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Going Mobile at the Edinburgh Festivals

I covered 52 shows and 68.1 miles in 7 days: The Edinburgh Festivals provided a perfect proving ground for the effectiveness of consumer mobile apps. My rating: 3 stars out of 5 (but it reads more like a four).
  • 1 city
  • 7 days
  • 52 shows
  • 68.1 miles travelled to and fro, all on foot.

That’s the Executive Summary of my holiday at the Edinburgh Festival this year. As the website helpfully explains, “With 12 different festivals to choose from and as many as 2,500 different events on offer, some simple planning will help you make the most of your Edinburgh Festivals experience."

And how. I knew I’d be living on my mobile whist there, but I wanted a larger screen for planning (my MacBook Air was my tool of choice). So, I need a multi-channel (PC and mobile) solution that I could use from both devices. Google Calendar fit the bill. It’s accessible via browser, syncs to my phone and has a great mobile web app. I booked a few events I wanted to see ahead of time, and then used my mobile to book day by day so I could see shows that were getting good buzz.

DOWNSIDE: The festival’s web site couldn’t send tickets to my phone, so I had to collect them each day from a few select ticket outlets. Waste. Of. Time. One day I missed the first five minutes of a show when the first outlet had a power outage and I had to run across town to get it. I took the train from London, and was delighted to get WiFi on board. (Had I flown, I wouldn’t have.), and then instantly disgruntled that they had blocked my personal webmail. Really?

Once I arrived, I was back to my laptop for planning and booking each morning and evening in the flat I’d rented, then off on my mobile during the day. To find my way around, I used the official Fringe App for ticket collection sites and nearby event venues, or Google Maps for venues farther away.

UPSIDE: I’d added the venue addresses to my Google Calendar, so it automatically created a link that I could open in Google Maps to get directions.

DOWNSIDE: None of the mapping apps factored all the hills into the travel time. Well, either that, or I need to be much fitter. As a number of comedians at the show commented, Edinburgh is a city where you can go somewhere and it is uphill, and on the way back it is still uphill: a city designed by Escher.

DOWNSIDE: It was all too easy for an out-of-towner to misread the map when it came to Cowgate, South Bridge and George IV Bridge. From South Bridge & George IV you can't turn on to Cowgate, as Cowgate is 30 feet below every other street!



When my hosts for the stay discovered I didn’t have a paper map, they wouldn’t let me leave until they scrounged one up for me. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I didn’t need one because of my mobile.

UPSIDE: My hosts drew in some good pubs and other useful things that I wouldn’t have been able to find otherwise. Being able to quickly scribble points of interest is something that paper maps still have the edge over electronic maps. And that ended up being extremely helpful, because I would have missed the great food (and Ales) at The Café Royal.

DOWNSIDE: I relied on Yelp and FourSquare to find places to eat. However these services don’t look to be as widely used as they are in other major cities, so they weren’t as reliable as I expected.

Using both my laptop and mobile, I was multi-channel. The festival largely wasn't. Whilst my bookings did show up on my app, there was no other integration. Shows that I’d bookmarked on my phone didn't show up on the website, and vice versa. The app remembered my credit card details, but the website didn't. Most absurdly, the booking fees were different between the app and the website.

DOWNSIDE: I had to miss one event I wanted to see because the website required me to print the confirmation page—on a piece of paper—in order to collect my ticket. Sorry… I don’t travel with a printer. I don’t even have one at home. Who prints anything these days?

The lack of official integration didn’t mean that there weren’t spots of mobile brilliance. Here’s one: I 'attended' one show on my phone! ‘Barry’s Audio Tour of the Fringe’ was a downloadable podcast that lead me on a self-guided (or, Barry-guided, actually) walking tour of the Fringe. For me, this was the highlight:


 It’s a bit of an inside joke.

Overall I did manage to keep mainly on my mobile, but it was a good thing I had my laptop as it enabled me to save on booking fees.

However, it didn’t quite live up to my completely mobile experience at my last festival—SXSW—where you could really go mobile only. More on than another time.