Tuesday, May 17, 2011

What birders want in their Digital Birding Field Guide App!

I just wanted to take a quick look at some of the more interesting trends I am seeing in the data obtained from birders rating the importance of certain app features.  These are just some of my thoughts, so please weigh in with your thoughts as you look at the responses.  If you haven't taken the survey yet, please do!

The ability to search for a bird species by scrolling through an alphabetical list of common birds names and the ability to type in part of the bird name to find it seem to be the most wanted search methods.  Searching by scientific name is not important to 79% of respondents.  Searching by banding code is not important to 66%.  Both are cool features which may be used by a few birders, but would not appeal to the vast majority of birding field guide app users.

side-by-side comparison on Sibley eGuide
People do want to have the ability to compare similar birds on their apps, either on the same screen or with the touch of a button.  Comparing species has been one advantage printed guides were suppose to hold over apps, but the digital app developers seem to be finding excellent solutions and overcoming that challenge fairly well.

I am surprised that more birders don't want the app to "know" their location using the GPS device built into smartphones.  Are people concerned about the privacy issues that have been in the news so much lately?  I happen to like this feature and can't wait to see future enhancements related to location-stamping my sightings...and hopefully reporting them to eBird for me!

It is apparent that app users want to be able to keep records of their sightings within the app.  I was indifferent to this as I keep track of everything on eBird, but there are loads of people who for years keep track of sightings in the margins of their paper field guides, so why not in their digital field guides too?

74% of respondents would like to see BOTH photos AND illustrations of the birds within a single app.  I agree.  Digital field guides can bring an end to the debate about which is better, photos or illustrations, simply pleasing everyone by providing both.  Now I'd like to see the photos improve from just "pretty" photos to those that portray effectively the identifiable characteristics, like the Stokes, Kaufman, and Crossley field guides.

The ability to listen to bird calls within the app is important to 100% of app users.  This ability, along with portability, is what really sets digital field guides above the book formats.  Now, how birders use the sounds varies a bit.  Most report that their primary use of bird playbacks is to confirm the identity of birds they hear in the field.  It is almost a perfect 3-way split of folks responding "yes, no, or maybe" to the question as to whether they will use the bird calls in the app to attract or call in birds.  We all know that "maybe" means "yes", right?

On a side note, how are these apps affecting BirdJam?  Are they coming out with new products like digital apps themselves to compete?  They were so innovative, but expensive compared to app prices today.  Are they going to develop apps? (Update on BirdJam apps)

Using the camera on your device to record bird sightings in not "extremely important" to anyone.  I wonder if that will change as camera technology continues to improve to the point that our smart phone apps will take photos of dSLR quality.  Hmmm....something to think about.

Connecting to social networking sights to share your bird sightings is another feature that is not "extremely important" to anyone.  I thought it would be, at least to a few people.  It seems like Tweeting a bird you just saw, especially a rare species, might be fun.

Finally, it appears that birders want it all when it comes to birding apps.  They generally do want all-inclusive, comprehensive bird information.  Not just identification info, but even the details down to the color of the eggs. Personally, I find myself in the middle, or leaning toward just having the basic identification information knowing I can find it online or in books.  But with the ease of convenience of apps, why not have it all in one place?!  I guess at some point the app becomes to big, memory-wise, for our devices and perhaps too expensive as it takes a lot of work to create.  One-button taps linking you to third-party information sources online through the app could make providing loads of bird info easier to manage and develop.  iBird kind of does this already with Birdpedia.  I'd like to see Cornell's AllAboutBird.org tied into a birding app, and maybe eventually Birds of North America.

If you disagree with what everyone else seems to be saying, please take the survey and let your voice be heard!  I'd also love to read everyone's opinions and observations in the comments.


  1. I have yet to buy a smart phone (I think my cell phone is about 12 years old). But this survey and feature list is invaluable! Thanks!

    One thing not exactly mention...
    I want to be able to dictate my bird list with GPS and time stamps as I'm birding (or driving).

    Of course, besides playing bird songs, I want to be able to record songs in the field and use immediate playback.

    I can't find one device that has all I want. I rarely actually use a phone, except for emergencies!

  2. @Greg Gillson - I'm glad you find the app study interesting and valuable. I think it will help app creators.

    You are thinking like I am about an app that allows you to voice dictate your sightings and count #'s and GPS stamp them and submit them to eBird. I actually penned down that idea several years ago and talked to some people about it. I think technology is catching up quickly now and it shouldn't be too long before that dream is realized.

    When it comes to the smartphone, I hardly use it as a phone. I do text with it, and occasionally browse the web with it, but the apps are what make it so fun to use. May I recommend Virgin Mobile?! They have the best prices out there for the data plans you have to have to use the smartphone. If only I could get them to sponsor my blog!

  3. How about an iTouch? I have a dumb phone and use my iTouch for birding. You can put all the apps on it, hear songs and even record them - with an external mic. Of course you won't have gps capabilities on an itouch, but you can record yourself. You can also purchase external speakers for playback.