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Writing Essential Melbourne iPhone app

There's been a lot of talk about how authors need to jump on the iPhone app bandwagon. Having just written Essential Melbourne I can only agree. Will apps replace guidebooks? Inevitably.

There are obvious reasons. Most of the time I've worked for Lonely Planet, travellers have been asking if LP could give them a more portable book. From cutting out pages themselves to a ringbinder edition, the market has been talking about a book they can carry around for yonks. An app does just that and more.

Writing travel guide content has always been more than textual. Wrestling with maps on rainy Finnish streets has become plotting a point on a Google map. And those practical details like phone numbers become crucial when you know that in an app a user will use that number to call a restaurant to make a reservations.

While the maps were familiar an app uses clever geo-coding. I tagged some places "coffee" and others "kid friendly" so users could filter their maps based on this metadata. You can look at a map and know where the nearest good cup of joe is or if a place goes that extra mile to accommodate littlies.  

Plus there are images. How many times have you seen a goofy traveller (not a tourist obviously) looking up from their guidebook to try to find the exact street number? Nothing signals "rip me off" like carrying a giant guidebook that you're constantly referring to. So when it came to pictures for my app I wanted to include as much signage and doorway shots as possible. Sounds boring, but if you see a sign or shopfront on your iPhone and you don't need to go back and forth from your guidebook. There's illustrative images, but there's also informative images as well.

And of course there's bugs and mistakes. As soon as you release a guidebook readers start writing in to tell you that the place you researched six months ago has closed down or gone bad. But with an app you can update anytime you want just by pushing your CMS into iTunes. I'm already looking at a round of corrections for Essential Melbourne, but more importantly there's a lot of new places I want to include. And in the old media of the guidebook I'd be waiting for the next edition which could be years off.

You can see why that guidebook brick in the bottom of your backpack is becoming a dinosaur you won't need to carry much longer.