Category Archives: iPad

UK Wide Public Transport – What About Google Maps or Moovit?

When I published my post about whether anyone could bring the level of flair Citymapper has shown in London to UK wide travel I not surprisingly got some comments back about services I had missed. To be fair I deliberately didn’t list off all the many public transit apps, as there are absolutely loads out there, however I thought I’d discuss two which came up, Google Maps and Moovit.

If you believe the Daily Mail Google Maps now has real time data for the whole of the UK, unfortunately like a lot of articles that appear in the paper, or on their website that is total rubbish. If you read the actual Google Press Release what the said is this:

We’ve added every single transit route in Great Britain to Google Maps—making it easier to get anywhere from Land’s End to John O’Groats.

They then say that they’ve added real-time information for Vancouver and Chicago, they don’t say anywhere that they have added real-time information for the UK. If you click through to the post by their GB product manager this explains that they’ve taken schedule information from National Express and Traveline so essentially what they’ve added is a much nicer interface to the existing UK wide travel planners. Basically somebody at the Daily Mail can’t actually read a press release properly, and certainly didn’t bother to check the actual site to see what is going on.

Screenshot 2014-07-05 22.19.27Doing what the Daily Mail didn’t bother to do taking a look at Waterloo Station in Google Maps, for the Underground station they list the scheduled times of the trains, which might be a bit of surprise to most travellers on the tube, that there is actually a timetable!

Screenshot 2014-07-05 22.19.00Swapping over to Citymapper we have the actual departures in real-time, as they have for stations all across London.

Screenshot 2014-07-05 21.59.45Things are even more sparse when it comes to National Rail – although route planning from Waterloo will bring up accurate times, there are no departures on the Google site.

Screenshot 2014-07-05 21.57.26Taking a look at the same station in Citymapper you get a complete list of realtime departures. Citymapper being London focused has live departures for key commuter routes outside the capital, for example they have departures for Reading station.

The situation is much the same when you look at the smartphone applications – no real-time data on Google, loads within London for Citymapper.

IMG_4133Moving on to Moovit, once again the issue is real-time data. They are a bit better than Google, in that they do have some real-time data, specifically for some buses, but once again they don’t have the real-time data fields for National Rail. Looking at Reading this time, this is an example of what Moovit might show – note the message at the bottom mentioning that real-time departures will be highlighted in Orange.

IMG_4132This iPhone screenshot is from the app of an excellent site called Realtime Trains that is a trainspotters paradise in terms of the , so that app is telling me platform numbers, whether a train is running late, and interestingly has a different departure time than Moovit is presenting.

That also highlights another problem, the quality of the data in Moovit. One of the app store reviews comments that all the bus times on the reviewers local route were ten minutes out. It’s also remarkably difficult to find London Euston station on Moovit – it has Euston Square station and the Underground station, but the only way to actually get to see the scheduled departures from Euston using the app is to find the station on the map and click on it – it doesn’t come up in searches at all. Reading departures can equally be problematic when searching by hand as the app retains the historic split between the old Reading Southern Region station and the Reading Great Western station even though physically they’ve long since become one station. This means that there are two icons for Reading station almost on top of each other and two separate lists of departures.

I have to say, I really want to like Moovit – as an avid user of Waze crowdsourcing public transport data seems a great idea. The developers seem to have come up with a way of tracking journeys that doesn’t decimate your battery level, but without accurate schedules and using all the available real-time data that is available for buses, trains and the Underground it is pretty useless, where Citymapper excels is that it tells me what is actually happening, not what should be happening. There is also a split between Scotland and England which none of the other route planning apps have which makes it impossible to plan a trip that goes over the border – whilst it may be argued that they are splitting by country, the actual underlying data they’re using for the schedules is UK wide resulting in the trains for Scotland apparently only being available on the English area, so it seems a slightly arbitrary split that renders Moovit even more problematic and unnecessarily so.

So my initial conclusion remains, even taking into account Google Maps and Moovit, there is still no UK wide multi-modal public transport application with the flair of Citymapper – who is going to produce one? Will Google introduce real-time data? Will Moovit sort out their schedule data and add in more real-time? Or will Citymapper expand out to cover the whole of the UK?

Can Anyone Bring Citymapper Flair to UK Wide Travel?

