Like many people, I have a day job that involves too much sitting. However you couldn’t ask for a nicer place than Sydney CBD on a sunny day for a lunch time stroll. I thought I’d be a tourist in my hometown and test some apps for Sydney urban walks. A quick search of the appstore found three, which I downloaded onto my smartphone, and then headed out the office.
The Road to Barangaroo App
The Road to Barangaroo offers a single historical walking tour from Circular Quay to Barangaroo with eleven stops. It was produced by Lend Lease in partnership with Sydney Theatre Company. Released in July 2014, the app is available for both IOS and Android. The walking tour data is 27Mb and needs to be downloaded – and of course I hadn’t thought to do that before leaving home.
The walk starts outside the Museum of Contemporary Art and follows the waterfront through the Rocks, under the bridge, along Hickson Road to the headland reserve, then follows streets to Barangaroo South. There are eleven stops, or points of interest. The app suggests to allow 1.5 hours (it took me about an hour, spot on for my lunch break), but gives no indication of the distance.
I listened to the enjoyable stories narrated by Sydney Theatre actors between the marked stops. However the app did chew through my battery life, as the audio only played when the app was in the foreground and the screen was turned on. The audio complemented the information (small font size) and images available in the app itself. There was a good mix of historic and current stories.
The map is basic, with markers for the points of interest, but without the route shown. There is no interactivity, no liking or sharing.
The app was published in 2014, and has not been updated since Barangaroo Reserve was opened in 2015, which meant it detoured around this remarkable park. When I reached the headland park, I was so engaged by the sculptures on temporary exhibition and by playing on the rocky foreshores, that I forgot to go back and complete the final three stops on the app.
The Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences Walking Tours App
The Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS), more familiarly and formerly known as the Powerhouse Museum, publishes a Sydney Walking Tours app. It was last updated July 2015 (at time of this blog post) and is available for both iPhone and Android. It lists six walking tours – the Harbour Bridge, The Rocks, George Street, Pyrmont, Ultimo and a Heritage Pub Crawl (in-app purchase). The bright presentation of the home page raised my expectations for these tours. The walking tour data needs to be downloaded first – the George Street tour download was 33Mb, so this was requires pre-planning to download when you have wifi connectivity. And again, I hadn’t downloaded it.
The walk starts conveniently at Central Station and continues down George Street, ending somewhat abruptly at the intersection of Hunter Street (what about the rest of George Street?). There are 20 points of interest, and the app suggests to allow 2 hours (it took me about an hour, perfect for a lunch break). The audio is a repeat of the written information. The purpose of the app is to showcase curated historic images in the Museum collection. All the stops and images were taken at road intersections. While the stories were engaging with fun facts, the exclusive focus on the historic images (buildings in particular) taken at road intersections constrained the presentation. Contemporary information, or interesting buildings not at convenient intersections were passed by. I was left disappointed.
Fun facts. There’s a winking lion carved on Town Hall, just north of the main entrance steps. The Queen Vic statue outside the QVB was an Irish cast-off loitering in a paddock to protect her from IRA terrorists who might vandalise her. The Obelisk at Hyde Park covers a sewer vent and was known as the Scent Bottle.
Much like the Road to Barangaroo, the map is basic, with markers for the points of interest, but no route shown. Interactivity is limited to sharing. Battery usage was reasonable.
Sydney Culture Walks App
The Sydney Culture Walks App offers up history walks with catchy titles like Gritty Newtown and Passion Sydney’s Wild Side, but also includes public art tours. It was released by the City of Sydney, last updated March 2016 (at time of this blog post) and is available for both iPhone and Android. And hooray – the tours work, no need to download anything!
I picked the 6.3km public art tour Eclectic Pyrmont to Glebe, which has eleven stops and is suggested to take 2-3 hours. Sadly however, when I looked at the map, I realised that the start and end points for the work were in harbour side parks not easily accessible by public transport. It took me nearly half of my lunch break to walk to the start, after which I completed just three stops before needing to head back to the desk. A poor choice perhaps. I completed the tour sitting at my desk flicking through the images on my phone. The eleven stops are a mix of old (three war memorials) and new art, some of which are best seen in the day and some best seen at night.
This app has won design awards, and it shows in the user interface design which is far superior to Road to Barangaroo and MAAS apps. The images are clear, the map is ever present on the screen, the route is marked and distances given, there is good interactivity (sharing, liking, iBeacon support). No audio though.
What do you want in an Sydney Urban Walk App?
While I enjoyed the walks, there was something missing in all of these apps. Walking is active, and these apps were strangely passive. Perhaps a bit of community interaction or gamification would make them more engaging.
Know any good urban walk apps?