the pocket guide in evidence.

The performance ranged from stellar (that would be me on my 3G-4G Verizon-powered HTC Thunderbolt) to regular cursing, crashing, and sluggishness (a 3G Droid X also on Verizon, and an iPhone 4 on AT&T).

Recommended Improvements:
None of us ever got the schedule sharing to work and it would have been amazing in a convention of that size to share schedules in order to actually meet-up with friends.

The iPhone 4 refused to bookmark the events into the app’s calendar. Instead, it bookmarked them into the iPhone’s calendar, thus forcing the iPhone user to open a second app in order to see his schedule. He didn’t like this.

The iPhone 4 user and the Droid X user’s app would sometimes crash while downloading the updates and the download was sometimes painfully slow. The iPhone 4 more often than the Droid X, but there’s no telling if that was AT&T’s fault or the app’s. I can say that when all three of us accessed it simultaneously, I (the HTC Thunderbolt) was always the first to load, then the Droid X, then the iPhone 4, the latter two sometimes failing to complete the download and having to start over.

So the recommended improvement for the app would be to have the option of downloading the updates manually instead of every time the app is opened. Sometimes, we just wanted to verify a location or compare a schedule and would end up re-checking for updates within minutes of our last check, thus slowing things down unnecessarily.

A pie-in-the-sky improvement would be to use the phone’s GPS to actually place the user on the hotel maps and have an arrow point you to your next panel, but I can see where that level of accuracy under three stories of cement and rebar would be a tad difficult. Still, for those of us who are locationally challenged, having walking instructions to some of these hidden rooms (Yes, I mean you Hyatt International Tower!) would be really nice.

Overall, a fantastic app that is ready for prime-time and a must-have for any large conference with multiple tracks of programming.