City of Ottawa launches app: Discover Ottawa

Karen is a wife to Matt, mom to Brandon and works full time at an awesome social media job she doesn’t talk about online. She is the author of Karen’s Chronicles and co-founder of Losing it in Ottawa.

One of my goals for 2011 is to get out and around greater Ottawa more and really experience the things it has to offer.

I’ve relied upon various friends, Kids in the Capital and Local Tourist Ottawa to give me ideas of what is going on or interesting to see around the city. But many of my resources are dependent on people already knowing about what’s going on in advance. And it’s sometimes hard to keep up with my blog reading. Actually, it’s a constant challenge these days.

When I heard that the City of Ottawa was launching an app called Discover Ottawa I was skeptical, but really hoping that it would end up being a good resource for my personal mission.

The name seemed to be promising. The app was developed locally by Purple Forge. I downloaded Discover Ottawa onto my iPhone a few days before the official launch and was amused to find that the databases still had test data in them. It was understandable since I was peeking into something that really wasn’t quite ready for public consumption.

My first impression?

It’s a pretty app. And easy to navigate. It’s a little slow to load, but when you factor in that there is data from quite a few sources – the City of Ottawa, Ottawa Tourism, Ottawa Chamber of Commerce, more than a dozen BIAs, the Ottawa Airport Authority and shopping centres. Since the launch, two of the times I opened the app, I’ve had to download updates to the database. I like that I’m getting up-to-date information so frequently.
So, what does it do? A lot! You can find information on or browse:

  • Accommodations – hotels and B&Bs
  • Airport arrives/departures
  • Attractions
  • Chamber of Commerce
  • City of Ottawa flickr account
  • City of Ottawa Twitter feeds
  • Current weather conditions from Environment Canada
  • Doctors
  • Events – all over the greater Ottawa area, including Gatineau – and you can add them automatically to your iPhone calendar.
  • Information about Ottawa – extensive about Ottawa, from local business organizations to profiles on elected officials, lists of embassies and a general overview of the City and its history.
  • News from City of Ottawa – PSAs, media advisories and news releases
  • Parks
  • Restaurants
  • Shopping
  • Some integration with Facebook and Twitter for users who want to share what they’re doing and where they’re going.
  • Tourism services
  • Tours
  • Transportation – taxis, buses, airport shuttles, traffic news

Finally, users can document their adventures in and around Ottawa with the personalized postcard function. At first, I thought it was a little too hokey for my liking, but then I did one for this post and it’s actually fun. You get to choose the theme, a picture of your own from your device, a stamp and include a message. When you’ve finished customizing your postcard, you can save it to your device and/or share it via email, Facebook or Twitter. It’s a fun way to commemorate a particularly memorable event with some Canadian/Ottawa-themed content.

I’m impressed – really thoroughly impressed with the amount of information in this one little app. It’s hard to find fault with it, but it is a first release and as such, there are a areas for improvement.

The biggest omission that I noted was in the section labeled “Here I Am!” I saw the emblem and immediately thought it would be a way to share with Twitter or Facebook (or Foursquare) where I am. But it’s not. It just opens an email with a link to your location and a blurb about the app. I can’t really think of a reason I’d ever want to email someone where I am like that. That type of sharing is typically used for more instantaneous mediums – such as Twitter and Facebook. I think this section could be built out a bit better to cater to those users who like sharing this type of information.

I also found that the list of restaurants is nowhere near complete. I hope that over time more and more will be added.

Another downside – though not for me – is that the app is only available for Apple products at the moment – that includes iPod, iPhone, iPad users (note that there isn’t an HD iPad version, but it upscales decently well). Blackberry and Android versions are slated to be released later this year.

As someone who is not native to Ottawa – or Canada, for that matter – I rely heavily on personal recommendations of friends for ideas of what to do and where to go.

Thanks to this app, I have a great resource at my fingertips when I have nothing planned and want to get out and find something new and interesting to do.

Thanks Karen! What do you think of the City of Ottawa’s new app?