Beijing mobile portals: Listings for geeks on the go

We’re pretty spoiled in Beijing in terms of expat magazines both online and offline. The publications and websites offer pretty extensive listings with addresses, reviews and what not. They also make for good bathroom reading material! That said, there are times when you’re not lugging one of them around and you need to find your way around to some establishment.
What’s a geek to do? The geek uses the phone to go online and check the listings!

Admittedly, you can visit most websites using your mobile phone and they’ll show up more or less alright but there is something to be said for sites specifically formatted for mobile access. And Beijing got those too…

The Beijinger was the first to the party with mobilebeijing.com, long before any of the others paid any attention to the mobile web market. Then, Mobile Native and City Weekend joined the parade with mobnat.com and cityfu.com respectively!

mobilelistings
How do they compare?

Interface / Look

All 3 are pretty much formatted for mobile devices which means more often than not having a clean, simple and intuitive interface. You’re meant to go there looking for listings and they’re designed to help you look for listings. The color schemes are in line with their main portals except for mobilebeijing which is pretty minimal compared to its big brother.. (that’s not necessarily a bad thing)

Features:

  • MobileBeijing has addresses and phone numbers, both in English and characters
  • CityFu has addresses, phone numbers as well as maps but unfortunately, the map never rendered on my Nokia N95 or on my T-mobile dash.
  • MobNat rocks the house! Addresses, phone numbers, maps (that work pretty fast) as well as the ability to send the listing in Chinese or English to your mobile phone without any registration or hassle!!! These cats definitely put some thought into the whole thing.

Search ability:

Ok, this whole thing is about founding venues, right? can you easily find them? I randomly picked 2 venues i wrote about in the past to conduct my test: 2 kolegas and NaJia XiaoGuan (那家小馆)

2kolegassearch

for 2 kolegas, all 3 performed admirably with various amounts of information. The main thing is that they found the place and that is what mattered.

When it came to NaJia XiaoGuan (那家小馆), you could definitely see the difference:

najia

  • MobileBeijing just couldn’t find it in pinyin or characters no matter what combination i tried.
  • CityFu didn’t get it through characters but has some issues with pinyin. It had to be typed a certain way
  • MobNat scored 100% both with pinyin and characters, even when i tried different pinyin permutations

Verdict

  • There will always be a soft spot in my heart for MobileBeijing because they were there first.. I’ve been using them for almost a year and mostly got me where i needed to go. Granted, I always forget if it’s mobilebeijing or beijingmobile and that’s one long URL to type on a tiny keyboard :(
  • CityFu is a nice effort but I expect better out of a company with their financial means. They need to apply the same creative process to their mobile site as they do their main website
  • MobNat just blows the competition away by far!!! The “send by sms” feature is a lifesaver and the maps come in handy as well for those times when you might get lost… Also, looks like they took the time to clearly work on their search algorithm for maximum search efficiency! they are my new default mobile listing tool
send by SMS and maps win it at the end of the day!!!!

send by SMS and maps win it at the end of the day!!!!

I’d like to see all 3 add more pinyin to their listings for those that are character-challenged. Sometimes, it’s just easier to try and tell a taxi driver where to go than to have him/her glance at a screen or a card because let’s face it, this city’s taxi drivers are NOT a reference (at least not a positive one)

Tests were conducted on a Nokia N95-8GB using wi-fi connection and Antony Pranata’s amazing screenshot app for symbian!

7 Responses

  1. Tim Murray says:

    thanks for this excellent analysis. I will ask our team to improve the city fu functionality. Our search function on Cityweekend.com.cn and cityfu.com (which uses the same site essentially) is really poor and we have scheduled work on it. Cityfu was completed in 7 days by one programmer just to get something up to play with and get feedback. You are quite right we need to put more resources behind this application.

    I would be interested to see what you think of the various iphone apps for Beijing.

    Tim

  2. Beijingdaze, thanks so much for the great feedback. Adding better Pinyin support is one of hundreds of items on the ever expanding to-do list. I’ll see if we can’t up the priority for you.

    I think one of the biggest differences users may notice in the services is the differences in geo-coding, basically how the point on the map is determined. Mobile Native takes the time to verify every point by hand because geo-coding just doesn’t work very well in Beijing (because of non-uniformity in odd/even side of the street, non-consecutive numbering, and difficult address formatting, etc.). This gives us accurate positions both for our map and for a geographically accurate “places near here” search that no one else can do.

    Try comparing the maps for Yugong Yishan where the address is in a difficult format:
    http://cityfu.com/beijing/listings/nightlife/live_music/has/yugong-yishan/.map/
    http://www.mobnat.com/index.php?c=6&p=KK_NrOfbH1I=&map_lang=cn&map_lang=en/index.php?c=6&p=KK_NrOfbH1I=&map_lang=cn&map_lang=en

    Or Salt, where the address is insufficient for geo-coding:
    http://cityfu.com/beijing/listings/dining/mediterranean/has/salt/.map/
    http://www.mobnat.com/index.php?c=6&p=Qf+LwEC1Khs=&map_lang=cn&map_lang=en/index.php?c=6&p=Qf+LwEC1Khs=&map_lang=cn&map_lang=en

  3. Peter Jolicoeur says:

    I have been a MobNat user for a while, and thought it was interesting to see the comparison with the other two services (which I had not tried before). It is quite frustrating that most search engines require you to guess at what pinyin combination is stored in the database. I’ll say this, though… I moved to Shanghai a few months ago, and on numerous occasions have wished for a guide even remotely as useful as MobNat. (So, how about it, MobNat? When will you move south?)

  4. Beijing Daze says:

    @Tim: Thanks for taking the time to read and clearing that up Tim. I look forward to seeing the result of the scheduled tweaks.

    @Andrew: Thanks for the explanation… It’s pretty tough dealing with Geocodes and I wrestle with them on a daily basis in my “regular” work.. and yes, I would LOVE pinyin and know quite a few other folks that could use it.

    @Peter… mate, come on! don’t distract them from their Beijing obligations… we want them to stay busy here and keep making it better.

  5. Long before any of these portals, Guanxi had been providing mobile search and directory services to hundreds of thousands of loyal Expats throughout China…. Guanxi now has an SNS service, a mobile clients and of course our trusted SMS services nationwide. http://www.mGuanxi.com or 1066-9588-2929. Go Guanxi!

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