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!