Beyond411

29 01 2008

Just like “Lost Souls” (JC Sackett knows what I’m talking about), this application suffers from great concept, poor execution.

Beyond 411 is a BlackBerry application that starts off as a free way to search for phone numbers, but goes Beyond 411 to offer a slough of other options.

Sounds great (“concept”). Have you used Beyond411?  Once you leave the familiar realm of looking up a business (and this is after you get past a semi-unfriendly interface) you get slapped in the face by how well it does(n’t) get the job done.

When you first run the application it seems promising; you’re prompted to enter a “home,” “work” and an “other” address.  These addresses are used when you look up a business – basically, it will look for matches near to the selected address.

You can also select what Internet connection the application will use to search for these results, but there’s really no good reason to take it off of “default.”

Click “Save” and you’re ready to (try to) use Beyond411.

The home screen is a little daunting and lacking in direction.

In the upper-right corner it will say “home.” By clicking on this you can select one of the default addresses that you’ve already entered or select GPS to try and use your current location as the area around which to look for businesses (this is only an option on certain BB models and will not work on, for example, the Pearl 8100).

After selecting your location you start typing (presumably the name of a business you want to find) and Beyond411 will start guessing the business that you’re looking for – very cool.

When you’ve finished typing a click of the Pearl will display a menu, with “Yellow Pages (selected location)” highlighted.  Click again and you begin your search for the nearest Sushi restaurant, or whatever painfully addicting product you need to find.

When your results are displayed you can click on the name of the business and you are treated to a new menu:

Directions to (1st listing)– Click here to get directions from your location (whatever location was selected when you started your search) to the selected listing.  This will give you a MapQuest-esque list o’ turns from point A to point B.

Call– If your listing has a phone number attached to it, clicking here will call it for you (tres self-explanatory).

Map– Gives you a map based on the address for the listing.

Add to address book– Add the listing’s address to your BlackBerry address book.

Set Current Location – This will change your “other” address to the address for this listing.

Email Business Info– The info for the listing in emailed to whatever address you enter.  This one is pretty darned cool.

Tell a friend about Beyond411 – Select a contact from your address book and send them an OTA (Over the Air) download link for Beyond411.

 And this, for me, is where the coolness ends.

After you enter your search criteria and click the Pearl, another option given to you is White Pages – if you’ve entered a person’s name as opposed to a business the application will launch Google and run a search for residential listings based on that name and your selected location.  It’s a little more time-consuming (you need to wait for it to launch your browser and load Google) but it’s certainly easier than trying to enter effective search criteria for your own Google search.

Web Search– In theory, this would launch a regular old Google search for whatever.  This consistently times out and gave http errors.  I checked my coverage (fantastical) as well as my Application Permissions* and try as I might, it wouldn’t work.

Loading up my Internet browser, navigating to Google and entering in the same search terms worked like a champ.

Edit Settings– This is where you can edit your default addresses or change the Internet connection that Beyond411 uses to connect to the Internet.

The next set of options are based upon your location, as opposed to any specific business or person you may be searching for.

Weather– In theory?  Gives a forecast based on the selected location.

Shopping – In theory? Places to shop.

Movies– Find showtimes and theatres.

Sports – In theory?  Sports scores and game times?  Maybe?  If it had worked I would totally be telling you.

If you do not have anything in the search field you will be given one more selection:

Local Info – This pulls up a new screen with all of the above options along with an option for driving directions (here you can get directions or a static map).   These directions did work…on about the 5th try.  More weirdness to the directions is that they pull up via Yahoo! as opposed to Google.  I only mention that as “weirdness” because everything else seems to be based on Google search results – it seems weird (to me, at least) that it would switch to a different database to pull driving directions.

Also, “Sports” is divided into categories for each sport (NHL, MLB, etc.).

There is also a Reverse Phone Lookup.  Cool!  Except that it doesn’t work.  I was thinking that my test phone numbers were all unlisted, so I tested it:  I ran a white pages search for a name (I was feeling generic and used “Smith”).

