GayCities.com, which bills itself as "Your Gay Travel Guide" has recently released an iPhone app for their service - aptly named GayCities. The app can use the location awareness of your iPhone to locate "gay-friendly" bars, hotels, and restaurants in your current location. You can also manually choose a city from the list of metro areas GayCities covers.
The app is similar to many of the other, more general business recommendation/travel apps, like Yelp! or UrbanSpoon. GayCities focuses on restaurants, bars, and hotels only and just has data for specific cities. I have used their website in the past and it seems the list of cities has grown since then, which is definitely a good thing.
My impressions, including some annoying bugs, and some screenshots after the jump.
How does it look?
Map and Results (clickety to embiggen)
Categories and "My List" (clickety to embiggen)
Visually, I don't think the app is very appealing at all. The app icon is very bland and the color scheme is far too blue and gray. Even the map is bland. GayCities uses some third party map images, which looks very washed out and muted and seems to load very slowly when zooming and/or panning around - even on wifi.
I hate to nitpick, but I even find the icon to be lackluster. The GayCities.com website has a very appealing style, so it surprises me the GayCities app has such a dull appearance.
How does it work
Looks aren't everything. I think anyone can overlook some poor aesthetic choices if the app works well. For me, the jury is still out on this question. The basic functions work mostly as advertised, but there are still some rough edges in both the data powering the app and the app itself as well as some obvious functionality that is lacking.
Although the GayCities.com website allows for reviews and ratings of the businesses in the listing or adding new businesses to the database, the iPhone app only allows users to see the reviews and ratings entered via the website. The inability to rate or review a business inside the app seems like a missed opportunity considering how few reviews and/or ratings are available for some businesses. Adding businesses via the app could be messy, so this exclusion makes sense.
I also found that transitioning between different parts of the app wasn't always smooth. In one case, I had parts of two different app functions on the screen at the same time (artifacts for the geeks out there - see pic). Another time, I apparently did too much at once and the app just crashed. So there is some work to do with regard to smashing these little bugs.
Buggy Interface - clickety to embiggen
The listings for Indianapolis, which is no gay Mecca by anyone's imagination, were incomplete. Some of the businesses also had duplicate entries. There is no reason that, out of only a dozen or so total entries, there should be duplicates. There are pretty simple data validation techniques available that will easily prevent such duplication.
While Indianapolis may not be representative of other cities in the database, I think it gives some insight into the quality of the data overall. If Indy, as small as it is, has inaccurate, duplicated and missing data, you can bet other cities do as well. Nothing can be perfect, but there are far more gay-owned and gay-friendly businesses in Indianapolis than were listed in GayCities.
I checked several other cities just to see what the listings were like. I couldn't check these cities for completeness, but it seemed the most popular businesses in each category were listed. I didn't notice any obvious omissions in the cities I'd visited before.
I think it's great GayCities is getting out there ahead of the game. They're blazing the trail in LGBT iPhone app creation. Being trailblazers means you're going to get some things right and some things wrong. This is the first version of their app and it's not a terrible 1.0 version at all.
Regardless, attention needs to be paid to these rough edges or competitors will easily overshadow GayCities. Fixing the visual style should be easy and cleaning up duplicated data is a snap. Adding the functions I mentioned plus some of the other features available on the website (like friends lists, photo uploading, and events listings) will take a little more time.
The bottom line: if you're traveling in a city you've never visited or don't know very well and you don't have a tour guide, the GayCities iPhone app is functional enough to get you to the hotspots. The listings may not be complete, but the most popular places in the bigger cities are there. It's worth a download, but don't expect to be wowed.