Article in Product Design UX UI category.

The Mobile Caribbean

I took my first cruise when I was a teenager. It was on a "fun ship" by Carnival called the Jubilee between Vancouver and Anchorage.…

I took my first cruise when I was a teenager. It was on a "fun ship" by Carnival called the Jubilee between Vancouver and Anchorage. I canoed Ketchikan. I mountain biked in Skagway. I did laundry under a midnight sun surrounded by bald eagles. It was an incredible experience and cemented cruising into my psyche as something to do again and again.

Last year I took another cruise, this time between Miami and Nassau onboard a much more advanced vessel -- the Norwegian Escape. The Escape was the venue for Summit at Sea, the flagship event of Summit Series. Fueled is a founding member of Summit -- we even built their app -- and I was delighted by the opportunity to spend four days at sea with Quentin Tarantino, Norman Lear, LeVar Burton, countless other influencers, and three thousand fellow Summit members.

SAS was a very different experience than my time on the Jubilee some 15 years prior. The ship was just one year old, much bigger, and filled with entertainment options much more advanced than those of the Jubilee. And I was old enough to play poker! So when I decided to book a Christmas cruise this year for my family, I scoured the options to find a similarly advanced ship. I didn't want to get stuck on a poop cruise on a decade-and-half old clunker.

I was thrilled when I found Royal Caribbean's Anthem of the Seas. The second of RC's new Quantum class of ship, RC describes the Anthem as "the most technologically advanced ship at sea." And on initial inspection, the claim seemed to hold up. There are robotic bartenders, "super fast" wifi "from stem to stern" good enough to stream Netflix and make Facetime calls. The top deck is festooned with the Northstar, an observation pod that rises to over 300 feet above the water line. And most importantly, there's an app which is *supposed* to make your time on board more efficient.

If you've ever been on a cruise before, you know that one of the worst parts of the experience is dealing with "guest services." Guest Services is the cruise ship equivalent to a hotel concierge and, unless you are staying in a fancy suite with dedicated staff, you rely on Guest Services for just about everything important. Managing dinner reservations, claiming show tickets, booking excursions, finding your lost sunglasses -- it all happens at Guest Services, usually after (at least) 20 minutes of standing in line.

The Royal IQ app is supposed to change that. It is supposed to take all of those mundane requests and make them simple and accessible. And it makes sense, too. What does a Guest Services rep do when you get to the front of the line, anyway? They type your request into a computer. There's no reason you shouldn't be able to do that yourself. And a well designed, well-engineered app should be able to do all of that. Unfortunately, Royal IQ is not well engineered. Nor is it well designed. Nor does it make any part of cruising on the Anthem easier. In fact, it made every part of our cruise worse. The Royal IQ app's shortcomings were one of many tech fails I would encounter over eight days.

The trouble started on Day 1. The Anthem is a very big ship -- over 1,110 feet long with 15 decks -- so keeping in touch with your friends and family is a challenge. Cruise veterans will bring a set of walkie talkies to overcome this. Newbies will fall for the insanely overpriced "Cellular At Sea" service to make calls and texts at $3 per minute and 50 cents per text. The Anthem offers a messaging service inside the Royal IQ app for just $1 per day which, they say, you don't need the full Internet service package (as much as $25 per day) to use.

Technically, this is correct: you don't need to pay for the full Internet service to use the Royal IQ messenger. That is, of course, if you were smart enough to download the Royal IQ app *before* you got on the ship (or before the ship left the range of cell service). If you didn't do that, Guest Services is kind enough to direct you to pay for "just one day" or Internet access so you can download the Royal IQ app from the App Store or Google Play Store -- for $25.

Once you have the app, the experience doesn’t improve. The biggest problem with the Royal IQ app is that appears to have been built with a hybrid framework. Hybrid frameworks are shortcut tools developers can use to create app-like experiences but not true apps. They’re basically websites shoehorned into an app “wrapper” that allow for cheaper, faster development at the expense of quality, consistency, and performance.

Performance is the biggest issue with the Royal IQ app. Because it uses a hybrid framework, it can’t store much data on your device. It must constantly ask a server what to display which adds tens of seconds to every interaction. Want to look at the event calendar? Wait ten seconds for it to load. Want to look at the event calendar five minutes later? Wait another ten seconds to download the same calendar information again. These types of performance issues are why Fueled does not make hybrid apps. We make beautiful, performant apps that take advantage of the billions of dollars of R&D that Apple and Google have spent creating native app development tools.

The second biggest issue with the Royal IQ is stability. It just doesn’t work a lot of the time. Requests will either time out or come back with meaningless error messages. It’s particularly terrible at booking dinner reservations. Not only is the fundamental user experience of selecting a time and restaurant mind-bogglingly difficult (I do this for a living and struggled to figure it out), it somehow manages to work yet still return error messages saying it didn’t. On three different occasions, I tried to make a reservation that ended in an error statement. On the fourth try, it appeared to work. But when I showed up at the restaurant that evening, I had four separate reservations!

My third complaint -- which is probably the most serious from a business perspective -- is that it fails to do so many things that it should do to make Royal Carribean more money. Cruise ships make most of their income from selling alcohol. I’m not much of a drinker so I passed on one of their all-you-can-drink plans. But on the third day of the cruise, they offered a ten drink package for 40% off which made sense to buy because you could share it with another passenger. Between the four of us, we were definitely going to have at least ten drinks over the next four days. But what do you get when you buy it from the world’s most technologically advanced cruise ship? Literally a paper punch card, flimsier than some I’ve gotten from local coffee shops! And if you lose it, you’ve lost your drinks. There’s also a lot of other things to buy on the ship. Watches, jewelry, a pretty cool logo hoodie, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at the app.

I really love cruising. I want to cruise more. And RC delivering on the potential of mobile resort technology would make me want to cruise with them more.

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