FastMall iPhone app a GPS for the shopping center

Feb 12, 2010

Initially, the FastMall iPhone app (free) struck me as kind of bizarre. I realize it’s easy to get a bit turned around in a mall, but it seems like there’s a directory every few stores, so how much would an iPhone app that told you your exact proximity to the Gap really help you?

It turns out, however, that FastMall is a more than just a mall map generator, and some of its sidecar features end up being its best attractions. But before we get to those pleasant surprises, it’s important to note that FastMall doesn’t seem to do its core feature very well at all.

If you do download this iPhone app, prepared to storm your local mall using its map and plan out your route from store to store, you’re likely to be disappointed. While FastMall does boast that it has a sort of turn-by-turn navigation system so you can find the Forever 21 in your mall and take the quickest route to the Auntie Anne’s pretzels, it’s also just as likely that your mall does not have a map to view.

I’m writing this iPhone app review in Chicago, where we have several prominent malls downtown, along with a series of very big malls out in the suburbs, including Woodfield Mall, which is a shopping mecca. Of the nearest 80 malls to my location in Chicago, a distance spanning 168 miles and stretching into Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana, only one mall had a map.

Even if I search for a mall that does have a map, viewing the map is more trouble than its worth. While the mapped malls provide a floor plan of the currently floor of the mall you’re on, they don’t actually label the floor plan. Instead, to find a store, you get to look at a list of stores, the store you click is then marked on the map and you can get a route to it. This couldn’t possibly be easier than just looking at the mall directory.

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Oddly enough, the bathrooms and escalators are actually labeled on the floor plans. You may not be able to easily find a Foot Locker, but you’ll find the closest bathroom in a heartbeat. I don’t say sarcastically that this is actually a pretty nice feature. Some of the most poorly labeled artifacts on mall directories are the bathrooms.

The “Car Locator” feature of the iPhone app could very well be the best reason to download it at all. By hitting a few buttons, a map is notated with where you’re currently standing, and you can record an accompanying audio reminder as well, so if you’re in some multi-tiered parking garage, you could remind yourself what level you’re on. It looks like this has been thought out very well.

The community portion of FastMall, on the other hand, seems less thought out. It simply shows you a list of the most recent activity, i.e., “xx just checked in at Ridgedale Center,” “X just checked in at Ala Moana Center.” Clicking on any of these details tells you the exact same thing and lets you email, Facebook, or tweet the information. But you’re not able to actively communicate with anyone who has checked in, making this less like a community and more like tracking random strangers briefly.

I can see the potential in FastMall. It has a lot of features that, once fully realized, could make it an extremely cool and useful iPhone app. But almost none of them actually work like they really should for a fully-released iPhone app. Instead, most of this feels like it’s being tested out on anyone who wants to download it. Perhaps down the line FastMall will be worth a look, but it’s not there yet.

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Dan Kricke

Dan Kricke has been playing with electronics and writing about them for years. He loved his Sega Dreamcast and now the PlayStation 3. On the iPhone, he's a fan of sports apps and anything that offers new music.


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