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: ## 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.

19 thoughts on The Upside of iPhones Without Google Transit Directions

  1. While that makes sense on paper, most people aren’t going to know which apps to download to access the data. It’s better for everyone as a whole to have transit directions built into the most common app that is already pre-loaded. If you use transit often in a certain area, then a richer app will be used. But if I’m on vacation to, say, PDX, then I just want directions, not some hunt for an awesome app that I’ll only use for a weekend if I can even find it to download.

  2. To the extent that a pretty good free and centralized service for transit directions will have to be replaced by users ad-hoc with multiple different services that they may have to pay for, this amounts to a “privatization” and reduction in access to transit info.  Yes, this will create more work for app developers, just like getting rid of public garbage collection would  create more work for private companies.  Not really a net positive.

  3. I am surprised at the great resistance to change in this area from a group of forward thinking folks on transit policy.

  4. All I can say is my $2.99 would happily go to the first developer who can offer an app that integrates transit AND bike riding directions in New York City. This will be crucial when bike share rolls out, for example – how long will it take me to get to Chelsea Piers if I ride the C train to 23rd Street and then grab a share bike and ride from 8th Ave to the river? Or… how long would it take me if I biked from Brooklyn to the nearest East River Ferry stop and then rode my bike to a Manhattan destination after getting off? Or howabout if I carry my bike onto the subway and ride it when I get out? I wouldn’t hold Google’s directions on much of a pedestal since they can’t even do that yet, and I think the argument for competition in the marketplace at this point is a good one.

  5. I think public transit fans will just stop buying iphones.

    Google Maps for transit is as good as it is because Google has the clout and resources to  collect all the different transit agency’s data into a common data format. Small companies can’t afford to do this and larger companies don’t have a big enough profit motive, so I don’t see much innovation coming from anyone else.

  6. Huge step backwards for the ubiquitous availability of transit directions, especially for the casual user. Hard to spin it positively, at least until a new good solution comes along.

  7. I live in a smallish metro area in the Rust Belt with a transit agency that manages to provide very decent and frequent bus coverage in spite of a shrinking tax base. Our transit agency saves on trip planning by sending users to Google Maps for directions. I can’t imagine who’s going to step up and write an app for our system, and I’m pissed that Apple is cutting off so many transit riders like me for the sake of its feud with Google. I already have my doubts about sticking with the iPhone, and this might be the change that will push me over the edge.

  8. Why is driving standard, and transit/biking optional?  I have a car, but 95% of my trips are biking and/or transit.  In cities such as NYC and SF, these features are a must-have for a large portion of the customer base.   Where I live on the SF Peninsula, 30% of commuters don’t drive most of the time.  Carlite and carfree folk are a large and growing market segment.

    Personally, I am not going to wait a few years to see if the app market is going to come up something as good as Google Maps.  My next phone is now a lot more likely to be an Android.

  9. I’ve been using iTrans for public transit almost as long as the iPhone and iPod Touch have been available. Over the years I added Spokes (now defunct) Ride the City and HopStop for cycling routes. As long as these apps continue to work with iOS 6 I don’t think I’ll miss Google public transit directions all that much. It’s helpful when you’re out of the City but some of the bike routes are really wonky. Outside the City Google often gives a warning that a sidewalk may or may not be available.

    Google offers a number of apps available on the App Store. Maybe they’ll include their Map App with public transit directions as an add-on.

  10. I’m bummed, but the phone I currently have has only walk and drive directions. I’ve learned to consult a (gasp!) paper bike map hanging on my door before I roll out. Plus the map is a nice decoration for my apartment.

  11. I am really surprised that the openplans guys see this as a good thing.  Google never had a direct incentive in the first place to develop a great transit app.  They don’t have direct monetary incentives for anything they make.  Almost all their revenue comes from ads, so most of the software they make is to get people using Google “products”.  Although they aren’t really products, the real products are us.  The applications are just tools to get their products on Google services.  So the incentives for Google will remain unchanged.  They will continue to improve the transit app as they have been since it was released.

    Also the maps app on iOS was always developed by Apple, they just used Google maps for data.  Google maps on Android have continually had new features added that haven’t all shown up on the iOS version.  I think a Google maps app will show up in the Appstore pretty soon.  

    Also didn’t it come out that iOS6 will indeed have transit directions by the time it releases?  or was that just a rumor?  

  12. It also sucks not having bike directions on my IPhone.  Although there are problems with Google Bike directions, at least it was something.  And Google Bike directions at least showed me safer routes to get places.

  13. To those of you who wish you could get Google’s biking directions on your devices: you’re really not missing much. Here in LA, and being the kind of cyclist I am, I find them unusable most of the time, as they seem to be based on some assumptions about the typical cyclist that may diverge sharply from reality–to wit, that we want more than anything to stay off of larger roads unless they have bike lanes, and we are willing to go out of our way and take longer and more serpentine routes (and memorize all those turns) to do so. The longer the trip is, the more pronounced is the effect of this assumption and the more convoluted is the resulting route. (But remember, trips in spread-out LA are longer by nature, so this may not be an issue in denser cities.)

    Not Google-bashing here, btw. Their driving and especially transit directions in SoCal are really useful. Biking, not so much.

  14. Here in San Francisco, I think Google Maps biking directions are really great. It finds me all kinds of low traffic routes that aren’t on the official city and county bike maps. Maybe it is not so good for long distance touring, but for around-town commuting it is really great.

  15. This is ridiculous. They couldn’t keep the Google Transit directions around until the new, all inclusive woorld transit app from XYZ Developer comes out? Or at least send out a warning that our usual guide to getting to work is now kaput? I can’t deal with that at 530 in the morning. I can’t imagine people who travel for business finding the “Transit Direction Not Available” message. Collective scream -_-

  16. Sorry, I travel a lot and need the ubiquity of coverage of Google Transit to cover the most cities around the world without me having to double check if I need to download yet another city-specific transit app. For anyone who travels and still tries to use transit, a universal “default solution” that is as easy to use, reliable and ubiquitous as Google Transit is a must. As saimin  said below, I’m not seeing anyone but google having the resources to pull that off.

  17. We believe that having built-in transit directions on your phone helps public transit work better for everyone.

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