Microsoft just unveiled a emergency disaster app, HelpBridge. HelpBridge have two main functions as you are caught in a disaster or want to help. So it makes easier to send a message to a list of selected contacts should it be by e-mail or text message. It also provides a list of non-profit organizations involved in disasters help so you can find all the informations to help. Sounds like a good idea, isn’t it ?
So, lets try this app. It is available for Windows Phone, Android and iOs, but only in the US. When you launch the app, you see a screen asking you to register… What ??? This app is supposed to send text messages or e-mails and help me to help, and I need to register ? Why ?
At this point, there is something very disappointing. The Privacy Statements took ages to load. Actually, they never did… Ok, as I can’t use the app if I am not registered, lets say that I trust Microsoft and log in with my Microsoft Account. Now I have another question which is to provide an email address and a name…
Wait, I missed something… Didn’t I logged in with my Microsoft account ? Why didn’t the app collected those data from my account ? Oh, if you exit from this screen, when you’ll try to send a message, you’ll be warned that those data are mandatory to send email message. As a sender/return address I suppose. Again, why not using the one I used to log in ?
Ok, lets just try to send a I need help or I’m OK message. Wait… What is this little Fetching groups dialog that just appeared ? Oooh, I have a bad feeling about this… Lets turn all network off and try again… Oups… Ok, so to send a message, I have to send it to a group, that I would have created. But the app have to fetch my groups on the Cloud, not on the phone… So when I will be in distress during a disaster when all the infrastructure may be nearly down and bandwidth should be spared and every second counts, the app will fetch on the cloud the informations about my groups… Who designed this ?
One last thing here. I created a group and now I have to populate it. Sorry, but no, I don’t want to give access to my contacts, I’ll fill the informations by hand. Oh… You can’t…
So, back to the main view. The first big red button is labelled I need help. “In time of crisis your first thought will likely be about reaching your friends and family and the second understanding how you can help”. This is the introduction line on Microsoft’s page and that is the purpose of this button. But wait, in time of crisis, of disaster, of an emergency, my first action is certainly the meaning of this button: call for help. This is what I should be able to do trough this app, call for help, call the authorities, call 911 ! Well… No. A little text is very clear about this: “If you need immediate emergency help, exit the app and dial 911”. Ok, I agree that this is not an emergency app. The app is described as a connecting people app. But the presence of this text proves that the designers are aware that the app may be launched for emergency help. In such circumstances, the user is in panic, so the usage should be simple. There should be a button here launching the dialer on 911, not instructions explaining the operations. This is an app for a Smartphone, not a Word document.
What about if I want to help ? Well this part is not bad. It may be just a listing of way to help and organizations, but you know what to do and for who. I don’t see the link with a disaster. The volunteering screen may be location aware but the rest does not seem to have any filter to display the information by what is really an emergency. This app is a good demonstration of the usage of some APIs to reach non-profit organizations. Check the list at the bottom of the HelpBridge page. If you didn’t knew them, you may find inspiration to use them.
One last disappointing detail about the user interface, not really against Microsoft but against Apple as this app was tested on an iPhone. The button on the right side of the toolbar opens a list of configuration options. But referring to the iOs developer documentation, the meaning of this button should be to Share something. This is disturbing as this app to have some inconsistency about its user interface. Apple usually refuse to publish such an app.
So, this app is presented as a emergency disaster app to stay in touch with your loved. It shows big red buttons to call for help. But you will never use this app in a case of emergency. If you are really in the need for help when every second count, this app would rather put you in danger as it does not have a shortcut to emergency services and heavily relies on the network infrastructure. In a case of a disaster, this app may be useful if you are safe, not in an emergency situation, and far from the disaster. Actually, in such case, call your loved ones.
The only usage of this app is to provide a list of non-profit organizations and a way to reach them and help them. There is not really much on how to promote such an app and I understand the addition of features in case of an emergency.
So, would you really use this app in case of an emergency ?