I then took the phone number from one of those listings and input that as my search criteria for the “Reverse Phone Lookup.”  Where’s the beef?  Here it is; there was no indication that it was even trying to find any info based on the number I entered.  Granted, the little arrows in the upper-right of the screen started flashing, but that isn’t much help.  Those arrows indicate network activity, so it implies that it’s trying, but on a BB those arrows go off all the time.  So it could be trying the reverse lookup…or I could just be getting an email.  Then, after it (presumably) failed it just sat there on the same screen.  There was never any kind of notification that the search failed.  I hate that.  A lot.

Lastly, there is Mobilize Web Page.  Pretty cool idea – enter a website and the application will try and optimize it for a mobile device.  Who cares?  The BlackBerry can already do that for you.  Point of fact, almost all cell phones automatically (try) to convert web pages to a mobile-friendly version.  The only phones that don’t are generally Windows Mobile devices.  If you have one of those you probably are not going to be downloading an application for a BlackBerry.  Just an assumption.

As before we are leaving (relative) objectivity and jumping into my opinion of Beyond411.

I’m impressed by the 1st part of the application – the ability to find, call, and even navigate to businesses. 

The White Pages search is very Ok.  A little clunky but generally easier and faster than trying it on your own.

Everything else (beyond the business listings) seemed to be a cluster-f***.  I’m just not impressed by the execution.  At all.  I would much rather have 3 options that work flawlessly than have 30 that kinda-sorta work.  That’s just me.  I’m a stickler for quality and presentation.

There’s also the issue of errors: the errors were plentiful and varied, but there was no offer of any kind to view details or potential troubleshooting steps to take.  It frustrated the heck out of me.  I even went so far as to delete and re-install the application (twice) to no avail.  My BB’s firmware (this is the phone’s operating system, like Windows is for your PC)  is totally up-to-date.  And we aren’t talking about having the latest firmware for a phone that was discontinued 3 years ago.  My BB is the 2nd-newest model available from Sprint.

My overall view on Beyond411 is that it is about halfway done.  If it had a big fat “Beta” after the name I would be much more forgiving.  Which is to say, I would Bbe forgiving.  When I download an application onto my phone I want it to work.  Not just work, but work properly.  A cell phone, especially a BlackBerry, represents a significant chunk of change to me.  Anything that I do to it is not something I take on lightly.  The BlackBerry is not a toy to me.

Like I said from the start; The underlying idea is amazing.  It really is.  The execution is what’s not floating my boat.  This essentially Beta (test/pre-release) software doesn’t meet my admittedly high standards for a final version and doesn’t leave me feeling especially confident in subsequent releases of the app.  If a new version is released I will try to test it out with as little bias as possible.  I will not, however, be going into a new release with the same excitement and optimism as I did with this initial installation.

Guys, please turn me around.  I would like nothing more than to be entirely blown away by the next release.

For information on the guys behind Beyond411:

http://thebogles.com/blog/ – Not much info about the company or the guys behind it (kind of disappointing).

To download Beyond411 navigate your BlackBerry’s internet browser to:

http://thebogles.com/b411.jad

Please, The Bogles, make me eat my words with the next release.

*Application Permissions –

BlackBerry Apps often make requests for information from or access to the BlackBerry.  For an application like Beyond411 it needs access to your GPS (if you want to use your GPS location as the center for your searches) phone information (to make calls, add to addressbook, etc) and access to the Internet (do I need to explain why?).  Most applications will ask you questions upon initial setup that will take care of this, but I went so far as to manually tell my BB to let Beyond411 do whatever the heck it wanted.  And it still wasn’t enough to get the rock-solid results I demand.

Advertisements

Actions

Information

2 responses

10 03 2008
philbogle

Hi,

I’m the author of Beyond411, thanks for taking the time to write the review.

Your review is accurate in the areas that need fixing.

I did want to clarify one important point. I’m not a team of developers; I build Beyond411 in my spare time and make it available for free for the good of the Blackberry community.

In my limited time, my top priority has been ensuring that yellow pages search works well, since 90%+ of all searches are yellow pages. Recently, I migrated to a new server that should ensure faster, more reliable service.

Now that this is complete, I can get back to fixing some of the broken areas (like weather) that you mentioned.

10 03 2008
philbogle

Small update: sports (provided 4info) and weather (from Google) are fixed

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s




%d bloggers like this: