Good user experience doesn’t stop with designers and the interface. It requires the entire ecosystem of your app to be functioning and reliable. Last week I attended the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in Colorado, it is 12.5 miles, 156 turns climbing to over 14,000 feet of elevation. Last year was my first year attending and other than the amazing view we had, from Devil’s Playground, and the incredible cars that were racing up the mountain, I was impressed by the mobile technology they had in 2017.
For each spectator area they brought in wireless internet access points. With this you you received slow speeds for free, but if you paid you’d get broadband type speeds. This was a great option, because then I wasn’t using my own data the whole time. It also went well with their official app that had live race information and live times of the cars that were running the course. Unlike most mainstream motorsports, you can only see a fraction of the race at a time. Having another way to stay up-to-date through my mobile app was great.
This year I attended and was excited to use the app and their wifi again. I downloaded the app before-hand and it was updated… there was no more map of the course, and only a list of the drivers. Being able to visualize the course was a major part of what I enjoyed the year prior. But figured it’d still be useful seeing what cars the drivers are driving and their class. Then came the morning of the race and I was even more disappointed.
We started driving up the mountain at 3:00 AM. We get to our spot, set up our chairs and tents, and go to connect to wifi. There it is, “ppihcguestwifi”. I connect, and then what little internet I had came screeching to a halt. No internet. I turn off wifi, and there’s barely any cell service. There’s not enough service to load any pages now, only make calls. I try the wifi again and nothing… Their app couldn’t load anything because it relied on internet service, couldn’t even get the previous list of drivers it had displayed. The app did no caching so stored no information.
All day long, I’d hear mumbles from throughout the spectator area from other people trying to get service. People asking if it was because they didn’t pay, and no one knowing how to pay even if they wanted too.
The Big Problem
There’s many places that want an app for their guests but struggle with reliable service. Many big buildings can’t rely on cell service, because when you’re deep inside them, the signal is too weak. Remote locations struggle because there’s no service available or the system is overwhelmed by the number of people trying to use it, especially if having a large event in a small town that doesn’t have the infrastructure.
Depending on what you want your app to do, it may be entirely possible to have a lot of it available offline. If there’s a static list of race car drivers, set schedule that is likely to stay the same, or a map, that shouldn’t change. These are things you can have available even without connecting to the internet. Fetching live data via internet is great for things that need to change a lot, but caching that data is also nice for when you lose service.
If what you want to build requires real-time data being fetched all the time, then the reality is you’ll need to have reliable internet available to your guests. The network needs to be tested and under similar conditions to what your guests will have access too. There’s no sense in investing time and money into an app if your guests can’t even use it, so make sure you’ve got it all covered.
User experience is often thought to be just the experience you have within the app, but it is much more than that. The speed and reliability of your backend servers, the availability of fast networks and access points, the thought put into what data needs to be fetched real time and what can be stored, and how your app works with other apps and other devices outside of your phone is all extremely critical to your apps overall user experience. There are a lot of great ways to leverage mobile smartphones, but you must remember they rely on a lot of outside dependencies to deliver the information needed.
Though I’m harsh on their app’s user experience, the race as a whole was incredible and is really well organized. Plus, Volkswagen set the new all time record with their all electric I.D. R race car. It was the first time an electric car held the all time record and it marked a lot of other firsts and was a great way to show electric technology surpassing internal combustion technology. So be sure to search the web for “VW I.D. R” if you want to learn more about that.