Nature Other

iPhone field guides, please

I was interested to read Chris Clarke enthusing about iBird Explorer Plus, a field guide to North American birds for the iPhone, because it’s just about the first application I thought of when the phone was released. There doesn’t seem to be an equivalent piece of software for Europe yet, but hopefully it will come.

It also seems relevant to a discussion that has been rumbling on in various places (e.g. this post which I found via Daring Fireball) about pricing for iPhone applications, about whether all the crappy applications for a couple of dollars will crowd out better software and prevent people from paying a more serious price for them.

Well, I paid £17 (about $30 at the time) for this book, probably the best field guide ever written, and I would cheerfully pay the same again just to have exactly the same information available on my phone. I paid £35 for a 4 CD set of the bird songs and calls of Europe. And I bought an iPod Nano just so I could have those bird songs with me when I was birdwatching. For a really well-designed application for the iPhone that combined the information and illustrations from the Collins guide with added audio and photographic reference, I would pay £40 without thinking and would probably go higher.

And that’s despite the fact that I don’t think the iPhone is ever going to make an ideal field guide: the advantages like portability and multimedia will never quite compensate for the small screen size. For proper birding I would want the book as well. But to have that information with me at all times, I’d certainly pay good money. And why stop there? I also own field guides to British wild flowers, butterflies, moths, trees, fungi, and insects. Since I don’t want to break my back, I don’t normally carry them around with me; I would love to have iPhone versions of them.

The thing is, I have difficulty thinking of pure functionality that you could add to the iPhone that I would spend a lot of money on. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist, just that I don’t have the imgination to think what it is. But I would certainly pay for content.

Another example: amazing though Google Maps is, for walking in the UK, it’s no substitute for the appropriate Ordnance Survey map with all the footpaths and pubs marked on it. And while it would be nice to think that OS could sell digital versions of their maps slightly cheaper than the paper ones, I would pay the full price, grumbling a little, if I could. I paid £6 for a buggy version of the London Mini A-Z, so I guess I couldn’t complain about paying the same for an OS map. For a package that gave me coverage for the whole of, say, Sussex, Kent and Surrey at multiple resolutions, £50 or £60 wouldn’t seem like an unreasonable price.

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