Screenshot 2014-06-29 21.38.12I’m a real fan of Citymapper – for travelling around London it does a great job integrating all the trains, buses and the underground together in an easy to use app, a trick they’re repeating in other major cities across the world.

However there is one big issue, whilst I go into London, I don’t live in London, I live out in Berkshire. The app includes train services out as far as Reading, but if I want to take a bus to the station I need a different app like one of the Bus Expert apps to get me to the station. The only buses in Citymapper are those run by Transport for London, so even connections for the outer reaches of the London Underground aren’t included for where I grew up around Rickmansworth.

That’s not to say that there isn’t the real time data around, Citymapper make use of data feeds from Transport API, and their data covers a much wider area than just London, indeed you can find example sites and example applications that use their data on a wider level.

There is also the government backed Traveline websites which have a set of regional travel planning applications, each working and looking different and having been developed by different suppliers appointed by the various regions, and then Transport Direct offer a national route planning service, along with a mobile web site, but no equivalent app. All of the government apps and sites work, but they aren’t exactly the kind of modern web and app experience you get from an app like Citymapper.

Screenshot 2014-06-29 21.36.38One of the better UK wide route planning apps is a cut down version of the Rome2Rio app called UK Transport Search, it’s got a small footprint and is pretty quick to produce reasonable routes, however it lacks any of the realtime information that Citymapper has.

You can certainly plan trips and navigate around the country using a combination of apps, but nobody seems to have produced the kind of multi-modal public transport application that Citymapper have produced for London on a wider scale. We have all the bits, but nobody has actually pulled the whole thing together, so who is actually going to do it?

Microsoft Take On the iPad

Last night Microsoft announced their new tablet, the Surface. There is a good summary of the key points here: .

However it is an interesting move, as the article above says, this is a big change for Microsoft who aside from the XBox haven’t ever built hardware – you’ll never have seen a PC actually made by Microsoft for example. This however is how Apple have made their money and built their platform by tightly controlling everything.

There is still more we need to find out though, Microsoft haven’t talked prices, although we can take a fair guess that the price points will be competitive, and the release dates are a bit vague.

The other thing that may well cause confusion is that what they’ve announced is actually two machines, one is an ARM based iPad rival, the other is an Intel based PC that will be able to run normal Windows applications. Whilst you could say that Apple do the same with the MacBook Air which is a similarly portable computer, Apple clearly delineates the Air from the iPad.

Despite all the trumpeting, this is going to be a difficult sell for Microsoft, they are a long way behind, and maybe more so than in the phone market, iPad is synonymous with tablet, indeed much as people refer to vacuum cleaners as a Hoover, people refer to all brands of tablet as an iPad.

However it will certainly be a positive move if Apple has some serious competition, and whilst only time will tell whether this will be the tablet to really compete, this certainly seems to me to have a better chance as unlike Android and iOS devices there is a level of compatibility already with what is in use in corporate environments.

Dear Steve

Dear Steve,

Yesterday we headed down to the opening day of your new store in Festival Place, Basingstoke. First off I have to say that after many years having to either head into London or drive a long way to find an Apple Store it is great having two within a short drive, with you having opened a store in the Oracle, Reading just last month. We did avoid the craziness in the morning but we had a great time none the less.

I went along with my two year old daughter, who has been using Apple products for pretty well all of her life. It didn’t take long for her to get the hang of the touchscreen interface on my iPhone, iPod and iPad, indeed now she expects most devices to have such a screen and gets frustrated when they don’t. This brings me to a first suggestion, your children’s area. Whilst it is nice having a low level table, and child sized seating, the devices there are all Mac’s. Although children do quite easily pick up the concept of a mouse and pointer, my daughter is much happier with the direct interaction of a touch screen – as you have said on a number of occasions recently, we’re living in a post PC world now.

Look where we ended up... As a result we went to look at the iPad’s which do have children’s software installed, but are all on tables at a very child unfriendly height. In the end my daughter asked for a chair, and one of your excellent staff kindly obliged with a stool from the Genius Bar.

As you can see from the picture that put her on just the right height to play some games on the iPad.

Games weren’t the only thing we tried. My daughter wanted to talk to Mummy, so we thought we’d try out another of the features of the iPad – Facetime.

We have used your video calling application quite frequently at home – calling between Apple products it seems to pretty consistently produce a better quality video connection than the most obvious competitor Skype, indeed in one situation recently Facetime made a connection easily when Skype couldn’t get through at all. However as I’m sure you’re aware Facetime only works over wi-fi.

