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Insistence on style over substance leaves F1 fans un-app-y

NEWS STORY
21/03/2019

Almost all of us have at some point endured the disconnected voice that assures us that "your call is important to us..." and as the monotonous voice repeats the message over and over, so it adds to the initial frustration that caused us to make the call in the first place.

F1 fans now have their own version, and while it isn't in the form of that disconnected, monotonous voice at the end of the phone line, it is equally frustrating and annoying.

"Thanks for the feedback, we've noted it down for you and will pass it on," appeared to be the bog-standard response from @F1Help over the Melbourne weekend, as fans tried to vent their frustration over the updated F1 Timing App.

Of the many infuriating aspects to this sorry tale however, the worst is the fact that despite the promise that comments have been "noted" and will be "passed on", it is clear F1 will not do anything about it.

Please note, this article is about the F1 Timing App it is not about F1 TV, for F1 TV is not available in the UK (yet!), though we are aware from emails sent to us and reaction on social media that F1 TV continues to have its own problems.

In the past we admit to giving the F1 Timing App a hard time, but this was only ever about the fact that it was often unreliable and somewhat unstable, in terms of the functionality and the data provided it was a must-have app for serious fans.

Then again, it was produced by people in the business, the driving force behind the app still heavily involved in F1.

Since Liberty Media took control of F1 however, all that has changed, and as is the case with so many aspects, the app is now a question of style over substance, clearly, unlike its predecessor, put together by a team that have no passion or understanding for the sport.

Last September, the app was 'updated' and such was the reaction that within weeks the old app was made available again.

F1 subsequently made clear that the criticism had been noted (see above) and that when the app was relaunched this year it would be better than ever before, incorporating all the best of the old app and lots more.

Sadly, this was not the case. Indeed, it is fair to say that the 'updated' app is even worse than the version introduced in September.

To put it mildly, it is not fit for purpose. Indeed, rather than list what is wrong with the app it would be easier to list what is right with it.

On F1's own Fan Voice portal the design is described as "shambolic" an "Exercise by a 'professional design team' who got the gig and did it without actually paying attention to what it's meant to be able to do or how people use it".

"My anticipated start to a new season has been dashed down by the revisiting of the same problems you had last year!" adds another fan, "did you learn nothing from your mistakes? Try going back to the old timing app and leave well enough alone until you can produce a product that is worth paying for."

"@F1Help is again asking for users to spell out the problems the layout," adds another fan. "Clearly the developers neither listened to the complaints from last year or actually used and analysed the functionality of the old app that actual users had near universal approval of. This is just sad."

"I used the live timing app today, after downloading the latest version, which is a little bit better, but nowhere half as good as the old app. it doesn't even tell you if the drivers are in the pits or on the track, or if a driver has stopped on the circuit. It is very disappointing. The driver tracker is hopeless, because every time you scroll the screen, it changes the selected drivers to where (you) have touched the screen. It has clearly been dumbed down for the novice fans at the expense of the serious fans. Wrong, this is not what F1 is about. F1 is about excellence."

Indeed, would you believe that during the practice sessions and the race, the column marked "position" only actually shows a driver's position on the screen when he is on track, consequently you have to count down from the top... one, two three. While the tyres in use are shown, there is no indication as to whether a driver is in the pits or on track, no lap count during the race and then there's the insistence on using bright colours everywhere, while the section times are enclosed in a graphic which makes them impossibly small to read. And a live tracker with no indication as to who is who, and the absence of messages from race control.

And then there's finding the link to the live coverage itself.

In the late 80s there was a sitcom in the UK called Hot Metal, based around The Daily Crucible, the dullest newspaper on Fleet Street. In one episode, forced to retract a previous article and issue an apology, the editor hid the apology among the crossword clues.

This came to mind at the weekend, when the link to the live coverage would only appear in the final moments before the start of each session – at which point the app would invariably crash.

"So, they asked for feedback last year and fans provided it in droves," writes another fan on Fan Voice. "It was also fairly consistent in what they wanted. They did online interviews with people regarding the issues and what we need. And yet we are stuck with essentially the same app as last year with no improvements.

"Yet F1 TV gets improved live timing with more data but those of us in countries without F1 TV can't access it. Quit the money grab and give us the app we had that did the job and that we paid for. Don't lose the die-hard fans for the purpose of chasing the casual fan."

