Version Reviewed: 1.1
Graphics / Sound [rating:3.5/5]
iPhone Integration [rating:2.5/5]
User Interface [rating:3.5/5]
Re-use Value [rating:1/5]
The "message in a bottle" concept has been rehashed again with a new app called Aw' Shugs. In this app, you use Shugs—cutesy carrier pigeons, essentially—to send your messages to who-knows-where. Shugs looks slick and has a few neat features that could make it the best message-in-a-bottle app, but the difficulty associated with catching the Shugs and their scarcity makes it near-useless unless you and a few friends buy the app together.
Unlike some message-in-a-bottle apps, Aw' Shugs relies on location. The app will manually determine your location, or you can set it manually...by struggling with a slow-to-load global map that opens up in Australia. I'd recommend letting the app set your location for you. Location is a central element to Aw' Shugs, as I'll explain later.
Like I said, Shugs are basically carrier pigeons. There are a few varieties, but they all do the same thing: give your messages a cutesy avatar. When you make a Shug, you entrust it a message (up to 250 characters) to carry. From there, you give it a name, decide if it's stationary (it'll stay where you throw it) or movable (it'll wander around), choose an avatar (Shug type), and send it on its way. You can add tags, too, but that's optional. Once you're done customizing the Shug, you throw it. You can throw it to your current location, a random location, or a location that you select yourself on that same lag-tastic global map.
One nice feature is the ability to "track" your Shugs; you can view a map of their path and see how many people have caught, kicked, or hugged them, among a few other features. You can track them through the app itself, through email updates, or both; it's your call.
Once you have your default location set, you'll see Shugs that are nearby and you'll be able to catch them and them to your bag. Once caught, you can read the message, add your own message, hug them, or kick them (animal cruelty much?). From there, you can either hold onto them indefinitely or throw them back into the wild.
Admittedly, Aw' Shugs isn't that popular, so it makes sense that there wouldn't be that many Shugs floating around...especially in rural Maryland. You can't catch Shugs that are too far away from you, so I tweaked my default location to an area with a supposedly sizable concentration of Shugs (at the time, there was a cluster of 7 in California). I reached out to nab a Shug...only to be greeted by, "Shug is too far to catch." It took me a while until I finally relocated to Australia and managed to catch my first Shug. It was a message left for someone else's friend that basically said, "HAI." Huh. Not too interesting.
Oh, and you can't change your default location once it's set...supposedly. I guess that I was able to manually adjust my location by virtue of a bug the first few times, but now I'm stuck in Australia. The app does update based on your current location, but that basically means that you're rooted to your physical location. For an app that boasts a global community of world-traveling Shugs, that seems kind of silly. Also, the location-limit on catching Shugs means that it's ridiculously difficult to find new, interesting messages floating around the world. There's no reason why I shouldn't be able to catch a Shug halfway across the world. Simulating reality is all well and good until it begins to restrict the app's usefulness...and believe me, it's a huge limitation.
Aw' Shugs is a nicely packaged message-in-a-bottle app. The ability to choose whether a Shug will stay put or roam free means that you can either solicit random strangers or leave messages for your friends. The app's iTunes page recommends leaving notes for your sweetheart, or a review at a local restaurant. These would all work fine...in a world where everyone owned Aw' Shugs.
That's Aw' Shugs' ultimate flaw. Its entire premise is based around having a thriving community that sends interesting messages to each other, but the location-limit on catching Shugs severely hampers its chances of evolving. As a result, Aw' Shugs is nearly useless. I could see this becoming popular if there was an interesting, dynamic community and if it was easy to browse through different Shugs. As it stands, Aw' Shugs is a pretty app that really can't do much...yet. This one's success will be determined by future updates, and whether or not it somehow goes viral.