For iPhone owners who can't find Macy's without an app

Silly iPhone apps don't get much sillier, so this one will probably be a big hit

Onion photo
I drove to the local mall yesterday -- oh, I'm sorry, it's not a mall, it's called the Natick Collection -- and, despite not owning an iPhone or a copy of the just released "Mall Maps for the iPhone" application, managed to park, enter, shop and leave the sprawling complex in about 30 minutes with a serviceable birthday gift for my wife.

I know what you're thinking: I should neither boast nor poke fun at the mall-shopping challenged, but the Mall Maps press release from MEDL Mobile that landed in my inbox this morning practically begs for mockery.

"As millions of holiday shoppers fill the malls, knowing exactly where to park, what entrance to use and which direction to take can mean the difference between finding that prized item on sale or losing out behind a long line of shoppers," said Shayne Faerber, the app's creator. "I think this app will be a lifesaver for thousands of people this holiday season."

Yes, I'm aware that "lifesaver" is a figure of speech, yet the coffee it still sprayed out my nose.

Since not all of you own an iPhone or want to pay $3 for Mall Maps -- and, since I'm no more anxious than Faerber to see you miss out on that "prized item on sale" -- allow me to address the challenges posed by his sales pitch ... for free.

Where do you park at the mall?

At this time of year? Wherever you can find a spot and beat the other circling buzzards to it. I suggest following the elderly person leaving with the most packages in tow because he or she is likely to have gotten there early and parked nearby.

What entrance do you use?

Closest one ... unless, like my 83-year-old father, you are at the mall to get exercise, in which case throw caution to the wind.

Which direction do you take?

You might try consulting one of those low-tech, physical mall maps that you'll see even if you chose the wrong entrance. If you truly must use your phone before taking that first step, the Natick Collection is one of what I presume are many malls that have already embraced the World Wide Web and posted maps on their sites. Last resort: Ask a mall employee.

Of course, there's always a chance I'm being too judgmental and curmudgeonly here (it's happened before), in particular as relates to those physical mall maps. I did stumble across this news story (photo above) while conducting a search for this post:

WASHINGTON-An alarming new study conducted by the Department of Education has found that 60 percent of all Americans are unable to locate the major retail outlet Payless Shoes when presented with an ordinary shopping-center map.

The study, which surveyed 200 consumers, has raised a number of troubling questions about the public's grasp of basic mall geography, its ability to identify key regional chains, and its awareness of the diverse brands and logos that make up today's world.

Dr. Howard Saunders decries the nation's lack of basic shopping-center knowledge.

"Not only did a majority of Americans fail to find Payless Shoes on the map, but, more disturbingly, many didn't even know which floor to look on," said Dr. Saunders, a cultural studies professor and the study's lead researcher. "To see countless men and women point to the outline of a parking garage and call it the largest footwear retailer on earth - well, it makes you wonder about our priorities as a society."

That's from the Onion, if you hadn't guessed.  But I rest my case.

(Update: Mall Maps developer Shayne Faerber has e-mailed me a response to this post. Here's an excerpt: "Like many new modern conveniences, Mall Maps is not a necessary tool for shopping, but it does make shopping a little easier. There are many pay phones located in the mall but having one in your pocket is a little more convenient, don't you think? ... Being a 'small guy' developer, I do hope my app rises to the top. But not for a 'silly' reason, as you say, like extremely popular novelty apps. But because it is a helpful tool and actually does something useful. From the ratings and comments so far, the users believe it is.")

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