Stuck On Earth: Explore the World Through Beautiful Photos

Trey Ratcliff is one of the most respected people in professional photography today. He pioneered the use of HDR (high dynamic range) to capture scenes in a lifelike way; he also writes one of the most detailed and well-composed tutorials for HDR on the Internet. Ratcliff is also known for some other side projects, like Stuck On Earth, a previously iPad-only app for exploring the world through photographs.

Ratcliff’s handy tool is now available on the Mac, and I’m going to take a look at how it fares in comparison to the iPad app.

Quick Setup with Voice Guidance

The welcome screen.

The welcome screen.

Photographer and voiceover specialist Karen Hutton welcomes you to Stuck On Earth with a pleasant voice, asking your name followed by some other details. The app asks whether you’re a daydreamer, explorer, photographer, or all three, and then brings you to the main map. Hutton’s voice accompanies many of the basic actions the first time around, which I found to be very helpful for getting used to the app. It’s much better than a step-by-step tutorial within the app and certainly not as bad as no tutorial at all.

Explore the Globe and Plan Trips

From here, you go anywhere.

From here, you go anywhere.

Stuck On Earth’s main purpose is to help you plan a trip, whether it be locally or abroad. Trey Ratcliff developed the app for himself as a way of planning where he’d visit when traveling to destinations abroad. “There is a big problem that this app solves for me, personally,” says Ratcliff. “I have limited time, and I want the best information about where to visit and what I will see, generally, when I get there.” Stuck On Earth is indeed the ideal solution.

This app uses Flickr to power its photo database. You can submit your own in the app by clicking Submit in the bottom right corner.

Upon download, the app is preloaded with featured lists and Ratcliff’s “Adventure In France” as one of two sample trips. The second included trip is named “Someday…” and is perfect for the daydreamer who knows that one day, he too will join the rest of the world in visiting Paris, Hawaii, and other exotic locations.

Adding a photo to my next trip.

Adding a photo to my next trip.

Adding pictures to trips can be a bit confusing at first. You can either put them in an existing trip or create a new one. When a photo is selected, it can be added to a trip with the click of a button, which is nice. There’s no keyboard shortcut, though, and at first it’s hard to tell whether or not an item has been added to a trip. A plane icon is displayed beside a trip when a photo is in it. The problem with this is it’s not necessarily noticeable to a first-time user and takes a bit if getting used to.

Browsing a photo.

Browsing a photo.

I found searching to be quick, but lacking a primary feature: suggestions. When typing in Cambridge, for example, the first result was from the city in Massachusetts, United States. I was actually looking for the city in Cambridgeshire, UK. The app didn’t ask me which city I meant to search for, nor did it display additional options when I typed in word in the text field (a feature I expect in search functions).

Weird Fullscreen Mode and Jittery Zoom

This app is compatible with OS X’s native fullscreen mode (10.7+), but not fully-so. Since the windowed mode doesn’t feel natural with an app that was originally built on a tablet, I used fullscreen to get some cleaner screenshots and a more distraction-free experience. The problem is, Stuck On Earth isn’t optimized for taking advantage of a Mac’s entire display. It has a different aspect ratio than most displays and looks like a widescreen video on my MacBook Air. The linen above and below the interface looks out of place and deducts from the overall experience.

Fullscreen mode is not as usable as I'd hoped.

Fullscreen mode is not as usable as I’d hoped.

Zooming is also a point of interest in the field of problems. Rather than using the smooth zooming effects that Google Maps has in the browser, Stuck On Earth’s animations are very rough around the edges. The map disappears when zooming and slowly pieces itself back together like a puzzle when you’re finished navigating. Definitely not the experience I was hoping for.

The fullscreen mode and unpolished zoom are minor issues when compared to the constant crashing. Whenever I left a photo open for more than 20 seconds, the app crashed. The only way to stop this from happening is not to leave any photos open. But then, still, the app often crashes from being open too long, as if something times out. This is an unacceptable problem and makes everyday use downright annoying.

Great Idea with Crippling Bugs

A search for Cambridge, UK.

A search for Cambridge, UK.

Stuck On Earth has an average beginning on the Mac. Sporting the same feature set and user interface as the iPad app, it offers a perfect way to update your trips from your Mac, or even use the device as your primary travel companion if you don’t own a tablet. Unfortunately, its ambitious efforts are short-lived. The developers need to work out lots of bugs and make sure things are significantly more polished in the future. Right now, Stuck On Earth is a great idea with inconsistent implementation. It cannot keep my attention for more than five minutes because it crashes so often.


Summary

Stuck On Earth is your travel assistant, available on iPad and Mac. The idea is fantastic, but the app itself was not developed as well as you'd hope. It crashes all the time and looks terrible in fullscreen.

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