I recently had an experience that led me to a few important observations. My family and I went to Disneyland and had our first opportunity to use the parks newest app. What struck me about Disneyland’s app, and the work they put into making an incredible app that greatly increases the customer experience at Disneyland, was how the entire app is a map first UI. Here is a screenshot to take a look at, and then I’ll break it down.
What you notice, is how the map itself is visually appealing. It is also designed to look like Disneyland. The entire interactive experience is based around the map UI. The main screen starts with what is easily the most used feature, checking ride times. If you buy a Max Pass, you can even get Fastpasses (things that make you wait in less of a line) right from the app. Besides checking ride wait times, you can see where and when your favorite characters will be in the park, see what restaurants are near you, or where they are in general and check their menu and even make a reservation if needed. Again, the entire experience is all based on the Map UI. The map first UI is not just helpful, it is arguably necessary for a hyper-local experience like Disneyland. Location, and relevant information with context to your location is relevant as you make activity decisions.
You can download the Disneyland app and simply check it out, and I encourage you to do so to see a fantastic implementation of the map first UI if interested.
This whole experience got me thinking more about how maps, and location, can evolve into a platform and marketplace. We talk a lot about the mobile 2.0 era, and I firmly believe location and proximity information and services around our location will be a significant part of the mobile 2.0 era.
To that effect, I had the opportunity to moderate a panel on the topic of the map first UI at Mapboxe’s two-day event called Locate. It was a great panel that consisted of representatives from Uber, Woov, Weedmaps, Open Listings, and Lonely Planet. Each of these companies uses the map UI as a large part of their app experience.
Per my Disneyland example, many of you can probably relate to the map first UI from using apps like Uber or Lyft. The primary interface is a map, and the layered value of Uber and Lyft’s services are layered on top of the map UI. What was unique about many of the companies on my panel was how they all had highly customized their maps design as a part of their UI. Most companies, especially if they integrate Apple Maps or Google Maps, just show us the same boring brown map. I firmly believe rich visuals in the map first UI are what make the experience that much better.
One of the interesting insights that came from our panel discussion was how each company had quantified that the map first UI, and a focus to display information visually my layering it on top of a map vs. just showing a bunch of text or menu’s to the user, led to a dramatic decrease of friction. Consumers can get what they need or want quickly without any fuss. Each panelist was adamant the map UI was a central part of removing friction for the user.
The other discussion point was how interesting it will be as we develop marketplaces on top of the map UI. Meaning letting merchants and users interact with each other in new ways. The concept of a marketplace somewhat exists in the Disneyland app, just in a way exclusive to Disneyland. Companies on the panel like Open Listings (an app for buying or selling a home), Lonely Planet (a travel experience app), and Weed Maps (an app connecting cannabis buyers and sellers), all engage in this marketplace for commerce around the map first UI. The predominantly map-based view is the primary driver of the marketplace’s value and engagement. I’d argue that for location-based services, the map first UI is a definitively better way to display information and help consumers efficiently and effectively make decisions.
This is where the idea of a mapping platform comes into play. Neither Google or Apple are treating maps as a developer platform, and I firmly believe that is a missed opportunity. Luckily, Mapbox is and companies like the ones I mentioned, including other big names like Tinder, Snapchat, are using Mapbox to create experiences around location and beginning to think about the platform that can be the map UI.
I’m hoping more companies, especially those that want to focus on location-based experiences start thinking more deeply about the map first UI and how to push this idea of the map based marketplace forward. Cities, retailers and malls, conferences and events, hotels and travel companies, etc., all can go further using this concept. It remains a relatively new concept from an app and UI standpoint, but as I said earlier, not only is it a superior way to visually display information but will be an important part of the next wave of apps.