Location Services in Commuter Pal–thanks to iOS 6

As part of my overhaul of “I May Be Late” (now known as Commuter Pal), I’m adding in some location based services to the app. The idea is that when you move within range of a tube station, you’ll get quick access to the status of the lines and current departure times. I’m working my way slowly through the code, but this is what I’ve got so far. It’s not very impressive to see….

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The bar at the bottom will slide into view when you’re near a tube station and tapping view will show you more information.

I’m also hoping to make some basic information available from the lock-screen, so you can quickly access station status with a swipe. More coming soon!

Seeking London Commuters (with nerves of steel)

I’m about ready to submit my new version of I May Be Late to Apple for inclusion in the app store, but before I do, I’d really like a few people to kick the tires and give me some honest feedback.

To achieve this, I’m looking for anyone who commutes on the London Underground and who is brave (crazy) enough to test out an iPhone app! If you think you fit this bill, sign up using TestFlight by clicking on the link below:

 

http://tflig.ht/vTaR0n

 

Please share this link with anyone you think my like to test my app.

I May Be Late and WiFi on the London Underground

So a lot of people are asking me about how I May Be Late will deal with the addition of WiFi to the London underground this summer.

As a tube user I really welcome this move from TFL. It has taken a significant amount of time to make this dream a reality and I’m sure TFL have been working very hard trying to find a partner and finally trying to get all the equipment installed across the network. As far as I understand it, the WiFi will be free over the course of the summer, but will eventually become a paid only service. They will offer status information for free to all users, but any other access will require a fee.

There are a couple of points I’d like to make;

Firstly, not all stations will be covered by WiFi. They will be rolling this service out across network a few stations at a time, but I don’t imagine that all stations will get it. Consider those stations at the ends of the network. They may just focus on some of the busier stations.

Secondly, it won’t be available in the tunnels or, necessarily the trains. Platforms, corridors and ticket halls will be where the coverage will be concentrated. Since a tube train is a steel box, I cannot imagine the signal would be very good inside, except, perhaps whilst the doors are open. I’m no WiFi expert, but I know phones don’t work well in elevators. Faraday cage and all that.

Thirdly, what sort of bandwidth will be available? If there are, say, 100 phones on a platform during rush hour, they will all be vying for connection to the WiFi (even just automatic connections). I’m hoping they’ve a) got the hardware to cope with this and b) have the bandwidth to deliver the data!

For me, I see the addition of WiFi to the underground as something I can leverage. Have users connected mean they can check my app or other tube apps for updates on the network, rather than relying on just the TFL data. Giving users access to information can only be a good thing.

My app will continue to offer benefits to those stuck between stations or those that just cannot get a signal to send that email. My apps ability to send text messages will still be relevant until they provide GSM signal underground.

The big lesson from this is that advancements shouldn’t be seen as complete negatives. A lot of people seem to think that WiFi will render a lot of tube apps useless, but I think those apps can only benefit for being connected and once they continue to provide useful information and useful function, people would have no reason to stop using them

OpenID–it’s a good idea, but nobody trusts me!

For the past three months, my travel site www.imaybelate.com and its companion apps for iOS and WP7 have been live on the internet.

Based on recent user activity, I’ve decided to make a big change to the authentication system of the site. I’m going to move away from OpenID and back to the standard username & password. I’m not making this change lightly as it involves not only refactoring my code, but also supporting existing users who want to continue using the app.

So why am I removing OpenID support? In a word: trust. Or, to be more accurate, a lack of trust.

I started by asking questions on twitter and finally by running a small online poll, using Twitter. I got some interesting results – http://twtpoll.com/fpgw89

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I didn’t get many votes as the poll was only running for one day, but I think it offers a glimpse into people’s feelings towards OpenID. There were a few other votes and the comments were:

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I also got a few comments via Facebook and Twitter and they mirrored these sentiments.

“Create new account. Sometimes signing in with another account gives the app access to that sign in account. Example being signing in with your twitter account to some apps allows that app to read your tweets (even if private) and also to tweet on your behalf.”