"I have cancelled my recurring annual subscription which was due to renew in a few days," adds another. "They have attempted to take onboard a few of the issues raised six months ago after the embarrassing first attempt but ignored many others rendering the entire thing still close to unusable.

"The constant flashing every time a number changes is a joke – a timing screen should be easy to read instead of resembling a fruit machine! Please bring back the old app (again) and guarantee it will stay in place for the whole season. I will then renew."

"It's mind-boggling how the September update mess could happen," writes another clearly exasperated fan on Fan Voice. "It's beyond belief how, six months later, they have somehow made the same mistake again. How did they manage to delude themselves into believing those slight tweaks "would do" and that the old app could be retired again, when fans had told them they wanted a complete overhaul or better yet just keep the old app? Now FOM are inundated, yet again, with the same complaints, often from the same people they'd promised to be listening to months ago.

"Live Timing used to be free, then it became paid, and now you can't even get decent a decent Live Timing App if you are willing to pay for it. When I started using the Soft Pauer App back in 2014 it was such a revelation. It added another dimension to my viewing experience. Having detailed timing data of the whole grid available at all times revealed so many little stories and fights that the broadcast didn't cover. And when TV graphics were dumbed down and equipped with F1's legibility and accessibility nightmare of a font last season, it gave easy access to all the data and information that was now hard to read, rarely displayed, or missing entirely (especially tyre-related information at the beginning of the season).

"I'm as sad as I'm angry about how Formula 1 betrayed its fans. What's the point of F1 Fan Voice if most of the feedback that's "taken on board", as @F1Help like to say, gets promptly tossed overboard by the departments receiving it? I am on Fan Voice because I want to help improve the sport I've been following for over 21 years, since I was 5 years old. Not to fill time and collect points. This renewed mess undermines the whole credibility of this platform."

One fan has an inspired solution: "As you believe your new timing is so superior to the old app, why not leave it available to those who like it but also restore the old dedicated timing app for those of us who aren't enlightened enough to appreciate what you've done."

On an on it goes, and clearly realising there is an issue Fan Voice has now launched a survey asking fans for their feedback, but having had the feedback ignored first time around what's the point.

Other than the issues mentioned, the app remains unstable and unreliable. Concerned that our version of Android might not support the latest version of the app we contacted F1. A 25 minute 'chat', during which we were not once asked what version of Android we currently use, culminated in the response: "Please wait for the race, will be disponible. if is not working, please let us know."

All that was missing was... "That chat was important to us..."

Last year, in the midst of the disaster that was the initial launch of F1 TV, which resulted in F1 having to issue refunds, Chase Carey admitted that the service was still being Beta tested and that it would be launched properly this year. However, despite his admission that it was being "tested" F1 continued to take money for it.

Other than a few issues, the original team behind the F1 Timing App got it right and last year it was shown that the app is still fit for purpose and popular with fans.

However, despite the promises, despite the feedback, F1 insists that it is knows best, and as a result the fans - you know, those people that Chase, Sean, Ross and the gang are always talking about - are left with an app that is not fit for purpose and instead merely reinforces the belief that this sport is now all about style over substance.

The paid for web version of the app is little better meanwhile, missing the same vital information - position, whether on track or in pits, countdown etc - that the app is missing.

Perhaps it best summed by a review we noticed on IMDB last night, which read: "Worst movie I've seen this year (and I watched Sausage Party)"

Well, we haven't seen Sausage Party, but this 'updated' app is dreadful, and fans - especially in light of last year's debacle - deserve better.

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READERS COMMENTS

 

1. Posted by Spindoctor, 30/03/2019 15:58

"It seems that Liberty simply don't have a clue about this or anything else.
Making an App is pretty simple for someone with appropriate skills. But access to the raw data obviously isn't. Liberty quite typically for a huge multinational, know the price of everything, but the value of nothing.

When Bernie was in charge I used to ask rhetorically "Would you buy a used car from this man?" hugely droll, eh? But not only did Bernie do a serious number on Liberty and flogged them a Lemon, he seems to have convinced them that contrary to all indications, all they have to do is steer 'steady as she goes'... idiots."

