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Going to the Mall? There’s an App for That

12Nov09_iPhoneEatonCentre1.jpg
When we heard that the Eaton Centre had launched their own iPhone app in time for the start of the holiday shopping season [iTunes link], it seemed like a good, ol’-fashioned trashing would be in order. Why, we wondered, would you need an Eaton Centre app on your handheld if you were already in the mall? And if you weren’t in the mall, how much use could it be?
So, we tried it out, and the answers are: you don’t, and not much. Surprisingly, however, this free app is actually pretty good in its limited little way.


Created by Toronto marketing company Mobile Fringe, who have also created apps for the University of Toronto and the Downtown Yonge BIA, the Eaton Centre app covers the most important basics: store hours, a retailer listing, and maps.
Retailers are allowed to highlight special offers in the app, which results in a conspicuous red badge beside the store names. We see potential for abuse here, since what one store considers a “valuable offer” may be nothing more than an opportunity to advertise. Clicking through to see the featured promotion Fido is offering, for example, simply tells you that Sony Ericsson and LG phones are “the coolest, best-looking phones of the season,” despite the lack of any apparent discount—plus the fact that the reader is probably browsing on a cooler, better-looking iPhone.
Tapping on the name of a retailer brings up a well-designed screen showing the location, hours of operation, and any current sales or promotions. There is a button to direct users to the store website, and another that will dial the phone number. And of course, there is a drop pin on a map, but it’s the maps that are the most problematic element.
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The directory diagrams at the Eaton Centre are pretty abysmal already, and the iPhone app just takes the same bitmap image and shrinks it down to a size where it’s even less useful. All three levels are on a single page, text and wayfinding icons are almost unreadable (even zoomed in), and the simplified 3-D floorplan is unnecessarily convoluted. What the app needs is a zoomable, scrollable top-down map with clear demarcation between stores and a more effective way of orienting the viewer. The latest iPhones have assisted GPS and a compass in them, so why not use them? It would also be helpful to have buttons on the main map screen that could be tapped to highlight washrooms, subway entrances, ATMs, and wheelchair-accessible access points.
Because developers apparently can’t do anything even remotely technologically related without incorporating Facebook and Twitter these days, the app has these dubious features as well. Pressing the update button tweets or changes your Facebook status to “I’m at the Toronto Eaton Centre.” That’s all it does.
More sensible components include the ability to flag your favourite stores and check the balance on a Cadillac Fairview gift card. Another advantage is that most of the information is downloaded to the device, making it available while on the subway (although not the promotional offers).
As far as iPhone apps go, the Eaton Centre one is lean and responsive. The design is logical and appealing, except for the occasional, ugly use of stock photos and the immoderate use of TEC’s goose logo.
It’s nice, but it’s a novelty, and we therefore can’t see it being used more than cursorily at this stage, unless more focus is put into the promotional potential for individual retailers. It would be nice to see app-only discount codes, storewide sale alerts for favourite retailers, or even something as silly as a GPS tracer that records your meandering path through the mall, Family Circus–style (which would also spawn a goldmine of behavioural information for Cadillac Fairview, especially since the app already “phones home” with your page stats).
The Eaton Centre app could have been a mess of ads, but it’s not—at least, not in an offensive way. The designers were smart in considering it more of a pocket directory than a vehicle to advertise the mall itself, nesting promotional material comfortably within each retailer’s page. It’s not a must-have app for Eaton Centre mallflys, but it’s free, and pretty inoffensive as these things go.

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