Observer App of the Week 4/5: Field Trip

Sheehan Hannah, A&E Editor

In elementary school, there were two things that I enjoyed more than anything else: recess and field trips. Even to this day, the things I enjoy most come from wandering off the beaten path and finding something random, new, or challenging. Field Trip from Google seeks to both fulfill and encourage that wanderlust.

Field Trip is essentially a guidebook app, seeking to bring interesting tidbits to the eyes of users based on geographic location. The app offers a truly diverse cross section of interesting stuff, ranging from locations used in movies to Zagat rated restaurants. All suggestions are based on your phone’s GPS location, with the option to map out local attractions.

The suggestions are generally interesting and are sourced from a diverse range of providers. Though the diversity is refreshing, Field Trip does a poor job of offering suggestions tailored to individual user’s interests. The app does have an option to select specific areas of interest like architecture and restaurants, but it doesn’t learn based on what locations you actually visit and offer similar suggestions. Perhaps that’s asking too much, though Google has the resources and expertise to do so and is already doing something similar with Google Now.

For instance, on a trip to Chicago over spring break, Field Trip offered up some things that were interesting and others that were something less so. One such location was a scale model of the Leaning Tower of Pisa located, of all places, in the parking lot of a YMCA in Morton Grove. For me, it was the perfect piece of kitschy Americana to visit, and I would have completely missed it if not for Field Trip’s suggestion engine. However, my Chicago trip also illustrated the weaknesses of the app, as it was unable to find restaurants that were reasonably priced.

The app is best used to find something completely random and interesting, and is less than satisfactory when searching for attractions based on specific interests.

In terms of design, Field Trip exhibits the lack of attention that Google pays to its products that are largely outside the spotlight. It hasn’t been touched by the aesthetic design revolution that has affected other Google apps like Gmail or Google Maps. Perhaps most tellingly, the app’s mapping capabilities use an Apple Maps frame. It’s not clear whether this is due to laziness or Apple’s maniacal need to isolate individual apps, thus boxing out the far superior Google Maps interface. Either way, Field Trip suffers immensely from its use of Apple mapping solution with extremely slow load times for basic maps and an interface that is beyond lacking.

Despite its design shortcomings, Field Trip is still worth the download for those seeking interesting things off the beaten path. It far outpaces other competing services like Facebook’s Graph Search and the suggestions engine component of Foursquare. Though you may have to sift through the ridiculous results, there’s a chance you might find gold. It’s a chance that should be taken.