Ever since beer checkin service Untappd launched a year ago, it’s been a web app because both of the founders, Greg Avola and Tim Mather, had backgrounds in web development. It had a great interface for a web app, but it led to slowness in anything other than ideal network conditions and prevented them from adding photos to the service. Today that all changes with the launch of their native apps for Android and iPhone.
Now that it’s an app, Untappd has added one of their most requested features: photos. You can add a photo of your beer or your drinking buddies right along with your checkin. It’s a nice feature that helps to make the network feel more social. The photos appear to other users within the app (checkins with a photo have a camera icon next to them) or inline on the website, much like foursquare photos (they don’t get pushed to foursquare, however).
Another new feature is the notification center. Instead of email notifications, you can now get comments, toasts, friend requests, etc. directly within the app.
The native apps each get a new navigation interface that makes them fit in better with other apps on the OS. The iPhone version, for example, gets a big check-in button at the bottom, just like foursquare, Instagram, Gowalla, and many others. Android retains the tabs across the top.
By making Untappd a native app, they gain tremendous speed improvements because most of the graphics are already stored on the phone and not downloaded every time as they were in the web app. It also remembers your state when you switch away, so it doesn’t reload from the very beginning every time you open it. This will be a huge improvement for people who often experience slow networks in crowded areas like football games and theme parks (cough, AT&T, cough).
Perhaps the biggest advantage to native apps, though, comes in the form of findability in the app stores. Both platforms have done an amazing job of conditioning customers to search the app store for apps, which puts web apps at a major disadvantage. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten tweets and emails along the lines of “Hey, what’s that beer app you use? I searched for Untappd in the app store, but couldn’t find it.” By offering native apps, they’ll finally have a spot in the app stores.
I’ve only been playing with the app for a few hours, but it feels very snappy and the UI is well done â€” just as we’ve come to expect from Untappd. This is a big step for a little company that should pay big dividends in terms of new users and engaging existing ones.