Mr Jeff Atwood (@codinghorror) also replied to an earlier tweet on the subject of using OpenID

“@tomasmcguinness log in with google, Facebook, twitter seems to have traction, openid alone is risky”

So what conclusions can I draw? First off, I must point that that as I’m a techie, most of my twitter followers are of that ilk and therefore I expected the poll to be biased towards the better solution of OpenID. As can be seen from the pie chart, it’s still about a 50/50 split. But it’s 50/50 with some caveats. People seem to like the idea of using existing accounts when they “trust” the site they are signing up to. I’m defining trust here to mean they’ll trust a site they’ve user before or a site a friend has recommended.

This mirrors my own behaviour. I’ve only become conscious of my attitude since I started thinking about it for my own site. When I visit a site for the first time and want to try it out I won’t connect to it via Facebook. This is what I was asking others to do. If I won’t do it myself, why expect others to? A rather silly mistake on my part.

Users may be willing to connect your site with other existing accounts, but only after they’ve established your site is something they want to use and it’s something they trust.

To this end, I’m going to replace my OpenID system on www.imaybelate.com with a simple username and password. I’m going to update the mobile apps so they highlight the features on offer without requiring login. If after seeing the features, users want to try it, they can just signup using their email address.

There was one tweet I got which rather put this whole OpenID subject into perspective. Something that Jeff Atwood mentions in this blog post http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/04/openid-one-year-later/ was that OpenID providers come and go. A more dangerous consequence is that you lose access to your resources associated with that ID and that was brought to my attention by this tweet:

“FB banned a guy over innocent pics of his baby girl-lost access to 27 other accounts – that why I prefer User/pword”

It’s scary to think that Facebook not only control access to their site, but also to every other site that you’ve connected to them.

Making the features of my Windows Phone 7 app more obvious…

As part of some changes I’m making to my IMayBeLate app, I’m toying with trying to make it more obvious what my app actually does.

I’m taking out the OpenID registration and login and replacing with the more pedestrian username and password. I’m working on another blog post about why I’m doing this, so I’ll just give you a summary here. I’m trying to to clean up the UI of my Windows Phone 7 in an effort to make the features of the app more discoverable.

So, to this end, I’ve taken a page out of the Instagram app, making the first screen available regardless of whether the user is signed in or not. I’ve also added some text to each section of the pivot that describes each feature of the app.

My hope is that users will just scroll through the app and be given a taste of the benefits of  using the app, hopefully encouraging them to sign up.

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Has anyone seen this approach in WP7 before? What do you think of it?

Adding our station information to your commute

The feature that I’m currently implementing for IMayBeLate.com is one that will allow you to select the stations that you use on a particular line. image

Whilst choosing the lines you commute on, you will be given the opportunity to select the stations on that line that you use.

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At present TFL separate their status information into lines and stations.By gathering this information, I can use the station information help provide you with information beyond just line disruptions. Sometimes stations are closed due to emergencies or, more commonly, over-crowding. This extra information might mean you’ll walk to the next station, avoid the queues!

This also takes me one step closer to being able to suggest alternative routes and to provide warnings when the disruptions of other lines indirectly affect your lines.

Let me know what you think of this feature by commenting below!

If you’re a London commuter and not already signed up, please head to www.imaybelate.com/signup and get started!

TFL Live Status Information; My ARSE!

I think I caught out TFL this morning. At 8AM I got a text message indicating there were minor delays between two stations on the Jubilee line, but checking two iOS Tube Apps (including my own) indicated there was a good service on the line!

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Text from TFL
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I May Be Late
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Tube Deluxe

I always had my suspicions that TFL didn’t really put the right information into their TFL feed and this is sort of proof!

Latest changes to IMayBeLate.com

Over the past few weeks in between planning a wedding, doing a piano exam and attending a NFC hackathon, I’ve continued to work on www.imaybelate.com, trying to add new features and improve the application overall. In the past few days I’ve submitted app updates to Apple and Microsoft for approval and rolled out an updated website.

My apps just aren’t just selling Sad smile

At the end of  February, I launched the Windows Phone 7 and iOS apps for IMayBeLate. These just haven’t sold a lot at all. In total I’ve had about twenty six downloads across both platforms. I then update the Windows Phone 7 app to support a trial version, but that hasn’t helped organic sales at all. I won’t be retiring on that anytime soon!

