Crap-Apps Part I: Smartphone Toilet Finders
As I move across country, I’ve been experimenting with smartphone toilet-locator apps. While I’m pretty good at finding restrooms on my own, I thought I’d have a look at what assistance is available. There are a handful of them, but only a few established enough to reach the 10,000 download mark. I focused on these because most such apps rely on user input to amass their database of locations.
Therefore, the more users an app has, the more restrooms it is likely to have logged. I also focused on Google/Android apps, since I don’t have an iPhone, and you can’t shop for iPhone apps unless you actually have one. If you know of good ones please email them to me at [email protected].
Aside from relying on a user-built (or at least user-confirmed) database, all of these apps also share the ability to integrate the phone’s geographical tools to identify the user’s current location and list nearby restrooms or show them on a map. Obviously, it’s best to turn on the GPS for most precise results. None of the apps asked for inappropriate permissions, restricting themselves to internet access (ostensibly to retrieve the database info) and GPS/navigation data to identify your location.
With tabs at the top of the screen, you can easily view nearby locations on a map or look at a list, ordered by distance. That’s pretty much all of the options available in this one, it’s a very simple app, but the most user-friendly of the ones reviewed here. GoToilet easily identified the movie theater next door to my hotel, but the nearest listed restroom is 2.85 miles away.
This app only offers a map view, with no list view or distance data. It doesn’t automatically refresh your position on start-up. Instead, you have to use the menu functions to access the “my location” button and refresh the map. At first, it placed me in lower Manhattan rather than south St. Paul. At a driving distance of 1,200 miles, I’d have to change underwear a few times along the way. Once I figured out how to refresh the location it showed me a few toilet possibilities, but they were several miles away. Surprisingly, none of them were along the freeway, which suggests that in this test area it may be used by locals more than passing travelers.
While the name indicates a #1 rather than a #2 job, it certainly catalogues both kinds of resources. In fact, it also keeps track of changing table locations. Have2P has the most extensive database of any app that I tried. Finding 11 restrooms within a quarter mile of my suburban location, I was duly impressed. Five of them were within one block, and another just two blocks away. How do they do this? Well, it turns out this app is authored by Yellowpages.com, which suggests that they are using the business telephone database to assume where restrooms are located. If you select one of the restrooms on the list, it asks you to confirm whether there is a restroom or not, if it is accessible to patrons only, and if it has a changing table. While this may seem to offer so much more data than the other apps, only a small selection of the listings are confirmed. If the subtext under each listing says “Patrons Only?” it means that nobody has verified that assumed location yet. This was the case for all of the ones listed near me, so I confirmed the one at my hotel, and then it showed a thumbs up icon in the listing instead. It has a rather clumsy user interface that requires the use of the on-screen “back” button. Using the phone’s back button results in a blank browser screen which necessitates restarting the app.
With the most limited database of the four apps that I tried, this one failed to identify anything near me. The closest location was 4 km away. There is not an option for alternate distance units. In fact, there are no options at all, aside from choosing between list or map view with tabs at the top. It tries to show restrooms on a Google map but it’s not really up to the task. Pages take a long time to refresh after zooming or dragging—forever actually, because mine never recovered from the first drag. The locations show up with a missing map overlay, just a bunch of pins on a blank page. I had to re-boot. This app reports to have catalogued 90,000 restrooms, “261 in the last 7 days.” That seems a bit slim to me. If there are only a couple hundred new additions each week, I can hardly expect the database to grow very fast.
While these applications are a rather clever and interesting use of smartphone capability, the apps all suffer from inadequately-sized restroom databases that are just too small for IBD patients. Where normal folks might be able to drive a couple miles for a confirmed restroom, the radius of travel for us is quite a bit smaller. This indicates an inherent difficulty with these apps. Without millions of people using them and logging their locations, it’s unlikely for any one app to truly make itself useful for those of us who need the absolute nearest restroom no matter where we are. Dense, urban territory is probably where they’re most useful, because large cities are where it’s typically more difficult to find restrooms accessible to the general public.
The most promising option is Have2P, which uses a larger database of potential locations, but since most of them are unverified, it too will require a significant increase in user activity to be a reliable resource. In general, I can guess at restroom locations better than these apps help me find them. Turns out it’s up to us to make these resources better by logging as many restrooms as we can… so go out and start using them!
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