No problem of course as your stores have free wi-fi. Looking at the strength display it had a full strength signal, however it fairly obviously was not a good internet connection, the demonstration iPad struggled to produce a reasonable picture with a decidedly low quality result. It would certainly be worthwhile investing in some faster wi-fi connections for the store to enable a good demonstration of this feature.

Anyway, one last idea which comes from my daughter – she would like you to provide beds at the Apple Store so she doesn’t have to go home. The store kept her occupied and entertained for all of a wet afternoon, and she didn’t want to leave! I did eventually manage to get her out and heading home, but I am sure we will be back.

Yours,

An Apple Owning Parent

Twittering on an iPad

As with most other app categories, accessing Twitter from an iPad has been playing catch-up. The big missing player before this week has been Twitter itself, who whilst they had been providing a well regarded and popular iPhone application, and had been giving hints at what we might expect from the iPad, hadn’t as yet put anything forward.

When we first got our iPad I had been using the venerable Twitteriffic, which much as they had with the iPhone made it to market early providing a very nice looking and slick advert supported experience. I’d certainly recommend Twitteriffic if you’ve got fairly straightforward requirements for your tweeting, but for my purposes it lacks a couple of important features, in particular the ability to manage lists.

As a result I started to look around for an alternative. I found that in the form of Osfoora and it’s iPad version (currently withdrawn from the app store) which provided an impressive iPad experience giving the full gamut of Twitter features in a nice interface. Being a later arrival they’ve obviously drawn inspiration from the many existing clients, taking the best features of each. However the big problem is the robustness of the application, a good example of this being what happened a week or so ago when the Twitter API on which all third-party clients rely started periodically returning nulls in it’s datastream. Whilst longer established clients such as Twitteriffic and Twitter for iPhone didn’t have a problem Osfoora just crashed totally once it encountered one of these nulls and would then crash on opening. A reinstall would solve the problem up to the point it encountered another null, at which point it would fall flat on it’s face again. There are similar glitches and hiccups at other points, and it does have a propensity to crash when it encounters a problem, however until this week it has been my client of choice on the iPad and iPhone. If you need the advanced features I’d certainly recommend giving it a look – aside from the stability hiccups, the other annoyance with it is that unlike Twitteriffic and the Official Twitter app, Osfoora and Osfoora HD are sold and charged separately rather than being released as a universal application.

This week that changed when the Official Twitter app updated to a universal app providing an iPad interface, not not quite universal acclaim. Whilst some people loved it, others like Robert Scoble (@scobleizer) really didn’t.

I’ve been using it on the iPad for the past few days, and to be honest I rather like it. Swapping back to Osfoora HD with it’s more traditional buttons I miss the new style interface.

The iPad interface on the Official Twitter app makes heavy use of multitouch gestures, so the pinch gesture is used on tweets to see the conversation that the tweet is part of, or to view more detail about the person who has sent the tweet. The other interface innovation is a system of sliding panels. Starting with the basic account details on the left hand side, as you click on firstly a stream, and then individual tweets new panels slide in from the right, and can be slid back to the right as required. It’s a bit different to the other clients that tend have fixed panel areas, and does take a little getting used to, but it does seem a lot more fluid within the environment of the iPad. The panel idea even extends as far as linked content – pretty well everything that is linked to a tweet is shown in an embedded browser panel that can be slid in and out as with any other panel.

The main downside so far is that it is lacking in certain features, again proper list support. It is a bit of a surprise considering that as a universal app the iPhone version that includes the self same missing features is part of the same executable. However as those features are there but not enabled it does seem likely that they will be added in the near future.

Having said that, whilst the missing features are an annoyance, a really big advantage is that the the Official Twitter app is really stable – it hasn’t crashed once, whilst Osfoora HD which I’ve gone into a couple of times to manipulate lists managed to crash even with that small amount of usage. The other advantage of course is that it’s free.

In the medium term, I suspect I’ll continue as I have done on the iPhone with a couple of Twitter applications installed, currently the Official Twitter app and Osfoora HD – whether I can cut that to only one longer term once the missing features in the Official Twitter app are enabled remains to be seen, but for the moment the Official Twitter app is my twitter client of choice.

iPad v Kindle – No Competition?

