Saturday, January 23, 2010

Ancestry's iPhone app, "Tree To Go", is not so portable after all.

Yesterday I did a review of the new app for the iPhone, "Tree To Go".  After writing the review, I decided to get something to eat.  My wife and daughter were sick so I went to Panera to get us some soup.  One great thing about Panera Bread is that they offer free wifi Internet access while you are in their store.  So, while I was waiting for my order, I started playing around with the Ancestry app some more.

Let me give you a little background on the iPhone and the iPod Touch, just in case you are not sure of the difference.  The two are essentially the same thing except that the iPhone makes phone calls and uses ATT's 3G network.  The 3G network gives an iPhone user the ability to get on the Internet from anywhere within the 3G coverage area.  You have probably seen the commercials on television where Verizon picks on ATT because their coverage map is better.  Despite ATT's claims that their coverage is as good as Verizon, they are misleading you.  ATT has great phone service but their 3G network is spotty.  Verizon ads show the 3G maps.  ATT ads show their phone coverage maps...two different things.  Where I am in Virginia, ATT 3G service is terrible.

As for the iPod Touch, it cannot make phone calls and cannot access the 3G network.  I should also mention that the iPhone has a digital picture and video camera installed, at least the newer ones do.  So, what does this mean for the Ancestry app?  A LOT!

While in Panera it dawned on me that I had not tried the app while being offline, without any Internet access.  I only have an iPod Touch, not an actual iPhone, so I went outside of Panera where there was no wifi service.  I then launched the Ancestry app and my dreams were somewhat crushed.  For as many good things as I had to say about the app yesterday, I have just as many negatives now.  If you do not have an Internet connection, you are out of luck!

I found out very quickly that, if you cannot get online, you have only very limited use of the app.  You cannot add photos or make any changes to the people.  It does let you look at what the app has already downloaded from the server.  You can basically see the tree as it was the last time you were online.  You can see the people, dates, locations, etc. but you cannot make changes.  So, what does this mean?  If I go to a cemetery, I cannot take a headstone photo and put it directly into my family tree if I do not have 3G service.  In most cases an iPhone would do fine, as long as you are in the coverage area, but an iPod Touch would be useless.  I also could not enter the dates I found from the tombstone because, there again, I am not connected to the Internet.

What Ancestry could do is redesign the app so that it stores your changes and then syncs with the online version the next time you have an Internet connection.  That becomes a bit complicated if you have made changes to both the app file and your online file, which one is right and which is out of date?  It could be done but that involves a lot of work on their part.

I do not want to come across as bashing the app.  It is a great step forward for Ancestry but it still needs work.  I want to be able to fully use the app myself, I just do not know if it is worth getting an iPhone at $300 plus $80 per month for the next 2 years!  I can renew my Ancestry membership for the next 14 years for that kind of money.


Anonymous said...

kevin- compared to the current iphone/ipod touch competition, ancestry's iphone app may still not be that bad. famviewer and gedview are the only other main choices. families (legacy family tree) has issues with syncing with itunes and ipod. the better apps can accept a gedcom file. im going to try out the ancestry app as i just downloaded it.

daniel Jackson said...


Me too download the Ancestry iPhone app recently.When i research about the app i came across your post. Nice review, myself get frustrated by using this app. iPhone app developers as good as to develop this. But few connectivity issues, cant using the famviewer properly, synchronizing issues and much more. Over all its no so bad, but not that much expected as well.