As I was browsing the Entertainment section of the iTunes app store, I noticed an app listed called iHobo. I must say I was a little dubious but my intrigue got the better of me and I downloaded it (free). I’m kinda lost for words really…

The intentions behind the app are genuine: to raise awareness of homelessness and to question your personal response to it. Unfortunately, it is seriously misguided and it’s Entertainment category status doesn’t do it any favours either. I imagine most people will treat it more as a joke.

On opening the app you are presented with your own homeless person who looks quite well all things considers. He greets you with a thumbs up and you have the choice to provide him with a sleeping bag, money or a sandwich.

Over a period of three days you become responsible for his well being, with alerts to indicate his latest need. I’ve never received any alerts unless the app is left open – it tells you to come back later if you leave it open too long. It seems like the  broken alerts is a major issue in this app and has caused it to get some negative feedback in the app store. The app also limits the options to help your iHobo and so no surprises he quickly descends into a downward spiral of drugs and despair, leaving him banging frantically on my screen.

Each time the app is opened you are presented with a sentence or two about his current status. These tend to be a little simple and occasionally a little patronising and make you laugh rather than acknowledge the serious issues behind this.

Given my need for sleep in the night, my iHobo has turned to a life of drugs within a matter of only hours and I’m starting to feel slightly uncomfortable about the app!

Sadly the charity have got this wrong and it seems to make an unintended joke about homelessness. Rather than inform the user, it becomes another game. I’ve used it with intrigue and a little disbelief. It does provide opportunity to donate to the charity direct from your phone bill, however I would be much more inclined to donate if I were given sensible and detailed information for the cause.

As a user I feel slightly like my intelligence has been insulted. Goodness knows what a homeless person would think of people walking around playing with their lives as toys on an iPhone?

App developers…good intentions, but seriously reconsider what you are trying to achieve!


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