Why Detour shows the potential of Beacons

Mar 6, 2015

Recently, Andrew Mason, the founder and former CEO of GroupOn (no relation to our founder, Mark Mason) launched a new app called Detour. Detour is an automated, location-aware, walking tour app that utilises beacons and GPS to trigger audio tours as people explore San Francisco.

The app is designed around providing users with moving stories, that take listeners on a journey to explore cities in a whole new way. Rather than taking users to all the tourist destinations, the app will help visitors or locals explore their city and discover places they wouldn’t otherwise go to. It’s about real stories, real people and interesting places.

For us, this is one of the best examples of beacons being implemented in the right way to provide people with something they wouldn’t otherwise get – without having a physical tour guide. The app isn’t designed around keeping people on a set route, rather, allowing them to explore and find out new things and new stories.

The production of the stories and the tour is clearly important here, but it’s also the use of beacons that help to create an experience that provides context to their surroundings. People can move at their own pace, or even in groups, with the app syncing their sessions.

Through the app, users can learn about the war San Francisco is having with garbage cans at the moment, hear stories from the fishermen at Fisherman’s Wharf, hear about the back alleys and music history of the Tenderloin from Josh Perry Barlow (a lyric writer for the Grateful Dead) and many other interesting stories.

Though GPS provides coverage for outdoor location, beacons help to trigger content on a much closer level and allow users to explore inside buildings and rooms within buildings.

Key to the experience is the ability to keep your phone in your pocket and explore at your leisure. From all that we’ve seen, Detour has nailed the user experience because they’ve taken a user centric approach. It’s also doing something that you couldn’t get from a normal audio tour, the ability to get stories from people as you walk around (and the ability to take as many breaks as possible).

According to its website, Detour says it has plans to grow to other cities, which we hope will include the UK and Europe. Because it uses beacons and GPS, the talks can be downloaded to your phone meaning you don’t need mobile data turned on – which is perfect for tourists.

In many ways, this is a similar concept to what Microsoft achieved with its Cities Unlocked project that we were honoured to be involved in.

By putting the user first and thinking about what matters to them, these companies have used beacons in the right way. With Apple Watch launching soon, we only hope that more companies think like this to create contextual moments based on what users need or what helps them in a useful way.

If you are going to San Francisco any time soon, Detour is an app you should definitely download.

Detour App Link

A subscription for unlimited access to tours costs $19.99 per year, or for $4.99 each

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