Hugh Johnson’s iPhone app reviewed


Hugh Johnson is one of the wine worlds cuddly creatures. He may not be seen too much in the media these days, but he still delivers his hugely successful ‘Pocket Guide to Wine’ each and every year.

The ever popular paper version of the Pocket Guide now finds itself reformatted for the iPhone and WineOfTheWeek has been noodling with it over the past week.

Here’s what we think:

Firstly the app really is simply Hugh’s Pocket Guide to Wine formatted for a mobile device. I know this seems like a statement of the bleedin’ obvious but how a book translates to a mobile device lies in how well it utilises the technology and many fail miserably.

Set against this criteria HJ’sWG does some things really well and other things not so well.

Firstly the guide uses tried and tested search attributes to allow the user to get to the wines quickly.  You search by country, grape variety region and Hugh’s own ratings. It’s not the best implementation (for example it does not use the same quick search right hand alpha search bar that you find in iPhone contacts) but it’s much better than thumbing through the book.

You can also filter wines to include only wines identified by Hugh as his ‘favourites’. If you rely on Hugh as your guide then this will work for you rather nicely. However, ask Hugh what his favourite Chilean wines are and you get precisely zero recommendations. This is a real surprise given the great wines that Chile produces. The same applies to Argentina and many of the smaller countries.

These omissions make the app feel half complete.

This leads us, of course, to the weakness of the app and that’s the lack of content.

The publishers of the paper version are a company called Octopus (owned by publishing giant Hachette) and I fear that they’ve fallen into the trap of simply handing the book with a simple instruction to ‘make this into an app.”

And I’m afraid it simply does not translate. How about this for a poor example of content?. A description of Ridge Vineyards California:

“Founder and Wine Master Paul Draper continues to work his magic here. Supple and harmonious Montebello Cab Sauv from estate is superb. Also outstanding single v’yd Zin from Sonoma, Napa Valley, Sierra Foothills and Paso Robles. Most Zin has gd ageing potential. Outstanding Chard from wild yeast fermentation often overlooked.”

I’m willing to bet that Hugh hasn’t embraced ‘text’ speak and clearly brevity and abbreviations are necessary for a book Pocket Guide but placed on the app the content looks messy and incomplete.

In the above example there’s no listing of the wines from Ridge so I am none the wiser as to what I should be looking for and there is no link out to Ridge Vineyards own excellent website. Again, this app should be the jumping off point to finding out more but it chooses not to be.

Individual pages do give you a chance to add your own notes so the intrepid can effectively enter the content that Hugh has yet to get round to.

And, how about this as a typical example of the content in the ‘A-Z of wine speak’ section.

“Aglianico. Southern Italian. dark, deep and fashionable”

What am I learning from this description? And why doesn’t this term link to the wines of that grape variety available in the app? It seems that the tech team haven’t mapped the database fields very well.  If at all.

Hugh is no doubt under pressure to edit, shorten and restrict his recommendations to fit the pagination of a book format. In book publishing you have a limitation of space and this is more acute when you are trying to stuff so much encyclopedic information into a pocket guide.

In the digital world the same restrictions don’t exist so here’s a note to the publishers. The iPhone is the HitchHikers guide to the galaxy not Letts Notes. Perhaps next year, ask Hugh to create content with the app in mind as well as the book. Mr Johnson might be freed up to provide you with something that really makes the device sing.

At £4.99 we demand more than we’ve been given here.

Hugh Johnson also has huge bushy eyebrows.

WineOfTheWeek Rating 2 stars

Current iTunes Rating: 3 stars

View/Buy the app here: There are

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