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wiley

China Menu iPhone App

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wiley

[Disclaimer: I am the author of the app and also a long time chinese-forums.com member]

I wanted to tell the community about my just-launched, first-ever iPhone app, China Menu. China Menu is designed to help newcomers order a great meal in almost any restaurant in China without requiring them to speak a word of Chinese. Check out a video of China Menu in action here:

http://chinabites.com/iphone/

The data is drawn from about 2 years of research, photography, and note taking from restaurants all over China, coupled with about 7 years of living in China. I'm really curious to see what everyone thinks and anxious to hear suggests for improvement.

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muyongshi

Wow- I've thought about doing an menu app before but it would have been kind of localized in a sense and without pics. Nice job- took it to a good level.

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James Johnston

Judging by the short video, it looks like you've done a very good job, but isn't it going to take all the fun out of randomly picking items from the menu and seeing what you get? That's what I did when I first visited China in the 1990s and, strangely, I always seemed to end up with jellyfish, which I hate. Perhaps the application does have its advantages.

What's the quality of the photos? Food photography is never easy and when done professionally uses a lot of artificial techniques, otherwise it's easy for the tastiest dish to look distinctly unappetising in a photo. Hopefully it won't put people off trying any dishes.

In your voice over you mention 'getting the check'. Please tell me you've made this application international English friendly as this grates on my prissy non-American ears and it's fairly important with the possible confusions over the meanings of cheque, check, bill and note that might occur in a restaurant.

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xianhua
but isn't it going to take all the fun out of randomly picking items from the menu and seeing what you get?

Not if you're a vegetarian like me. :)

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wiley

@muyongshi Thanks so much - what platforms were you thinking of doing a menu app for?

@James Johnston - I've actually tried to design the application with "explorer" in mind. In the "Conversations" section I've put a whole list of, lets call it Russian Roulette for Chinese menus - basically you ask your waiter to recommend a certain type of dish, like, a chicken dish, or vegetable dish - that way you can be sure to not to get, lets say jellyfish, but are quite likely to get something crazy and interesting.

@xianhua - Having lived with a vegetarian roommate for three of my seven years in China really got me in tune with how great Chinese restaurants can be for vegetarians and how much explaining you have to do to be sure you're not getting any meat - I've tried to put that xp into the app and I'd love any suggestions you had along those lines!

Thanks for the feedback guys, please keep it coming and I'll try to respond here as well as update the app!

Wiley

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xianhua

As I'm sure your roomate found, getting vegetarianism across to people in China can be tough. I've tried all the lines "I'm a Buddhist", "If I eat meat I'll become ill" and more. However, the concept is just to alien for some, and a sprinkling of diced pork still comes out on top.

You see, even if you don't see any meat, there is a chance that the cooking utensils have been used for meat, or the same oil has been used for meat dishes (this probably happens in the UK too).

It's really hard to be strict in China, but I guess a list of specific vegetarian restaurants would be a good bet.

Nice idea by the way. :)

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imron
or the same oil has been used for meat dishes
Or the oil was just pig fat in the first place because it makes things more 香.

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muyongshi
@muyongshi Thanks so much - what platforms were you thinking of doing a menu app for?

Well nothing in particular- it was just kind of one of those when I get some time and want to try my hand at some app development that would be one I thought about doing. Along with some other resource based ones for travelers/learners. By the time I would actually get around to doing them though, I'm sure others will have already done it and that the entire face of iPhone would have changed so...

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wiley

@muyongshi Cool - I had considered doing a port to Android, but I hear the market's 1/40th the size of the iPhone market, so I was gonna put it off 'till I was really bored.

@xianhua For the "no meal please" preference I put "请不放任何肉、荤油" - I ran it by some Chinese friends and they felt like that would more or less get the message across. If you have any thoughts on that particular turn of phrase as vegetarian, I'd be glad to hear them.

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imron

You'll still get chicken, beef, fish, prawns etc, because they're not 肉 - "oh, but I thought you just meant 猪肉" :roll: I'm not sure there's really one single way to get the concept across except at a small restaurant you are a regular at, and have explained the concept multiple times.

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wiley

@imron for real. So I tried to get around that by adding most (if not all) of the options as separate "prefs" so in addition to saying "no meat" you can also further specify "no chicken", "no seafood", etc. I've watched some hapless vegetarians in my day so I tried to design things a little more explicitly and granularly (say "granularly" ten times fast, wait, on second thought, don't)

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imron

I hope you've also added "only vegetables" :mrgreen: I've also often been in the middle of vegetarians and Chinese restaurant staff, and it's an uphill struggle.

I think there may even have been a thread a while back about the best way to convey that someone was vegetarian and didn't want to eat anything that had previously been alive - although a quick search doesn't seem to turn it up.

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xianhua

It sounds like you've got the vegetarian angle covered. The only extra thing to do (if you haven't already) is to add in a small explanation giving details of dietary habits in China, for example:

"Vegetarianism is unusual in modern-day China, and as such, any requests for vegetarian food may give be met with some confusion... next time go to India" (joke).

The best of luck with this by the way.

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mirgcire
I'm really curious to see what everyone thinks and anxious to hear suggestions for improvement.

I purchased the app and ran it on my iTouch. It is excellent! The pictures are clear, the chinese, pinyin and english are easy to access and the selection dials are very intuitive.

My concern is how few items are actually in the app. Any menu at a typical restaurant will have more dishes. To cover all the common dishes in all the major regions I image would require nearly 1000 entries. I don't think its very useful unless it you can cover more dishes. How about focusing on just one region and doing it thoroughly. Then you can offer 6 or 7 different apps, all at an affordable price because your sales will be so high.

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wiley

@mirgcire Thank you so much for your feedback on the app and thanks so much for checking it out. I've actually spoken to very few actual users of the software outside of the beta group so I am very, very anxious to get extra input to improve the software.

To address your specific points, first, on the number of items in the app. I agree with you that the number is low, but I was ready to ship a first version of the app and more content will go into updates, and I also really like your proposed strategy of fully "covering" a region and moving on to another one. I've been thinking along similar lines.

There are currently individual 221 "dishes" (including drinks) in the app and some of the cuisines are thin. I culled away several cuisines with less than 10 dishes for the initial launch because I felt like that wouldn't help a traveler in those types of restaurants. The data set I'm working with is drawn directly from one of my sites, chinabites.com, and those dishes were culled from nearly 1000 that I have on that site. 慢慢来, but you're absolutely right, this is an area that I am planning on updating frequently.

On separating the app into several smaller apps, there are a couple of ways I could go on this one. I personally dislike how people separate content into separate apps as a marketing or sales gimmick - I understand the logic behind it, and don't deny that it works in some cases, but I would rather design and produce a truly valuable "killer" product, at least for its niche. The middle road would be to do in-app purchases (like lonely planet does). My plan for now is to keep adding content in the free upgrades, and eventually, when I feel the content has reached a certain level of depth and quality, raise the price to the cost of an inexpensive guidebook.

Thanks again for your comments and please feel free to let me know any other thoughts or ideas you have about the app!

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muyongshi

I would add dishes even if they don't have pictures yet. Do subcategories for regional favorites and then just do updates as you can. Don't know how it is set-up but maybe like free updates for a year or something should cover a lot, especially if you just add the dishes/regional topics, get close to a 1000 entries and then as you can add pictures. You could probably even get people to help take shots for you.

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Shanghai_gabo

wow! really nice app! just downloaded it - thanks! :clap

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