What Apps Are Essential for GenCon?

I decided that this week I would get back to my column's gadget/tech roots and put together a list of the things to make sure you've got on your smartphone to help enjoy the biggest convention on the gaming calendar.

And then, right when I was checking on the first item on the list, I ran into a brick wall.

GenCon won't be releasing an App this year.

Hit play for Karmina Burana now:


Now, swoon in anguish over the lack of a native GenCon app while the music washes over you.....

Why This Isn't Really The End Of The World

Okay, so, this feels like sort of a drag. But, as it turns out, it's far from catastrophic.

GenCon made the decision this year that instead of working with the mobile app provider that they've used in past they would focus that money and energy on providing a mobile version of their site.

At this point, the Mobile version of the site provides an event catalog. It allows you to drill down into the catalog using a variety of filters to try to find events -- this seems like it'll be a lot easier to work with (and more up to date) than the printed catalog.

As you give that a test drive, though, there's an alternative that you should also check out.

A gentleman (I've submitted a petition to have him canonized as a saint, but the form came back for insufficient postage) named Jon Shultz has taken the already excellent 3rd party GenCon directory on the HighProgrammer site and created a mobile interface for GenCon 2013 Events & Information.

On the surface, this appears to be just an alternative to the directory -- with functionality that is roughly equivalent to the directory provided by GenCon's mobile site.

Jon's GenCon 2013 site adds value by providing additional information that is not offered by the Gen Con mobile site (at least not at the time I'm writing this column). He's started adding venue maps (pulled from last year's catalog). So far has has downtown Indy and the Westin, with more to come.

And then, he's posted a Food Truck schedule that will make sure you don't have to eat the same steamed hot dogs and soggy nachos in the vendor hall we've settled for in the past.

I'd encourage you to check out both, and bookmark them (or even add them to your home screen for a week or so). Both will probably continue to add features and functionality between now and the Con.

Sidebar: Did GenCon Make A Terrible Decision?

Probably not. The biggest problem the have with the decision to focus on a mobile-optimized version of their site rather than a native App is that the audience already has an expectation that there will be an App.

The decision to go Mobile Website vs Native App is one that needs to be made on a case-by-case basis, based on the needs of the user and the way in which users will take advantage of the site.

In the case of GenCon, most of the information that users want to access the most through the mobile app will be highly time-sensitive. We'll want to know if there are any tickets left for a specific game that's going on in the next time period, and so on. While that information can be delivered live to a native app, the App adds a lot of unnecessary complexity at that point.

Look at it this way: GenCon wants to expose their up-to-date catalog to mobile users. They could go with the mobile Web solution, which means designing the site in a way that identifies mobile visitors and directs them to a mobile-optimized version of the site.

That's tricky enough. But to create a native app interface, they would have to develop the app on all of the different platforms (3 of them now -- iOS, Android, and Windows). And those could all be simple apps, but there's still a little development work to be done there, and then the apps need to be managed in the different app stores and promoted to the various customers -- there's a lot of overhead there, too. And in the end, that overhead does very little to improve the end user's experience.

So, for my money, this is the right move, even if it does trigger the wailing and gnashing of teeth from the change-averse. (Go ahead and hit play on Karmina Burana again, I'll wait).

What Else Do You Need?

Having sorted all of that out, it feels like an afterthought to start talking about other Apps that you'll need for the convention. But, here are some ideas to play with once you've recovered from the lack of a native GenCon App.

1. Twitter

Even if you mostly lurk, like me (@radiatinggnome), for real-time posts from an event there really isn't much that's better than Twitter. Facebook and Google plus have their strong suits, too, but when you want to stay on top of the things you don't want to miss at the convention, twitter is your friend.

There are lots of important people to follow -- and your list will be different from mine, but make sure you at least follow @ENWorld and @Morrus. He is the Guv'nor, after all. And he'll be there.

To really get the most out of Twitter, though, you're going to need to master a little hashtag-fu. Watch out for obvious tags like #gencon, #gencon2013, and one that may be critical if you've got a little free time -- #genconPUG (PUG = Pick-Up Game). And watch for your favorite publishers and games/game systems as hash tags as well. And use the comments below to share some other good hash tags.

2. Vine & Instagram

Posting pictures of that one Cosplayer who really took your breath away is something you can do from within Twitter, but this year I'm sure we're going to see a flood of GenCon Vines -- so get yourself the Vine App so you can create your own. Don't know what a Vine is? Check out the Vine that made Maisie Williams (Arya Stark) the queen of Vine (SPOILERS: https://vine.co/v/b3XZMHmxzxh)

Of course, even though Instagram and Twitter don't play all that well together anymore (can't we all just get along?), you're still going to see a lot of pictures and videos coming from instagram, so it wouldn't hurt to make sure you have that covered, too.

3. Pick a Food Truck Review App

Mashable did a roundup recently of Apps that try to track and review food trucks -- wouldn't it be nice to know if that falafel truck with the short line has good food? Give these a try.

