DrinkOwl iPhoneApp

A new app that shows where to drink on the cheap

Despite the sea of GPS location-based iPhone apps out there, it's not that often that I come across one that I think I'd use on a fairly regular basis. Notable exceptions to this trend include the real-time streetcar schedulers Rocket Radar and Next Streetcar, both of which use the open data made available through the TTC's Real Time Next Vehicle Arrival (NVAS) feed. A more recent discovery is DrinkOwl — a free map-based app that helps its users to find nearby booze outlets and drink specials across Toronto (and other Canadian cities).

If the first function sounds familiar, it should. The retail location finder is basically identical to the popular Google Maps mashup, the Beer Hunter. Living in liquor-controlled Ontario, I've had occasion to use the Beer Hunter more than once, and despite the fact that it mostly works via my phone's web browser, the service it offers is nevertheless a natural fit for the GPS app treatment.

Not only does DrinkOwl's map load faster, but it offers specific directions from your current location — perhaps not totally necessary given that the map zooms in and out with ease, but nevertheless nice to have. Also nice is that when you click on a given store, an icon pops up that lets you know exactly how much longer it'll be open that day.

In addition to plotting retail outlets, DrinkOwl promises to list bars and restaurants offering drink specials on a given day. This is a great idea, and an excellent use of location-based technology. If, for instance, it only takes me 20 seconds or so to determine that one of four bars in an area I know I'm going to be is offering cheap drinks, I consider that pretty valuable information. Better still is that the app is quite specific about what it is that's on special — be it beer (size and brand generally indicated), wine or mixed drinks.

Despite these admirable traits, DrinkOwl ain't perfect. What dissatisfies me the most is that it's not abundantly clear what constitutes a "deal." Although likely just an error (which users can report), under the specials offered by the Beaconsfield, the app lists $8 Labatt 50 pints between 5-7 p.m. Um, that's not exactly a steal by any stretch of the imagination. Chalking this one up as anomaly, I'm still not convinced that other entries featuring $5 rail drinks and pints are altogether that noteworthy. Sure, the price is a bit less than most places charge, but that's not really enough to get me excited. I also didn't find any free-corkage type deals on wine, which was a surprise.

The bar listings themselves could also be more extensive, but I assume that these will grow over time. And, lest I overstate any of these drawbacks, the reality is that there are plenty of good deals listed on the app, and it's easy and fast enough to use that one can simply disregard those that don't sound appealing. And, hey, the app is free, so a few dubious drink specials is hardly enough of a reason to give it a thumbs down.

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