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NY Subway App's on the Right Track

By Patrick Nelson LinuxInsider ECT News Network
Jan 25, 2013 5:00 AM PT

NY Subway App's on the Right Track

New York Subway, a mobile app from Visual IT, is available for US$2.37 at Google Play. NY Subway

Some of my earliest memories are of high school commuting days standing on railway platforms in biting cold weather, day after day, leather-soled shoes absorbing any body heat like an air-chilling coil in an air conditioner.

I commuted to high school -- some years ago now -- back in the old country using a rickety, drafty, nationalized rail network. That was when the trains ran. When they didn't, I just stood there looking down the tracks like the dog waiting for its master.

Today's commuters have things a bit sweeter, in my opinion. High tech, eco-friendly insulating fabrics or rubber soles make standing around in sub-zero temperatures hardly noticeable on the feet.

More recently, we acquired XML-driven, transport agency-provided live feeds of train operating status. Some advanced networks also provide data feeds of impending train arrivals aimed at the station you are at.

All of this information is generally available for free, or through an easily obtainable license to commercial vendors, who use it to speed us commuters about our app-driven lives.

So Far, So Good

I decided to take a look at one of the apps developed for this mollycoddling purpose while I was on a recent trip to transportation hard-nose, New York City.

I chose Visual IT's paid New York Subway app, principally because the publisher also has versions available for the Paris, London, Berlin, Boston, San Francisco, Barcelona, Chicago, Rome, Washington, D.C., and more public transportation systems. I like consistency in UI when I'm travel-harried -- I could see myself obtaining more apps of this genre down the line.

Visual IT's New York Subway promotes itself as an app to optimize routes offline and provide live service status.

In testing, I found the live service status worked great and provided a clear indication to me that my lines -- 4, 5 and 6 -- were operating normally. I can assume the feed worked.

The offline map was fine -- again, no problems.

Overall, the app provided the service for which it was intended, and I don't have any complaints. However, I'm a difficult consumer -- as my local box stores will attest -- and therefore am going to run through a list of improvements that Visual IT should make.

Grumbling Points

First -- and this is maddening -- the map doesn't clearly indicate which stations are local stops and which are local and express. As all New Yorkers know, the 4, 5 and 6 trains run along the Lexington Avenue line. Trains 4 and 5 are express, and 6 is local. Minor stations like Spring Street are local, and only the Number 6 train stops at that station, not express trains 4 and 5.

I know this. All new Yorkers know this -- but although it's indicated on most New York transportation maps, it's not on Visual IT's map. This renders the app useless for tourists.

Complaint No. 2 is not about an omission -- it's a feature request to the Visual IT and New York MTA XML provider: Provide useable, drilled-down routing when online. How hard can it be to index every address in the city and allow users to enter the actual street addresses they're departing from and going to?

As the app is right now, you have to scroll down through a list of tourist-unfriendly station labels to find a starting point. For example, scroll to "Canal Street/Lafayette Street" to perform a routing from SoHo. Much more useable would be entering your location, say "28 Greene Street," and destination.

The app could then tell you that the nearest station is Canal Street/Lafayette Street, and instruct you how to get there, complete with transit routing.

It's just lazy on the part of the publisher to leave it like it is. Charge more, if necessary.

Complaints aside, even vague offline routing does make this advertising-free app a worthwhile buy at $2.37 in the Google Play store compared to a free app like Alexander Perlyuk's MTA Status & Map, which has a much better map, plus status feeds -- but no routing at all, however lazy.

Patrick Nelson has been a professional writer since 1992. He was editor and publisher of the music industry trade publication Producer Report and has written for a number of technology blogs. Nelson studied design at Hornsey Art School and wrote the cult-classic novel Sprawlism. His introduction to technology was as a nomadic talent scout in the eighties, where regular scrabbling around under hotel room beds was necessary to connect modems with alligator clips to hotel telephone wiring to get a fax out. He tasted down and dirty technology, and never looked back.

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