Saturday, July 2, 2011

App Review: Yarn U

Ya'll know I have an iPhone, right?

And once you get an iPhone you get iPhone apps. I mean, that's the whole point, right? Why have a such a fancy phone just to make phone calls.

On the other hand I have not gone app crazy. I have a few select ones to make my life easier. Mainly ones that have turned my phone into a glorified, electronic notepad.

But if you had ever seen my appalling handwriting you'd understand the necessity of that.

You would think that I'd also load up my phone with knitting and yarn related apps (goodness knows Hubby has loaded his with wine apps), but you'd be wrong.

I have a few basic row counter apps, but I haven't pulled down any of the paid versions of those apps that are supposed to track your projects.

You know the ones (if you have a smart phone) where you can enter the yarn, needles, pattern info, and take a picture. Not only do I feel they are redundant to Ravelry and my blog, but I find typing all that info on the wee keyboard on the iPhone annoying. (I would want a version that I could enter the info on the laptop and download it to the iPhone, but still don't know that I'd actually use one like that.)

Yarn U
Which brings us to the Yarn U app. The Yarn U app is not a project tracker. It is a repository of yarn information and reviews.

At this time I will, in accordance with FCC regulations, point out I was given a free review copy by virtue of being the KFI social media manager. Happily, there are a lot of KFI yarns listed.

Most of the other heavy hitters are represented as well: Knit Picks, Blue Sky Alpaca, Debbie Bliss, Louisa Harding, Quince and Co. Although there are many yarns from each, none have their complete lines listed (yet?).

The iTunes page (which is where I stole the screen shot from for the image on this post) says there are currently 170 yarns listed, and I imagine she's still adding more.

There are reviews of varying lengths and depths on each yarn listed. Some are compilations of reviews/comments found a Ravelry (and say so in the entry), while others seem like they might be based on the author's own experience with the yarn.

The reviews also include "ball band" information such as content, suggested gauge, and yardage.

There are links to online purchasing options and, in some cases, pattern books so you can see projects, or free online patterns. (The entry for Louisa Harding Kashmir Baby links to my Basic Ribbed Fingerless Mitts pattern. squeee!)

There are also occasional random links. For instance, I was looking at the entry for Debbie Bliss Amalfi. When I clicked the Amalfi link I was taken to the wikipedia page for the Italian Alamlfi Coast. Uh?

You can also "favorite" a yarn, email the entry to a friend, and leave a comment for other people to see. You can navigate to the comments from the specific entry, but all comments are also collected in one area.

Browsing is done from the alphabetical list on the front page, which can be sorted by brand name, weight, or fiber.

The other main section is what is commonly referred to as "yarn pr0n." A mass of pretty pictures of balls and hanks of yarn, swatches, and completed projects. Some of the images are official company pictures from the pattern books and some are from private knitters. They all have copyright info in the corner.

The pictures, although very pretty, are a little iffy on usability.

The official company images list the name of the pattern and book where it can be found.

The private user images rely on how completely they fill out their Flickr description. When you click on a pretty sweater or gloves you could find anything from all the info you need to just the yarn to nothing at all. (Which makes me feel bad about my own sparse Flickr entries.)

Of course, this is not really the app's fault. And after the first such encounter you know what to expect.

You can sort the pictures by brand and weight. You can swipe through them, or let the slide show play. There is also a cloud option with wee thumbnails you can navigate through.

One Complaint
I've been playing since yesterday and I only have one main beef, which might say more about me than the app.

Some of the yarn reviews have a "pro and con" section. This is a nice feature as it gives quick and pointed information.

But I noticed that a consistent con was that the yarn is "expensive." In some cases that was the only con listed.

It turns out I have luxury taste in yarn (which is not a surprise) because most of the yarns I like and have used are flagged as "expensive."

That seems an arbitrary adjective to apply to a yarn, especially since not all yarns have a cost measurement applied to them. Where did this "expensive" tag come from? Comments on Ravelry? The author's experience and research? Is the ratio of cost to yardage considered?

Seems to me that the word "expensive" is too open to interpretation to be useful. One person might think yarn that is $5 a ball is expensive, while someone else might go has high as $10 or $20 a ball before flinching. And would that same $5 yarn person spend gobs of money on shoes without a second thought?

I mean, don't get me wrong, I have my limits, but yarn is the luxury item I choose to spend my disposable income on. I'll gripe about spending $60 on a fill-up for the car, but won't blink at dropping $60 on enough yarn to make a project.

My point is we all have our own priorities and without knowing the authors I can't place much value on the word "expensive" and feel it might prevent some people from trying a new yarn because they mistakenly believe it's out of their price range.

Instead of "expensive" I think the app should have a dollar sign scale. You know, like on other review sites and in Zagats. I think dollar signs would be a little less subjective.

And, in case you're wondering, yes, I did submit these observations to the author.

Now that I've told you more than you could ever want to know about this app, you might still be wondering why one would want it.

Well, aside from the pretty pictures, it could come in handy when yarn shopping.

Think about it, you're in a new yarn store where you aren't familiar with the staff so they don't know you're tastes and you want support for their recommendations. They have yarn you've heard of but never used, or maybe that you've never encountered at all. You can whip out your iPhone and see the reviews in Yarn U. (I would however, suggest you not check while the staff member is standing in front of you, that would be rude.)

Or you're at your own LYS where they do know your tastes, but all the staff is busy helping other customers. A quick glance at the app can inform your discussion when someone is available to chat.

Now I read through the comments on this app in iTunes. Most of them were positive, but I noticed a theme in the critical ones that pops up on any new yarn related app. "I can just get that info on Ravelry."

There is some substance to that comment, but it depends on your pain points. Have you tried to surf Ravelry on an iPhone? I have. It's not so easy. Also, you have to dig for the reveiws/comments on Ravelry while in the app they are the key feature.

And, here's the kicker, if you don't have internet access you can't get to Ravelry off your iPhone. Or it might be a killer slow connection. The app stores all the info on your phone. You can't follow the links, but the main review and all the user comments are available. I know this for a fact because I put my phone in airplane mode and tested it.

So there you have it, a useful and pretty little app. It appears she is continuing to add yarns and make improvements based on user feedback, so it should just get better as it goes along.


  1. You make this app sound tempting...

  2. Excellent review. I picked up the app right away. :)