4. Yelp

Food trucks, and the food court over in the mall are all well and good, but there's a lot more to Indiana than that. Yelp (or Tripadvisor, as an alternative) can help you find some alternatives to the usual fare.

5. Find My Phone

You know what? This one probably isn't worth it. What are the odds you're going to be able to hear it chirping for you to find it in the din surrounding the My Little Pony booth in the vendor hall? Still, it might be helpful if it's buried under your roommate's laundry in the hotel room.

6. Reminders (Or other alternatives)

Make really liberal use of reminders. You know how you're going to be -- there are going to be so many distractions out there in the world, you're going to need to have some way to make sure you get to your next game on time.

Final Smartphone Thoughts

Keep an eye on your battery level -- and between now and the convention, if you don't have backup power solutions, seriously think about some of the options we have explored in the past -- battery phone cases, spare batteries, and so on.

Keep your phone on vibrate, and in a spot where you're likely to feel it. There's a lot of noise to compete with, odds are you won't hear it ring even if it's in your hand.

And make sure you look up from your phone once in a while and enjoy the con. ;)

What are your must-have Apps for GenCon? Any other Recommendations?



I will not be Gencon-ing this year, but if I were, here are my top 5 app picks for the Droid, in no particular order:

Glympse- An app that allows you to broadcast your immediate location to people via a link to a web page map. No one has to download or install anything but you, and in addition to broadcasting your location, it can also give an ETA to a specific destination. Useful if someone is trying to find you and neither one of you knows any landmarks, and an easy way to let people know how close you are to a restaurant without having to call and give updates as to when you're leaving, and how close you are.

Where's My Droid- A find-your-phone app that allows you to (among other things) remotely turn the phone on, turn on gps, adjust volume, and broadcast the phone's location to google maps.

PDA Net - PDA Net allows you to turn your phone into a WiFi Hotspot or USB modem without having to pay for a tethering plan. This app is a life saver.

Wardrive - Wardrive allows you to scan and store information about the wifi networks around you and saves the information to a map so that you can see where the open networks are in the places you've been.

Simple Calendar - If, like me, you've already sold your soul to google, then you want this widget to show you a nice simple view of all the games you want to play and discussions you want to attend that you cleverly already put into your google calendar.


I map out my full schedule in Google calendar - including flight and hotel check-in info. Too much to remember, otherwise. Handy that you can enter start and end times in different time zones, without having to make the calculations yourself (or forgetting, and finding that your whole schedule has shifted 7 or 8 hours!).

Thanks for the Glympse recommendation. I can see that being very useful when I'm meeting up with people.
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Find My Phone should be a standard app and something every smart phone user sets up and tests.

It's not about being able to HEAR it in a crowded convention hall.

It's about knowing that the phone is STILL in the convention hall and likely still at the same table you were sitting at. Versus turned off or on the move because it's been stolen.

From there, you can initiate a remote wipe.

Smart phones hold too much data that phone thieves and hackers may find valuable, and it is relatively simple to protect yourself from that AND get a free chance to find your expensive iPhone that you misplaced.

Majoru Oakheart

My issue is that with no real data access while in the US, I can't use the mobile site at ALL without the app. At least with the app, I could use hotel wifi to update the database(including number of tickets left) in the morning and at least have an idea of what events I could expect to be open that day as well as avoid having to pull out and comb through a large program guide. I could at least filter to those events that weren't sold out.

I expect that this year I might have to spend 50 dollars on data charges that I wouldn't have had to if they kept the app.


My issue is that with no real data access while in the US, I can't use the mobile site at ALL without the app. At least with the app, I could use hotel wifi to update the database(including number of tickets left) in the morning and at least have an idea of what events I could expect to be open that day as well as avoid having to pull out and comb through a large program guide. I could at least filter to those events that weren't sold out.

I expect that this year I might have to spend 50 dollars on data charges that I wouldn't have had to if they kept the app.
technically, as an HTML5 app/site, the mobile site could have done that as well.

From a longer perspective, GenCon should not have hired some Elbonian code monkeys to slap together an iOS app for GenCon 2012. They needed a longer term view on this app being around for ALL GenCons ever.

They should have coded a GenCon app for the 3 main OSes that wrapped a mobile site. Then, they don't have to maintain mobile apps for the most part, as the actual content/presentation layer is all via a website that LOOKS like it is an app.

This would have given them the best of both worlds, not maintaining mobile apps, while not relying on people pulling up a web page on their mobile browser. Apps are THE way businesses get you to their content on mobile devices nowadays.

Facebook on iOS was actually an HTML5 app. Granted, it wasn't great, but then it's not great now either...

HTML5 allows more stuff to make the site act like an app, including storing data locally on the device. Thus MO's problem could be solved by caching the database.

Just some nerdy background info on the "why not an App" part of the problem.


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