Why I Have Adopted the Online Journey Planner for Tube Deluxe

There is nothing like direct user feed back, it’s one of the things I love & loathe about the app store. Version 6 of Tube Deluxe has generated a fair few & furious 1 star reviews (and emails) regarding the removal of the offline planner.

I am going to be bringing the offline planner back?

No.

Are you £^&*@!©? insane, can you not read the 1 star reviews?!
Sanity is debatable, but I can certainly read the reviews & have done so. My wife gave up reading them years ago; she has seen first hand the 8 months plus of solid effort that has gone into Tube Deluxe, the reviews upset her too much. I am OK with brutal (but constructive) criticism, for those who have worked with me I can be very blunt when it comes to pursuing apps & solutions that shine.

1 star reviews are not always a true picture of the value & quality of an app. There is little incentive to leave to leave good reviews, but every incentive to leave ‘punishing’ 1 star reviews when one does not like a particular change (more on that soon). Of course one could say, well that is just a convenient line to pull out when you want to put your head in the sand & not listen to users. Not true. I do listen users. And the previous planner had its issues too.

Damned if I do, damned if I don’t
Besides the app store, I get a lot of email. I try my best to respond to it all but between that, my corporate life & house renovation it’s not always timely or possible. I have had many a dissatisfied email when the offline planner did not work for someone; one person even wanted me to refund an entire days go-karting because they missed a train connection due to a line closure that did not get reflected in the app at the time.

The app was stagnating. The time & effort to implement even minor improvements in the offline engine was going to be enormous. To keep up with the constant closures (and ability to successfully route around them) Tube Deluxe required updates. Implementing a process to keep these changes in sync (by way of updating the directed path graph that the routing algorithm uses) could have been a solution. But then still no guarantee one would update such changes or that they could even get the changes (i.e they are underground). We are right back where we started with the same problems.

Contrary to what someone reviewers think, I am not out to ruin their lives and take their first born whilst charging them 69p for the privilege. When compared to my other app London Travel Deluxe & the feed back I have received over the years I sincerely believe that Tube Deluxe is better off with an online journey planner, the TfL one.

45% of the Tube is Underground
Yes, I am well aware that a large and central part of the Tube Network is underground and has no cellular network signal to speak of. I have spent 5 years of my life using the Tube on an almost daily basis and can conform there is indeed no network signal down there. This will eventually change as Wi-Fi access is rolled out across the Underground, but this is not why I adopted the online planner, although having Wi-Fi access at stations will be immensely beneficial.

Journey plans you have previously made in Tube Deluxe 6 are automatically saved & are always available offline (i.e underground) in Plan > History. No internet connection required.

Journey Planning
What we are fundamentally getting down to here is how people or more specifically how some people ‘expect’ to use the app and for those expectations to always be met. Let us examine a couple of scenarios…

I am at Chancery Lane station and we all just got kicked off because the line has gone part suspended ahead. Even though the old version of Tube Deluxe could give you a plan underground, because you would not have received those status updates yet it will offer no logical or possible alternative. You are left to go above ground and then armed with new status updates decide which station you should actually journey plan from, is it Holborn or Farringdon? Totally dependant on where you are going, but you’ll have to work this out yourself. It might even be faster to take a bus to another Underground station or perhaps a train from Farringdon.

I am travelling from Queensway to London City Airport, WTF! With suitcases in tow…Tube Deluxe just told me to take the Central from Queensway to Bank then the DLR. I get there & Queensway is closed due to overrunning engineering works. The old version of tube Deluxe could never account for station closures like this. Many a time it blissfully sent people to very temporary station closures. I am not making this up, because this is exactly what happened last week when Queensway was closed in morning rush hour due to overrunning engineering works. The new version of Tube Deluxe seamlessly accounted for this and suggested credible alternative journey plans. TfL have teams of people ensuring that real-time disruptions are reflected in their journey planner.

At first glade, looks like the journey planner has got this well wrong. The Central goes to Queensbury, why is it telling me to get out Lancaster Gate?

Here's why, at the time this plan was made Queensbury station was closed. This is the power of the online planner, it's always up to date.

