Sound Transit Trip Planner
Sound Transit's Mobile-optimized Trip Planner

After my post on Tuesday about Apple’s support for Transit maps in iOS 6, a few things have come to light that are worth noting. Andy Baio provides an excellent overview of the relevant issues involved, and Philip Bump at Grist has some screenshots (hat tip to Shawn Medero in the comments).

For the non-techie, the gist is this: when a developer submits a “routing” iPhone app to Apple, they include instructions about what parts of the world their routing app provides routing for.  So, for example, Metro might submit an app that covers the entirety of King County. If you’re looking for directions within those coordinates, then Apple will show you a link to the Metro app which you can download and get directions.

Presumably there will be routing apps for most cities by the time iOS is released.  Heck, it’s possible Google will submit an app and list “the whole planet” as coordinates, which would make it effectively the same as the current setup.  Apple seems to be indicating that they wouldn’t reject such an app, but we’ll see.

One more point worth bringing up in this discussion: it’s worth taking a minute to be clear about what we mean by a “routing app.”  There are (at least) three tasks one might want a transit app to provide:

  1. Bus & train routes and stops (where does the bus go?)
  2. Real-time arrival information (is the bus on time?)
  3. Routing (get me from Point A to Point B at Time C)

1 & 2 are relatively straightforward* assuming the transit agency provides the appropriate data feeds.  This is what OneBusAway provides, for example. Routing is much trickier, because it involves making complicated decisions about when to take which mode and when to transfer, walk, etc.  Google does this reasonably well (though far from perfect) on a global scale.  Specific agencies typically do this quite well within their specific domains, but can choke when trying to hand old between agencies.  Initiatives like Open Trip Planner exist in part to solve this problem.

Sound Transit’s online trip planner is actually reasonably good at routing across agencies and offers a nice mobile-optimized web interface (though not an app yet).  Nevertheless, it’s quite likely that by the time iOS 6 ships in the fall, iPhone users in Puget Sound will have a pretty decent solution.

* “straightforward” does not imply “easy.” The OBA folks put a lot of work into their app, but it’s a different problem than point-to-point routing.

9 Replies to “More on iOS 6 and Transit”

  1. Imagine you went to the grocery store, and, in the place of the eggs, was a sign about which other store you could go to buy eggs. Ditto the oranges, pop-tarts, and spare-ribs.

    Now, imagine a store that carries a comprehensive line of groceries *right in the store*.

    Apple may have their corporate reasons for wanting to unhitch their wagon from Google, and the fact the Google Maps hasn’t really been upgraded in years is weak, but for me. They also may feel that they’ll get more customers with turn-by-turn driving directions than they’ll lose by eliminating smooth transit navigation. I am one of the people that considers this a major negative.

    Will I trade my iPhone for an Android/Winphone tomorrow? No. Will I upgrade to iOS 6 when it comes out? No. Will I buy the new iPhone when it comes out to replace my iPhone 4? No.

    1. Not the best analogy. Try: Imagine you went to the grocery store, and, in the place of eggs, was a sign that instantly transported you to the other store where you could buy eggs.

  2. There are already dozens of apps like HopStop that provide decent transit directions. Not having it built into the OS is a minor inconvenience. I’m Apple is saving transit directions for a big ‘new’ feature of iOS 7.

  3. OT but the Rapid Ride E and F alignments are up on Merto’s website now.

    I don’t really like how google maps is designed so I have never tried to use it for transit on my iPhone. I just go to Metro’s website and/or use OBA.

    1. I was trying to explain this to my coworker the other day and the biggest deal for me is that OBA lacks trip planning functionality. You can “plan” your trip in your head if you know the routes and how on time they are by checking all the stops. Metro’s trip planner will just give you the best case scenario assuming everything is on-time.

      I guess this is also somewhat nullified by the fact that OBA is having issues as of late, but I would plan my trip that way when I did use it.

  4. Apple should just declare all public transit outdated and obsolete to go along with their decision to cut transit from their maps program. Then in a year or two, we’ll see them “invent” public transportation in the form of iBus. It’ll be like other public transportation, except it’ll cost $300 per boarding and not take you any place you actually want to go. It will be declared revolutionary. Then, we’ll see public transportation back in the Apple Maps program.

  5. “Apple seems to be indicating that they wouldn’t reject such an app, but we’ll see.”

    Aka “Think Totalitarian Different.”

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