AMITIAE - Friday 23 December 2011
Wish you Were Here: Postcards on the Run, for the iPhone
It has been sad to watch the contractions that the world's post offices have seen in the last few years. As services have become less reliable, electronic communication has taken over, but some services use a combination of modern messaging and traditional deliveries.
In late 2007, I reviewed an early version of Posterino which I found excellent for the easy way in which I could produce posters and cards. I still use the (updated) software for these purposes. In that early version and for while after, a feature of the application was the ability to send a card to the servers and have it processed, then delivered to an address via the Swiss Post Office. Five free mailings were included in the price of the software and users could purchase more as needed. I used this on a couple of occasions. As well as the surprise factor, the ability to send original content to a friend, family member or anyone else, was a bonus. Sadly, the Swiss stopped the service and Christoph Priebe sent out an apologetic email when this happened. It was one of his favourite parts of Posterino.
More recently, I was delighted when Apple announced its Cards application which would send content from the desktop to the postal service with online charges for US and foreign deliveries. The elation soon turned to ashes in my mouth when I discovered that this was one more Apple service that I would not be able to get my hands on.
Earlier this week I found Postcard on the Run -- reported by Michael Grothaus on TUAW -- an app for the iPhone (and iPod touch) that will take images and have them sent as cards by the postal services.
Postcards on the RunI downloaded version 2.3 of this app, which appears in iTunes as a file of 3.2MB. The developers -- Postcards on the Run -- are based in Los Angeles so I presume that the US Postal Service is used. With recent reports of mass closures, this type of hybrid service should be good news for them. As well as the iTunes App Store where it is free, this is now also available in the Android Market for $0.99. I am looking only at the iPhone version here.
I did not find the opening screen -- seen on iTunes App Store screen shots -- looked professional with the photograph of CEO Josh Brooks in a "crazy" pose. I like my working apps to be serious. Apart from the photo, the rest of the opening screen gives clear instructions on the steps:
Below are three methods to pick a photo: using the iPhone camera, an existing photo (from the Photo Album) or from Facebook. Pressing the last button gave me instant access to the Facebook app on my iPhone and asked for access permission. I declined. I always do.
I took a picture with the iPhone camera and was offered the usual Use or try again options. When the image was accepted, a popup asked to use the location services. I agreed and a message panel appeared with a limit of 200 characters. I used English, Thai and an Emojicon. Below the panel are three buttons: Color, Font and Next. I selected Orange Red from a scroll wheel that had 12 colors, including Black. Another scroll wheel gave me a choice of 10 fonts, including the Thai font, Thonburi. When the selections are done, a panel appears (landscape mode) that allows a user to sign the card. This may take a bit of practice, but this certainly adds a personal touch to the message. There is an erase button if the signature needs fixing.
A neat little feature appeared when I was offered the option to include a map of where the photograph was taken. We are also offered a selection of smells: from baby powder and mint to popcorn and chocolate. There were 11 to choose from, although I dread the thought of what Teen Spirit might unleash.
Once these selections are complete, we can view the whole card (albeit on the smaller screen of the iPhone). A Flip button allows both sides to be examined. The data is uploaded and a charge is displayed. In my case, this was $2.19. This is for card as well as postal charges.
The user is asked to submit credit card information at this stage. I was not totally comfortable with this and would have preferred the normal in-app purchase via the App Store. Users may turn off the Saving feature for payment information, but this would require re-entering details each time. Some will prefer this. However, if the data is saved, the users are prompted for a four number pin.
The transaction was completed in a few seconds and my date for delivery of the card is 26 December for the US, or 2 January for International. I would actually expect some delays over these advised dates with the New Year period. However, an email that arrived as a confirmation updated the arrival to 31 December 2011. I have my doubts about this date.
With the Order Complete panel, we are offered options of a Facebook Post or a Twitter Post, plus a button for making a new postcard. A further button gives access to Support and FAQ (online), although this brought up "Page not found" on my iPhone. At the top right of a screen is a file-tray icon that allows access to previously sent cards, so these may be accessed (altered if necessary) and sent again.
CommentThis sort of app (or desktop application) is a way to fuse our digital photography collections with the older technologies of print and the postal services. I was sad that Zykloid was forced to stop this with its Posterino, but this seems a valid replacement, albeit via the US Postal Service and not Swiss Post.
The fairly easy way in which I can pick an image on the iPhone and have it sent to anyone as a real card, makes a difference to the way in which a communication can be appreciated. Compare an email with an attachment to a card: you can hold in your hand. The effect is even greater if it has a bespoke image.
That Apple does not make its own Cards application available for users in this part of the world makes it appear more and more that certain countries are only ever going to be allowed a sort of Apple Lite (Microsoft are equally guilty). While I can fully understand the restrictions of copyright that limit some parts of the iTunes store in some countries, other parts, for example movie trailers, do not have the same restrictions. To compound the illogical nature of this, movie trailers can be accessed on the Apple site without restrictions.
I am tired of explaining Apple's actions (or inactions) when it comes to markets such as Thailand where the users are not as favoured: product limitations, late arrivals, or even non-arrival of products. We are fortunate that in many cases entrepreneurs like Postcard on the Run are stepping in to fill the gaps when Apple ignores its customers.
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