One of my favourite use cases for a smartphone has always been the ability to find information you need right away with the world around you. We’ve seen a lot of innovation in this regard over the past year or two, specifically with gadgets like Google Glass, but for most of us, we’re still using Yelp or Google.
Or at least, this is what I’ve been using. But for a while now, this has been starting to bother me. I wanted more reliable information about what’s near me, and I especially want an app with a better design than the Yellow Pages app. This is why I had to try AroundMe, a beautiful app meant to help you find the closest gas station, movie theatre, pub, and more. Read on to find out if AroundMe is for you.
AroundMe’s Smart Design
AroundMe is much nicer than all of the other apps I’ve tried in its category. From a design perspective, the app gets a lot right. Categories are presented in either a List or Grid format, which you can choose in the Settings. I prefer the Grid, which fits more on the screen and feels like less of a compromise.
Each icon on the screen is given a colour, although there are only ten available before they repeat. That being said, no duplicates are side by side and it’s very easy to distinguish which category is which because the icons are gorgeous. Although I didn’t use the app before its iOS 7 update, I have no problem with the iconography here: it looks great and has a lot of character.
Tapping on an icon takes you directly to the a search for anything in that category, and it’s lightning quick. Each category is contextual: the detail view for Thor: The Dark World is going to be different than the details associated with your local pharmaceutical. I don’t mean different in a small way, but rather, it’s different in a massive way. Movie listings will bring up a trailer, showtimes, the Rotten Tomatoes consensus, and so on. Looking for a pharmacy or restaurant (or anything like that) is going to result in a map and some additional details about the location.
The Near Me category is interesting too, in that its results are lightning quick no matter where I am and always accurate. Trying to do something similar in an app like Yelp always reminds me that Yelp has a ton of great data but no proper method to display it. It will often show me coffee shops on the other end of the city before listing the one closest to me. AroundMe doesn’t suffer from any of those problems.
AroundMe also has an innovative view that lets you use radar detection to see what’s nearest you. It looks a little bit like sonar. Your location is in the middle of the circle, and anything near you is pinged and appears in white as the app searches for information about what’s nearby. I gave this a shot while a friend and I were out, but I don’t think I could make it my preferred search method. (Think of it as the Surprise Me mode of AroundMe.)
The app lets you open Search results in Google Maps, if you have it installed. If you don’t use Google Maps, though, you don’t even have to leave the app to get directions. The detailed view always shows you where the location is, and if you’re already out and nearby, you’ll see yourself as a blue dot on an in-app map. In other words, you might not even need directions to find out how to get where you’re going.
Finally, you can add any place you find as a contact in your iPhone with a tap of the hollow Star button. It autofills a contract entry, which is incredibly useful for, say, your favourite pizza joint. As well, it’s really easy to share locations with friends. I have a close friend I’m always going to pubs with, so I texted her the address for a place I thought we should try out from right in the app. It was a seamless and fast experience.
What does this all amount to? It means that AroundMe values its users. Between the fast search, detailed results, and its focus on helping you find what’s nearby, AroundMe is the best at what it does. It lets me get in and out if I want to, and it encourages me to stay if I’d like to explore. That’s a well-made app.
Of course, it doesn’t mean anything if AroundMe can’t accurately tell me what’s nearby. For what it’s worth, I think the data for AroundMe has been spectacular. In Canada, it integrates with Foursquare and YellowPages.
YellowPages brings up relevant information like a website (if the store has one associated with it) and a phone number; however, I have yet to see the hours for any location. I’m a bit of a night owl, and I like to know when the pubs are closing, so this is singlehandedly my biggest qualm with the app. That being said, I have yet to see an app with accurate hours for any given location.
I really like the Foursquare integration as well. Foursquare Tips are available in-app, as are photo. You can tap on the Foursquare link in the app to see Foursquare’s page for the location (or get more YellowPages data), but the links don’t open in-app even if you have it installed.
Beyond that, there are some silent data tricks happening in the background. If you have a national provider for additional information (like YellowPages for us here in Canada), AroundMe often consults it. AroundMe also uses Google search results to ensure accuracy.
But despite all the data being brought in, AroundMe is never slow and it always organizes its data properly. In other words, as I said early, it doesn’t jumble up its search results. The search speeds are truly impressive, and one of the reasons I’d recommend the app.
AroundMe is the best free app I’ve tried on my iPhone for local search results, and to this day, it’s the only that’s shown me any new places that I haven’t seen yet. It presents it cleanly and search is lightning quick, and I really appreciate the respect the developers have for their users.
Finally, the app’s free price comes on the condition that you see in-app iAds. To unlock the app without ads, you’ll have to pay $2.99. After living with the app for a few days, I happily paid that price and knocked Yelp and YellowPages off my phone. AroundMe is more than enough for my needs.