Earlier in the year when the iPad was announced and released, and with Apple struggling to fulfil demand, people were writing the Kindle off – another device that had got to market first and been beaten by Apple.

Strange as it may seem when the brand name iPod is interchangeable with MP3 player, there was a time when Apple wasn’t in the MP3 player market, indeed many pundits thought they were nuts to produce one (these are the same pundits who thought they were nuts to produce a smartphone, and nuts to produce a tablet PC of course), but produce one they did, and the rest is, as they say, history.

Pundits could clearly see the Kindle going the same way. Amazon had produced a Kindle application for the iPad and iPhone, and it almost seemed like admitting defeat.

Roll forward a few months and everything is looking a bit different. Amazon have released the next generation Kindle, and much like the iPad before it, they are again selling as fast as they can be produced.

It is an attractive package.

For a fraction of the cost of an iPad – the most expensive Kindle is only £149, less than half the price of the cheapest iPad, and a fifth of the going rate for the most expensive 64Gb 3G iPad – Amazon have produced a smaller, lighter device with an amazing claimed battery life of a month, throwing in free 3G international data, and even a web browser. Not surprisingly the pundits are now suggesting that the Kindle is ready to trounce the iPad, lining the two devices up for a competition.

But is there really a competition?

When you look at the Kindle, yes it may have a built in browser, but it is a very limited and basic browser – about enough to check your e-mail. Providing free 3G for full scale web browsing is clearly not the intention, and to be honest is not something Amazon could afford for any length of time. Quite apart from that, I doubt anybody would accept browsing in black and white these days. This is clearly a device built primarily for reading text, and as such with a fantastic e-Ink screen it’s ideal.

Whilst yes, the iPad has iBooks, and Steve Jobs made a big thing about it at launch, the iPad is not just an eBook reader. Yes you can use it as that, but you’re seriously underusing the device. The powerful processor and colour screen offer much more flexibility and power, so you can do things with books that a Kindle cannot – check out the Alice in Wonderland or Cat in the Hat apps in the app store for example. The Kindle can’t play games like the ever popular Angry Birds. You haven’t got an equivalent of iWork, Photoshop or any of the other popular apps. You’re not going to be able to watch a movie on a Kindle.

So there you have it no competition. Or should that be no competition? The two devices are pitching at totally different markets, the competition is entirely artificial. The iPad is much more of a general purpose device that just happens to be able to show eBooks. The Kindle on the other hand is a device designed primarily to read text, and does it fantastically well.

If you’re wanting to just read books, the choice is clear, don’t waste your money on an iPad, I’d be heading for the Kindle. If you’re wanting a more general purpose tablet device, get yourself an iPad, and thanks to the free Amazon app you can read your Kindle books on that too.

Kindles are available exclusively from Amazon, with iPads available from a number of stores both bricks and mortar and online. The links below will take you to the relevant pages on Amazon, and purchasing through these will help with the costs of running this site.

The iPad for Education

It’s no exaggeration to say that we love our Apple iPad. I have to admit to a little bit of skepticism when it was first announced, but having tried one out and subsequently purchased one it’s combination of superb battery life, form factor and general ease of use make it a lovely tool. Whilst iPhone apps have had to make a number of compromises to cope with the form factor, the larger size of the iPad really open up so many more possibilities. The ease of use can easily be demonstrated by handing our iPad to Lucy, who has no trouble finding her way around to what she wants – usually a video of “Big Chris” – the video of the Children in Need 2009 song.

As such, it is with great interest that I’ve been watching Fraser Speirs (@fraserspeirs) – probably best known as the author of the excellent FlickrExport plugin for iPhoto and Aperture – as he has prepared for and successfully rolled out an Apple iPad to every child in the school where he teaches, through his excellent blog postings.

Admittedly, the school where he teaches is a small private school, so they have a good deal more flexibility in deployment, and much less in the way of costs and issues to deploy to an average state run comprehensive, however even taking that into account a big step like this hasn’t been without issues. However reading the postings has certainly left Beth (@tahbepet) wishing even more she’d had access to Apple iPad’s when teaching, not least as an English teacher some of the abilities in iBooks!

Fraser has already picked up a bit of coverage from both specialist Mac sites and more general sites – hopefully some more mainstream media will pick up the story and highlight what is a very interesting experiment in bringing technology into the classroom.