Saturday, February 12, 2011

Software Review Roundup: Free iPhone Beer-Finder Apps

If you want to look at free iPhone Apps to help you brew beer, check out this review instead. Along with the apps for homebrewers, the Apple iTunes store has a bunch of beer-related apps. They seem to fall into three main categories:
  1. Beer Rating / Location Apps
  2. Beer Games, mostly Beer Pong, Darts
  3. Promotion / Advertisements
It's kind of tough to work up the motivation to review anything but the first group, but it turns out that there are plenty of apps in that category to review. Locating beer leverages the GPS functionality of the iPhone working with Google maps, so lots of devs have tied into it. The results are somewhat mixed, with only two of these apps (at most) worth installing for most people.

Tap Hunter   Grade: A
This app opens with a main navigation screen that lets you look for Beers on Tap, Breweries on Tap, All Locations, Nearby Locations, and View Map. It also lets you Change City, which is important because Tap Hunter works only for selected cities: Denver, Boulder, Philadelphia, Portland, San Diego, Seattle and Vancouver. 'Beers on Tap' lets you select from an extensive list of beer, with an indication of how may pubs in your selected city have that beer on tap. 'Breweries on Tap' does the same thing, but starts from a more compact list of breweries. Selecting a beer takes you to a page for that beer, and from there you can select a pub that is pouring it. The pub page will tell you how recently their tap list has been updated, which ranges from over a year in the worst case to minutes ago in the best. You can also call the pub, view its location on the map, get directions based on your current location, or view their website if they have one. You can even alter the map directions based on using a car, public transportation or walking. If you live in one of the cities where it's available, this app is for you.

Beer Button   Grade: B
This app consists of a big red button that you "push" to locate beer. Actually, you're searching for "Liquor Store" by default, so you're not looking at your best option for finding good beer unless you live in one of the states or provinces where beer is only sold in liquor stores. Go to the settings screen, and change that to search something more relevant. You'll need to scroll down past the ads to get to the two settings: "Button Label" and "Search Term." When I changed the search term to "beer" the map stopped showing any liquor stores for my search, and instead showed a few of the breweries, pubs and bottle shops in the area. But it also missed plenty of them. It looks like the maximum radius from my current location is five miles, and the maximum number of pins dropped on the map might be 10 because I can't seem to find more than 10 of anything near me. If you know the name of a pub you're in great shape. Once you select a location by tapping a pin you can use Google Maps functionality to get directions, so searching for "Uber" and getting directions was quick and easy. It also works great to find stuff that has nothing to do with beer. This app would be great if they made it easier to change the search terms.

Guinness Pub Finder (US)   Grade: C
When this app starts up it will prompt you to enter your age, because Guinness cares about under-age drinking. Then you get a good, long look at their logo. Along with being a beer locator, this app schools you on how to pour a Guinness (there are six steps) how to measure the head on a pint of Guinness, and some facts on how alcohol is made and so on. Now on to the main event... finding a pint. You get good visual cues for this; instead of dropping pins on the map they drop tiny pints. It looks like the Guinness folks keep good track of who has their products on tap because here is an amazing number of 'pints' that show up on the map. In fact, when I zoom the map out too far the application complains that there are "too many pints" to display. This app will obviously work best for those folks who are interested in Guinness products, but where there's one beer there's probably more. Then again, the other beer might be Bud Light. Once you select a location by tapping a pint you can use Google Maps functionality to get directions. Using the Search bar at the bottom of the screen appears to have no intelligible effect on the search. The info icon doesn't work at all.

Beer Cloud   Grade: C
This is the Swiss Army Knife of beer finders. You can search by Beer, Brewer or Barcode. There is a Beer Style feature that lets you pick a style (Ale) then by Category (IPA) finally subcategory (American IPA) to get a list of brands. Unfortunately the list is truncated and and ends alphabetically in the C's. Once you find a beer, you can "Find this beer" and there is generally good information about the beer, but the list of West Coast beers is rather thin. From the beer screen you can also navigate to the brewer screen to get more info, from the brewer you can find other beers they brew. The drill-down navigation is is a little sketchy, and there is no visual feedback that to indicate that my 'tap' is being processed, so I frequently end up with multiple screens that need to be closed. There is a Sommelier feature which lets you pair food and beer. Looks like a good Dubbel would go well with my beets. The bad news is that the "Find this beer" feature didn't appear to work for me... I couldn't find any results for any beer I tried to locate, including Budweiser. The app directed me to a web page because I got "Fewer results than expected." Turns out that it only has data for the District of Columbia, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin. It would have been nice to make that a bit more obvious. I have no idea how good the results are in those areas, but if you don't live there skip this app.

Beer Map   Grade: D
Given the name I wish this app could tie into the Beer Mapping Project, but that's not the case. Instead it suffers mightily from a lack of data. When I look for "Beers Near Me", it comes up with one lone entry: Hair of the Dog Adam at The Stumbling Monk. I've already increased the search radius to the max (10 km) so Adam is my only choice in the Seattle area. I guess I could add a review which would potentially double the number of beers found in Seattle? While they probably had Adam at the Monk at some point in time, I have no particular faith in the notion that they still have it there today. When I go to the Map I can see the location of the Monk. A tap on the pin reveals the ratings page for the Monk but no directions for getting there. If there was more than one beer in the list, and if there was a price entered for that beer I could sort the list by Price, Rating or Distance. When I search for "RedHook", no hits. Searching for "Adams" gets me one beer named "Samuel Adams." The design of this app isn't too bad but it looks like a lot of guys need to get out there and rate beer with Beer Map to lift it out of the pit of despair.

Beer Me LITE   Grade: D
This app lets you find beer by Current Location, Zip Code or City and State. At least in theory. When I tried to search by City and State the app crashed three times in a row. Finally, I entered "Seattle, WA" including the comma, and that helped. Sorta. I got a dialog box saying something like, "Where are you? We can't find any beer at that location." The first time I used the Current Location search the app reported that it couldn't determine my Current Location accurately. Things worked better the second time, and gave me pretty much the same results as searching by Zip Code. The list of pubs was pretty good, but I got results from 30 miles away, while overlooking a lot of closer opportunities. In Seattle. There are no settings so you can't narrow your search radius. For the taverns that did show up, there is a screen that lets you map their location, call them on the phone, or visit their website if one exists. I'd be a lot happier about this one if I could use it to find beer in Seattle.

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