To try and encourage more casual downloads, I’ve decided to make the app free on both platforms. As part of this move, I’ve applied limitations to certain parts of the application so that you need a Pro account to get access. The “To Work” journey is still free to use, but I’ve locked down the “Home” journey. I hope that this will give people a taste of the app’s usefulness for the first half of their commute. If they like it, they can upgrade to a Pro account and get the benefits for their journey home.

Since this move actually takes functionality away from those that have already purchased the app, I’ve upgraded all the accounts to Pro level. I’ll take this away after a month and that will hopefully serve as compensation to my users. The apps will become free once the updates have been approved.

National Rail

In an effort to provide more complete coverage of London’s transport system, I reached out to National Rail to try and get access to their live travel information. Unfortunately, I got knocked back completely. They just don’t allow automated consumption of the data and they also charge a fee for access. Since I’m a) using an automated service and b) doing this in my spare time, I had to give up on the idea. I may write to my MP in the future and see if they can do anything to make the company open their data up.

Advance Warnings

One of the earliest suggestions I received about the site was to give users the option to get advance warning of disruptions send directly to the them in addition to information being sent to others. This was something I had implemented as part of the smartphone app, in the form of a push notification, so it wasn’t a complicated change to make. I took the opportunity to clean up the website’s UI a little and I refactored a lot of code in the notification service to clean it up and make it more modular.

Advance warnings can be send up to an hour before the journey begins and they provide the user with an opportunity to takie an alternative route if their usual one is stuffed up. I’ll be building on this functionality in the future by adding more information.

What’s next?

The next feature I’m working on is the capture of the stations that are used as well as the lines. Gathering this information will help provide me with a more complete idea of the route a user takes. I can monitor TFL for station specific information, such as closures or emergencies, and use that to provide the commuter with a more complete picture of their travel situation.

Capturing this info also enables me to deal with more advanced scenarios. A good example of this is the effect that one line closure has on another.  A good example is the recent disruption to the Jubilee line, which in turn caused a knock on effect to the Thames Clipper and the DLR in addition to causing massive delays at Bank and Waterloo stations. I could also suggest alternative routes using TFL’s journey planner.

Please Sign Up

If you’re a London commuter that travels by tube, I encourage you to sign up and give my service a go. If you have any suggestions or comments please drop me an email to tomas@tomasmcguinness.com as I like hearing what people like and dislike.

How to get some traction for I May Be Late

I May Be Late has been live now for about one month and has gained 50 users at the time of writing. That’s just over one signup a day and I’m actually quite pleased by that. I’d probably have 500 users by the end of year if the rate of signups stayed the same. However, I’m coming to realise that just having people signup isn’t really enough. I want people to sign up and use the service. I want them to use the service, love it and sign up for a pro account because they find it really useful.

When I launched the two smart phone apps for I May Be Late, I think I lost sight of that fact. I was just expecting people to shell out money because I think the service is useful. This will work for a while as my friends are doing all the downloading, but I’m never going to get any major traction from that alone.

I’ve decided to try something different.

I’m going to make a few changes to the apps and website and give users the power to add one half of their commute for free. This will include doing it from the mobile app. They’ll get all main benefits of this i.e. advance warning emails and delay notification emails. SMS will still be reserved for Pro users since this actually costs me money to provide. I hope that users will see how beneficial this service is for the trip to work each morning and realise that it would be useful for their trip home too.

I’ve not had many paid downloads of my apps to date, so I don’t risk pissing many people off. However, these people have paid for the app already, so I don’t want to risk annoying my early adopters. To thank them for at least taking the plunge initially, I’ll over them a months Pro account, which is worth more than twice what they paid for the app initially. I expect that most early adopters are like myself and should be reasonably forgiving of change.

That’s the plan anyway!

I’ve started making the code changes and hope to have new versions submitted to Microsoft and Apple by this time next week. Once they are approved, I would hope to see more people downloading the app since it’s totally free.

The only downside to this plan of mine is that Apple won’t let me advertise the way a user can get a Pro account. I can mention the Pro account, but not how to get it! I can only hope that interested users will make the effort to find out themselves. It’s a gamble, but much better to bet on that then people not downloading the app at all!

Wish me luck!