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2. Posted by Francis, 22/03/2019 13:59

"The worst part of the app are the insulting flashing tiles that makes the data unbearable to watch for any prolonged period of time. In the old timing lap only the time numbers changed color depending on the sector times using standard F1 conventions - Purple/Green/Yellow or White. Now there is a ugly flashing background that serves no other purpose than to disorient and annoy the user. This looks like some new toy developed for children, who are easily attracted to shiny flashy things not serious fans looking to gain some insight into what is happening on track during a race ."

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3. Posted by Mad Matt, 21/03/2019 13:23

"Let's not be ageist, plenty of us over 40 can write apps and create websites. It's really not that hard. As others have said, let us have the raw data and see what we can do.

The end result is likely to draw more people to the sport and make more money for the sport in the long run compared to an app which doesn't do what people want and doesn't even work!"

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4. Posted by Editor, 20/03/2019 22:27

"@ ian_w

About 5 - 6 years ago there was a website that gave lap by lap coverage of testing, absolutely all the info you could possibly need.

Of course, it was 'shut down' by FOM.

There are thousands of developers out there who would jump at the chance to work with F1, but instead the work is given to these agencies for whom F1 is just another customer.

Rather than allowing Ross Brawn to spend the big bucks keeping his old mates in gainful employment, F1 would be better served recruiting some of these youngsters for its apps and F1 TV, for it is clear the current people are clueless."

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5. Posted by ian_w, 20/03/2019 20:54

"There used to a be an awesome little Android app "F1 Live Stream", written by Gishor Gandham.
https://www.happymod.com/f1-live-stream-mod/com.kishor.f1/

During qualifying and the race (maybe practice too), it showed basic live timing AND a rally good running commentary. This was obviously lifted direct from the F1 page. It conveyed everything I needed to know. The entire "app" was 27 KB, which is about the size of the "Rolex" logo on the Formula 1 homepage!
Worked for years until Formular1.com started requiring login and then started mucking about with the data. By 2014 it was broken and eventually removed from the Play Store.

I'm sure that basic functionality would satisfy a significant majority of people's needs - for FREE! That app also had waaay more installs than the official app and I'm sure everyone used it and kept it installed!"

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6. Posted by GarH, 20/03/2019 17:38

"@Mocha

You'll love this!

"For the fifth consecutive year, Tata Communications, Formula 1 and Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport joined forces to reward fans and technology enthusiasts, in the sport’s only global crowdsourced innovation competition."

Here's the entry of one of last years finalists
https://www.tatacommunications.com/prize-winner/john-lepore-united-states/

I guess there were many similar entries. They need to rename it the Black Hole of F1 Innovations.
"

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7. Posted by Mocha, 20/03/2019 15:53

"Following up on my previous post... it appears that Tata Communications actually did exactly what I proposed back in 2014. Wish they would open that competition back up!"

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8. Posted by English Tony, 20/03/2019 15:16

"I was delighted when I first found that I could get sector times etc some years back. Since then it's just got progressively harder to extract useful information & I am at the point now where the pain is no longer less than the gain.This then leaves me in the state I was before sector times were available, ie, still involved with being a spectator but frustrated that there's information out there that I am not getting. I'd employ a teenager to deal with it for me but I don't speak their language. "

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9. Posted by Mocha, 20/03/2019 14:38

"The 'developer' has to be Chase's teenage nephew or something. With access to the raw circuit data, programming an app/website that can display accurate timing and car status in real-time is trivial. They should make the raw data stream public and then create a contest for "Best App." The winner could get a cash payout or royalties in exchange for the software rights. This whole sorry saga could be resolved in a month or two. "

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10. Posted by GarH, 20/03/2019 13:28

"I don't use the timing app, but recently I saw quite a few people using one that must be working perfectly. It appears in practically every episode of "Drive to Survive" and can be seen on every team's pit wall. All of the data comes from FOM, perhaps each team uses it differently, from what I saw the information availble was amazing. If LM had some sense, they'd sell access to all/some of the live data stream to a company that could make a working timing app. Then again, it might ruin someone's empire building.

Back in the distant past, when the BBC had the F1 contract, they had a car tracker that was available on their website and there was also a perfectly good free timing app. Both have long since gone, Bernie discovered the timing app could make him a few quid and it all went downhill from there. I'm surprised Sky hasn't thought of providing the car tracker web page, as it's interesting to those of us who are not nerds, but like to dip in and out of teknowlegy. "

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