The Upside of iPhones Without Google Transit Directions

As we reported last week, the new Apple mobile operating system, iOS 6, will come with a new, Apple-designed Maps application that eschews Google’s mapping tools and comes without standard transit directions. The Apple Maps app will provide driving and walking directions, but transit riders will have to access third-party plug-ins to figure out the best way from point A to point B.

Will smaller software developers create better transit apps for iPhone than Google? Image: Headway Blog

While that could pose a hurdle for millions of iPhone and iPad users, the new system could also encourage the creation of a much richer assortment of transit apps for mobile devices, according to Kevin Webb, who develops mapping and trip planning tools at OpenPlans, Streetsblog’s parent organization.

In a recent post on the OpenPlans blog, Webb credits Google for working with transit agencies to share their data in a way that developers can easily use to build applications. But he says that Google had little incentive to devote more resources to its transit apps, and that the ubiquity of Google Maps was suffocating innovation from other developers:

One possible reason is that Google’s free tools de-incentivize others from entering the market. iPhone and Android users have had little reason to download alternate apps, especially paid ones, when the pre-installed features solve much of the need. Unlike many other Google technologies, there’s no current option to extend the functionality for transit or other directions, or incorporate this data into non-Google apps…

There’s tremendous opportunity for innovation in how we design and communicate information about personal mobility. Unfortunately the tools have not kept pace, in part due to a lack of proper incentives for new services. With iOS 6, Apple is building a market for new tools rather than offering a default solution.

Will iOS 6 result in a renaissance of innovation around transit data and improve convenience for transit riders? We’ll see.