Wait a Bit Longer for Those Beverly Hills Mobile App Features….

Visit Beverly Hills iPhone App home screenWhen we last reviewed our city’s mobile app for iOS back in March of 2012, we found Mobile Beverly Hills to be hardly worth our attention. The few entries we found were mostly focused on public art (oddly) instead of featuring the sights that tourists and residents would want to see. In fact, the app offered hardly anything for residents at all. Moreover, the clumsy interface suggested a beta release. With new features just announced we’re anxious to see if this app lives up to the hype. Will we be able to contact city hall with problem reports (a standard function for municipal apps)?

We were so unimpressed with Mobile Beverly Hills v1.0  that we cited it as a case study of typically-poor follow-through by city hall. And all that work was contracted out, so there was little excuse then for poor performance. We may not be able to develop an app in-house, but we can manage the developers, right?

Now comes word from the city’s Smart City/Technology Committee* that improvements are on the way! With new features scheduled to roll out over the next year beginning with (brace yourselves!) version 4.0, we’ll be waiting to see how it improves. Mobile Beverly Hills all growed up!

Wow – we’re at version 4.0 already (where did the time go?) without having included some key functionality. In this announcement, for example, we learn that the updated app will afford the user the ability to “search [city] website content directly from the app.” Huh? We’re just getting around to providing access to the city’s website in the app? It’s hard to imagine a municipal app that doesn’t already provide that function, but nevertheless we’ll welcome it. How will it work? Via a Mobile Beverly Hills web browser? Or will the app kick the user over to Safari? We’ll let you know when the version 4.0 arrives sometime in “late 2013.”
We’re in favor of any improvements that make it easier to keep tabs on city hall. Heck, we’re regulars down there. Better Bike is represented on the city’s Sunshine Task Force and we’re often attending Council and committee meetings. But until now we’ve had to check on upcoming meetings on the website. How clumsy! Looks like this new app will come just in time for our participation on the city’s blue-ribbon Santa Monica Boulevard committee meetings! How great will it be to simply tap to read the current agenda?

But wait: agenda access comes in a future release (version 4.5) scheduled for delivery in “early 2014.” A key app feature for version 4.5 is a convenient display of the city’s centennial activities. But the app is to debut well into our centennial year. Can’t we put the rush on this kind of innovation?

For those us interested in sunshine (as in open government) version 5.0 promises even better upgrades. Namely, contacting staff directly and reporting problems¬†(“such as potholes and graffiti,” the announcement says) and even attaching pictures to illustrate. That feature was long ago incorporated into every muni mobile app, but here we’re rolling it out in version 5.0. Better late than never!

The funny thing is the canned language of the announcement. Were in Beverly Hills would we find a pothole or graffiti? Even funnier is the hazy delivery schedule for these project milestones: “late 2013,” “early 2014,” and “mid 2014.” Funny, funny, funny. It will be really surprising if the latter feature ever makes it into Mobile Beverly Hills because everything about the way the city is managed suggests it doesn’t want the input. (That may yet change.)

Yet we value transparency and look forward to tomorrow’s mobile miracles in city-stakeholder communications. For example, let’s hope Mobile Beverly Hills prompts a timely callback from a staffer instead of, say, the one that comes in at 4:30 p.m. on a Thursday in time for the ‘flex-time’ Friday out-of-office voicemail. Another stakeholder contact gone awry!

Maybe the future app will obviate the frustrating email that arrives just after the city hall sender has switched on his vacation auto-response. Aargh, don’t you just hate trying to reply immediately and your messages goes into a stale queue to be read in two weeks? Mobile Beverly Hills to the rescue?

Seriously, though, we have high hopes for a better mobile app. And we’ll look forward to reviewing it. But we certainly won’t hang much hope on the timeline precisely because our city always over-promises and under-delivers. (And late at that.) Not much has changed since our first look at the city’s website back in September of 2012, for instance. And today’s Mobile Beverly Hills iTunes preview page redirects browsers to a search error page here at beverlyhills.org. #Fail. C’mon guys!

In the meantime, we’ll just keep popping open the city’s webpage that we conveniently bookmarked in Safari. And when city hall finally makes that website work as well as it should, we’ll be back with a follow-up review of it, too.

*An informal get-together of middle-aged guys like us who like to tinker.