App of the Week: Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo App

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App: Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Platform: iPhone, Android Website: Apple Store, Android Store Cost: Free

One of the growing trends in app development is the use of location-based apps for very specific events. It started with large concerts like Austin City Limits and spread to big conferences around the world. The point was to have an app that helped attendees find their way around, locate friends and keep themselves on schedule. Some of these apps have been more successful than others, but the idea makes a lot of sense.

Last night, I went to the rodeo here in Houston -- the first time I'd been to see an actual performance in a very long time. I'm not going to tell you I was thrilled that the performer for the night was Enrique Iglesias, though he did put on an entertaining show especially for the ladies, but it was a chance for a nerd like me to try out the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo app I've read about.

The Good There are a lot of things to like about this app. It's developed by a company that develops similar apps for other rodeos and for zoos like the Houston Zoo. One of the most instantly usable features is the "get here" section featuring parking, directions, traffic conditions, information on METRORail and trams as well as weather. It's understandable why they made this the first screen.

The schedule function is also handy. It not only allows users to see what is coming every day of the rodeo, but add items of interest with one click to a "my schedule" feature. The lineup runs down every artist performing at the rodeo this year, and the activities section has a wealth of information on everything from the livestock show to the cookoff and everything in between.

There are also some social functions including an interface with both Facebook and Twitter as well as a "friend finder," which helps you track down people in the Reliant complex once you have both synced your phones.

The Bad While all these features are well done, there are some not-insignificant issues. One item I needed last night -- the map -- just doesn't seem to be fully fleshed out. There is a "you are here" spot that is great for locating yourself on the sizable grounds, but the details on the map are damn small and because the map is a graphic -- not an interactive Google map, for example -- it can only be expanded a small amount. For anyone who has vision problems, this map would be a complete waste of time.

Also, the detail on the map is okay, but it could be substantially better, especially since this is a graphic image of the rodeo grounds. I would think it would be easy to swap this out each year to show individual rides and the like.

Speaking of finding things, how about a more detailed food section? Finding food on the rodeo grounds means wandering around until you have hopefully seen most of the vendors and then making a decision. It would be nice to, at the very least, have a list of vendors so visitors can make an informed decision. Instead the entire food section is just a couple of images and a description of the Gold Buckle Foodie Awards.

Finally, there is the schedule. Anything set at 9 a.m. on the same day really shouldn't show up on a list of that day's events if it is already 7 p.m. It forces the user to scroll through a ton of daytime events that have already happened. And while I'm at it, how about a scheduled time for the actual rodeo start? We could only find that on our tickets. I'm sure the rodeo doesn't want to encourage people to show up just to see the performer, so I understand not saying what approximate time they will take the stage, but the start of the whole thing would be damn helpful.

And since we are talking about the artists, how about a better schedule for the Hideout and a schedule period for acts performing outside. The Hideout simply has a tiny image that is impossible to read -- a glorified flyer, essentially -- and the outdoor stage has no schedule anywhere.

The Not Sure If It Was Their Fault One necessity when it comes to a phone app is connectivity. Unfortunately, for much of the time I was at the rodeo, there was little to no Internet connection. At best it was spotty, at worst it was nonexistent. Thing is, the phone service was fine, which leads me to believe there were too many people on the network in that area or the area data network is somewhat restricted to prevent overloads.

Either way, I can't really blame this on the rodeo, but it sure did make it difficult to use the app, let alone tweet about the basketball I won at the mini basketball booth. Yee haw!

The Verdict There are some real positives to this app. The detailed information about every activity and the extensive maps are supremely helpful, as is the friend finder. I would love to see a more robust map feature for when visitors are on the grounds and a more detailed schedule for the music events. It would also be great if the rodeo, with all its clout, would look into the connectivity issues.

Overall, this is a very useful app for anyone visiting the rodeo, despite some annoying shortcomings. Giddyup.

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