Review by Jason Brown, June 2018
How a small Norfolk market town got a trail accompanied by an augmented reality smartphone app.
GoGo Hares was a campaign launched by local children’s charity Break to raise money for the charity by installing fibre-glass hares in Norwich and other Norfolk towns which were auctioned off and all proceeds went to the charity. Local schools and artists were invited to decorate the hares and there was a trail that children and their parents could follow around Norwich and the other towns over the summer of 2018 to see all the hares. Whilst the trails were usually paper map based with stickers and stamps to collect at each hare, one town, Wymondham, did it a little differently. A local initiative to get more people visiting the town centre and supporting local businesses by doing so resulted in South Norfolk Council developing an app to guide people around the town, based on the hare, named ‘Henry’, located in the centre.
Each trail guides you around Wymondham centre (both are on the same route) and at certain points there are either items to find or information to read about which the app notifies you about. Various things can be seen in ‘augmented reality’ at certain points along the way. The app will open the camera app on your phone and certain objects will be ‘augmented’ into the picture which is done by you facing the phone towards the floor for 5 seconds to allow it to calculate draw distances.
‘Henry The Hare’ trail
This trail is aimed at children up to the age of 12. You walk around Wymondham centre to find certain items that can help Henry make his way to the Market Cross. He’s managed to lose these items on his way to the Cross and it’s your job to find them! These items are ‘located’ at certain points along the trail which the app guides you to. Once you find the items they are placed in your inventory and you can return them to Henry. There are also questions in the app too at certain intervals, mostly related to map-reading and some possibly related to Wymondham, e.g. there’s one that asks how many sides a hexagon has which could be a reference to the hexagonal tower at the Abbey.
‘A Walk Through Time’ trail
You walk around Wymondham centre to find out certain points of historic interest and also learn about some events that happened in the town. There is a great augmented rendition of the Market, the land behind the Abbey and a fairly funny rendition of the Great Fire as well as some interesting ‘scratch away’ photos. The app displays information about each location, though unfortunately I couldn’t get the ‘Abbey Through Time’ experience to work which was a shame because this would have been the most interesting to have seen. The app would have shown drawings and photographs of Wymondham Abbey through the ages which would have been really interesting because a lot of Wymondham Abbey was destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries and only the nave and the two towers (one derelict) remain today. This trail is an interesting way to display information about the town’s history as well as provide tourist information.
On the whole both are great bar a few minor bugs and usability points. I can see children enjoying the Henry The Hare one a lot – I actually found it fun to try and find the items! Of the two I felt that the Henry The Hare experience was better – it seemed to work better (e.g. all of the points were picked up) and the AR was better but the other trail was interesting and I can see it being used as a great way to display tourist information in the future. Not only does it force you to walk around the town and see what there is, it also shows you pictures and information about what you are seeing that would otherwise have to be placed on noticeboards which can be expensive, difficult to place and become outdated.
For me there were a few major flaws. The first is that it didn’t always work, sometimes the app would crash or the content would not load at all. Other times it’d say it was opening the content but wouldn’t. The route of the trail itself involved walking past the start/finish point several times, so sometimes the app thought that you had completed the trail when actually there was still a little bit to do.
Downloading and installing the app was interesting. On the app store for Android and iOS the app is listed as being just a few megabytes big, however when you first open the app it then downloads several hundred megabytes of additional content. It took me around 20-25 minutes to get all of the content downloaded on my Wi-Fi. This caught a lot of users out who had downloaded the app and then had to wait a long time before they could use it, not to mention most of them downloaded the app at home and then didn’t open the app until they got into the town centre and had to download the additional data on mobile broadband which was slow and expensive. It would have been better if all of the content was downloaded from the app store with the app itself in a single download.
Using the app was easy enough. There are plenty of instructions including for the augmentations, but the map does not orientate as you walk about which can be a little frustrating. As you walk down the different streets you are constantly changing direction, but the map doesn’t show this. You can manually rotate the map, but the lack of orientation made the map slightly confusing for me, even for somebody like me who has lived in the town for over 20 years and grew up on these streets!
The public’s opinion of the app was rather mixed. Those who did it generally did the Henry The Hare trail with their children and found it to be enjoyable, though some people commented that not all of the augmentations work all of the time and that the app crashed fairly frequently. Others said that they had trouble installing it. The history trail was less popular and very few people did both. In a survey of 83 people I conducted in the town’s Facebook page (which has over 6,000 members in it – roughly half of the town’s population), 61 participants (76.25%) did not do either trail, 14 (16.87%) did the Henry The Hare trail, 7 (8.43%) did the history one and only one (1.2%) did both. This is rather disappointing, it could be a lack of advertising or the people of Wymondham simply didn’t have the time or the inclination to use the app. The app seemed to be most popular amongst parents using the Henry The Hare trail with their child, so it is likely that people who don’t have children may not have used the app. Of course, only 83 people participated in the survey but it seems apparent from this sample that the majority of people in Wymondham have not used the app. As of Tuesday 11th September 2018, the app has only had 100 downloads on Android and it has been available since June 2018 when I wrote the majority of this review.
Why would an app like this be developed for a small market town, other than for the love of it? I haven’t been able to find any conclusive evidence, but my personal gut feeling is that this is some kind of taster for something bigger. Norwich is the local city and has a history of doing trails like these with fibre-glass animals for the past decade or so. Perhaps next year or in a few years’ time the trails in Norwich will have an app like this. Wymondham is an ideal town to test such an app in – it is small, so a trail can be made on a small-scale, the popularity can be assessed and if there any technical flaws with the app they can be found and assessed in a small environment first before an app like this is made for a city. Unfortunately, the poor popularity may mean that the council decide that the app is not worth developing any further and we may never see such an app made for a larger trail. Alternatively, the council may see that the app has a few flaws which are hopefully easy to address and with more advertising and publicity the app could work well and replace a lot of paper maps, as well as provide an extra dimension to the trails that is new, exciting and truly unique. This is at the end of the day what Wymondham’s app’s biggest selling point is – it utilises modern technology that everybody has to make what is essentially a tourist attraction.
It’s so cool that a relatively small town like mine has an app like this! Credit to South Norfolk Council and/or whoever else was involved in the development! It’s a shame that it wasn’t very well used, however I hope to see more apps like it more in the future.
Tested on a Samsung Galaxy S8, June 2018.