Wednesday Tech: Urbanspoon App

In Food Tech, Jasmin Sun on November 10, 2010 at 7:39 pm

Urbanspoon on the iPhone. Photo by Jasmin Sun.

By Jasmin Sun

If your TV watching habits are anything close to mine, you may have already recognized this photo.  If not, this video should be a sufficient explanation for those who are more productive than me with their time.   Got it now?  Right.  I’m talking about the cool slot-machine-meets-magic-eight-ball app which, admittedly, played a disproportionately large role in my decision to purchase an iPhone: Urbanspoon.  Does this make me a sucker for marketing?  Probably.

I wrote briefly about the AustinFoodCarts app, but I understand that sometimes mobile restaurants simply aren’t an option.  Especially when you find yourself low on street-parking-seeking stamina.  It also comes in handy when no one in the group has an opinion about where to eat.  You know what I’m talking about.  It happens nearly whenever you’re not eating alone, or if there no specific place anyone’s been dying to try.  That’s where Urbanspoon comes in.  Let’s imagine a typical Friday night pre-dinner scenario, shall we?

Friend 1: So guys, what’s for dinner tonight?

Friend 2: Eh, I don’t care.

Friend 3: Yeah, don’t care either.

[Apathetic silence ensues]

Thus is the nightmare.  Before, this group of friends would have had to painstakingly go through a list of restaurants they felt were either fail-safes, old favorites, or somewhere they hadn’t eaten in a while.  This is the problem Urbanspoon aims to solve: group indecision.

Updated Urbanspoon menu screen. Photo by Jasmin Sun.

Aside from the usual roster of Apple products (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch), Urbanspoon is available on the Blackberry, Windows Mobile, Palm, and in the Android market.  Unlike Yelp, this app provides you with a list of restaurants near your location.  It does so by seamlessly accessing your current location through your smartphone’s GPS upon opening.  It’s main feature is “Shake,” which is the slots-esque option that allows you to set certain criteria for your restaurant choices–you can choose select price points, neighborhoods, or types of cuisine–or opt for something completely random.  Once you shake your phone, or hit the shake button, the magic-eight-ball process will start and land on a restaurant that fits all your criteria.

"Friends" option from the previous interface. Photo by Jasmin Sun

"Friends" option from the new interface. Photo by Jasmin Sun.

The menu screen above is what the app looks like post-update; it was previously limited to the much-advertised random “Shake” feature along with a few other easily missed add-ons.  I’ll admit that I was excited when I saw the facelift, but in the end nothing really changed.  They simply repackaged the aforementioned add-ons into an additional menu screen.  While it did help draw attention to the options, I still didn’t use them.  I’ll admit, though, that I was excited when I saw I could connect Urbanspoon with Facebook–I figured that would be an interesting way to see where my friends have been eating–but alas, no dice.  I tried twice to connect my account to the app, and ended up running into errors both times.

But I must give credit where credit is due.  While Urbanspoon’s other menu options were good attempts at integrating additional restaurant information, in the end they were half-hearted.  Foursquare still does a better job of integrating other social media sites, and Yelp does a better job of reviewing the restaurants themselves.  Luckily, the slot machine “Shake” option is an original–plus, the application does have the official support of Apple, which certainly can’t hurt.  Most importantly, Urbanspoon isn’t restricted solely to Apple products.  This ability to tap into the Blackberry-toting corporate crowd should allow it to pull ahead of its restaurant information-app competition despite its shortcomings.


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