AMITIAE - Monday 6 October 2014

Tourist Buddy TH: Strike 2 - Attention to Detail Falling Short

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers

Tourist Police app

Tourist safety in Thailand has become topical in the last few months: not before time. This industry which counts for 11% of Thailand's income is in danger of shooting itself in the foot. While high profile publicity that comes from murders and beatings has received attention in recent days, the problems are long standing. The Tourist Buddy TH app is intended to help, but may not hit the mark.

Things were not helped recently after a double murder, when the Prime Minister made comments about beautiful tourists (later said to be a misunderstanding) and the new Minister for Tourism voiced the idea that tourists would be offered locating bands. This was quickly stopped by the Prime Minister, but only after much international comment.

With much negative comment about the tourism industry and safety being aired in newspapers and social networking media, it was interesting to see the re-release of an app that comes from the Thai Tourism Police: Tourist Buddy TH.

The Tourist Police are a branch of the National Police intended to help travellers to the shores. There are mixed opinions as to the effectiveness of these officers, especially in the areas where they are most often called on. The government and the police are sensitive to criticism and this may be part of an attempt at mending fences.

When this app first appeared last year, I was not happy with it at all. My review is still online and makes a useful comparison as the update has been well done in part and goes a long way to providing services that did not appear to be properly thought out in that earlier version.

The logo is unchanged. I described it in that earlier review as a "juvenile cartoon representation of a smiling Thai Tourist policeman" and I my opinion is unchanged: it does not convey professionalism; and it sends the wrong message. When tourists want help, they want to be treated seriously.

Tourist Police Tourist Police Tourist Police

When first opened a couple of action screens appear. The first is for the user's location. I turned this off as it informs the user that it will track the phone even when the app is not being used. With recent revelations from the USA and the comments of the Minister for Tourism, who wants to feel they are being watched, even if the intention is quick response?

I was unable to find this again in the app but the Location services may be reactivated in Settings where there is an icon for the app. It is useful when using certain of the features; and for those on vacation, will give some reassurance.

Tourist Police The main screen is completely redesigned giving me a sense that this is what we should have had the first time: four clear buttons able to give instant access to services: Cautions, Tourist Police Stations, Email and Emergency (send location). The colors here, and in other sections are best described as bright. The word, gaudy, also came to mind. At the top is a button marked 1155 that will connect directly to Tourist Police (a panel confirms that the user wants this).

Cautions - which should be Warnings or Advice - is a text-based information section: more on this below. Tourist Police Station opens a map panel (standard, satellite, hybrid) with pins showing the locations of the offices. The map can be moved and enlarged (pinch). Tapping on a pin reveals basic information which can be opened into a half-screen panel with phone number, address and a button that will make a call to the specific station. This is useful.

The Email panel opens a message in Mail with details of the recipient already entered and some basic text (Hi Tourist Buddy!!). The final button is a red Emergency panel that allows the user to send the location in the event of a problem. As I turned Locations off, it did not work for me, but once I had turned it on again, it provided location information for the police (had I sent it) within a few hundred metres. It took the information from the map, not from me and could not be edited.

The order of these panels needs to be changed. While these basics were what one would expect, the Emergency and Cautions buttons would be better if their positions were exchanged, particularly with the nature of Cautions.

Tourist Police Tourist Police Tourist Police

The content of the section is intended to provide advice to tourists and has several warnings of the type that one might read in guide books, with most of the usual temptations and risks covered. I was, however, pleased to see a warning about Phuket jet ski problems, even if the same problems exist in other areas.

However, this section is badly in need of editing. I don't know what it is about Thai organisations, but time and time again documents, advertisements, apps and other media are marred by the poorly edited English. While a committee meeting will have the participants agonising for hours over word choice in Thai, the dismissive way in which English is just slapped down with an "It will do" attitude shows an arrogance or contempt for the user.

It is not as if there are no native speakers of English available: we are crawling out of the woodwork in places. It takes me 10 nanoseconds to find errors in text, but someone has to ask first (many professionals do ask, so it is not a universal problem). A simple example will do

- Do not believe any jewelry ships which refer that they are government-owned jewelry shop because Thai government do not own any jewelry shop.

I see at least 4 errors there. But the whole app is riddled with this type of poorly edited text that has no place in software of this nature aimed - as it is - at tourists.

Tourist Police Tourist Police Tourist Police

As well as the four buttons, an icon at the top left of the main screen opens a list of other useful services with Home (back to the main page) at the top: My Gallery, Tourist Attraction, Important Call, News, Event, Promotion and Setting (sic).

The final item is for those using the app to enter full details that may be used by the police in emergency, including name, ID/Passport, phone, email and a photo. There was an occasional nag screen to remind me I had not completed this section. For the police to have access to these (especially the photo) in a timely manner could be useful. Also on the Settings panel was a greyed out Language Setting icon, but tapping this told me that the feature was not yet available.

A number of the sections were useful, with Tourist Attractions opening another map, this time with green pins. Important Call gave access to some 20 airports, bus terminals, taxi numbers and other useful numbers. Each could be dialled directly with one tap of the relevant panel. Not all sections were so useful, with the Promotion page having a Thai-only advertisement.

The app is vastly improved over what I saw last year, but there is still a long way to go, both in terms of design and content. As the intent here appears to be good, the developers could be given some leeway, but they need to understand the target user group here. I am not sure that they do. Not yet.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand where he is also Assistant Dean. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. He is now continuing that in the Bangkok Post supplement, Life.



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