Reaction to iPhone announcement points to popularity of transit apps

By Eric Sundquist

Any time Apple announces new plans for its iPhone, the techie world pays attention. This month, when Apple rolled out version 6 of its iPhone operating system, the news also prompted concern from the transportation community.

The worry stems from the map application that will come with the new system. Currently, the iPhone map function relies on Google Maps, providing driving, walking, and transit directions. The new software will drop Google and provide its own mapping — apparently without transit directions.

To get transit directions, iPhone users will have to install a third-party app.

The removal of transit information made headlines not only on transportation-related blogs, but in techie and general interest publications as well. On CNN.com, Mashable’s Christina Warren wrote:

What didn’t work as we expected was transit directions, and this could be a real wrinkle for Apple…  Apple’s Scott Forstall said that the company would highlight transit apps from the App Store in its mapping product…. Apple is actually going to rely on these apps to power the transit directions within iOS.

Now, we don’t know what the final version of this product will look like — but if this means users will need to download a local area transit map or schedule tool in order to get transit directions in iOS 6, that’s going to be a problem for many thousands of users that rely on their iPhones for public transit directions on a daily basis.

I like third-party transit apps as much as the next person. But I also really, really like having a schedule built into my main mapping client, so I can quickly get directions in an area where I don’t know the bus or train route layout.

Walk Score, the Seattle-based firm that provides pedestrian-accessibility ratings by address, launched a campaign to ask Apple to reconsider.

Perhaps coincidentally, a few days after the iPhone news, Apple-spurned Google made a related announcement that Google Maps will display real-time transit arrival times in six test cities: Boston; Madrid; Portland, Oregon; San Diego; San Francisco; and Turin, Italy.

So while transit software will continue to evolve, the pushback to Apple and the Google announcement suggest that web- and smartphone-based information has become critical to transit users.

Eric Sundquist is Managing Director at SSTI.