 

There are a small subset of users that use or want to use the app exclusively underground, they get to the station, descend, then plan. Most of the time it’s all good, they do not encounter the scenarios described above. I no longer support this use case, does it really justify an entire review of the app of 1 star? It’s hardly objective is it? I have been accused of hubris for now telling people how they should use the app to get around London. Planning before you depart can save you a world of pain & time wasting getting you to where you want to go with the minimum of fuss; TfL heavily promote that you pre-plan your journey are they just as arrogant too?

Besides the Olympics the London has years upon years of planned & unplanned disruptions ahead, added capacity is almost immediately consumed and the network is in a constant state of flux. Behind the scenes, journey planning is actually an extremely complex business. I don’t expect people to understand the intricacies of directed path greedy routing algorithms or scheduled interchanges vs crossing service interchanges, but Tube Deluxe does. If one can take that leap of faith; there’s no stopping you easily, quickly & accurately getting to all manner of random places in Greater London.

Pros vs Cons
Lets say you take my advice on board. There is one use case where the old app could give you a journey plan and new can not; that is when you are underground, getting kicked off a train because of a closure whilst in transit and you can take another line. I have no simple answer or defence other than when you consider the rare times this happens (and you can easily take another logical line) the pros of having a far more complete, reliable & powerful journey planner far outweigh the con of requiring an internet connection to get that journey plan.

I just want a simple planner!
Some have mentioned in reviews that they just want a simple planner & miss the clear itinerary line with changes and that Tube Deluxe is no longer what they paid for. Tube Deluxe still does what it has always promised to do but admittedly for some it’s not as simple as it once was, others love the richer journey plans (that are also better for people with visual impairments too). Again another thing I weighed up against benefits of being more accurate; the line itinerary design does not work when it comes to displaying multi-modal journey plans with potential service alternatives for each leg. Apps may not be everything you want forever.

I can not please everyone
As the saying goes…you can please some people some of the time, but not all people all of the time. Prior to version 6, one review I read said I should have been removed from the app store for my lack of updates (in particular the map), then I do an update and a get 1 stars for the changes people dislike without any thought to the 1 months development work I put in for all the other features. Tube Deluxe has 150,000 active users, gets launched 50,000 times a day, has sold nearly half million copies and has done 1 million in update downloads. Haters have got to hate, but the way some reviews are written you’d swear they think they are the only person using the app. Some people are indoctrinated in the youtube comment culture and enjoy leaving self-gratifying 1 star reviews without a care or thought that a human being on the other side actually put a lot of work & thought into what they are supposed to be ‘reviewing’. Here’s the part I loathe about app store reviews, I as a developer have no right of reply feature, many reviews are not reviews, they are complaints or support issues.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not against one star reviews, however they should at least be objective & constructive. Some just simply leave 1 star reviews in protest, fair enough, vote noted.

Just as a I can not please everyone, I certainly don’t expect all to agree with me, time will tell as whether I made a good product decision or not. But for the time being I can tell you, the online journey planner is here to stay.

Q&A (please note some of this is repeated from my previous posting)

Q. Will you make the older version available under another name? Or something? I want the offline planner back!
A. I have no plans to do this. Releasing another version puts me back in the same support problem I have now and also continues the pain I see every week relating to the offline planner…stations closing, network disruptions, nuances in opening times, exits only, entry only, surprise! I am not stopping here…the list goes on.

Q. Why don’t you keep the offline planner and then switch based on network availability?
A. This is something I deeply contemplated and I have previously written about the merging of Tube Deluxe & Travel Deluxe (formerly London Bus)http://mbarclay.net/2009/08/08/will-i-merge-deluxe-london-bus/

I am still of the same opinion that trying to wield these engines together is more trouble than is worth, you get back into the same old situation and limitations of the existing app. As you become used to the online planner (I hit current location almost by default when starting a plan) you’ll find that many of your planning requirements are not Underground station to Underground station. Or that’s it’s simply easier to use current location & a postcode, especially when travelling to an unfamiliar area and have no idea of the closest station, this a great way to find out how much walking there is or how close you can get using the Tube.

More often than not the planner will simply not be able to give you a plan.

Q. Why can’t you show journey plans using the line colours like you had before?
A. Journey plans may take in more than just the Tube e.g buses, trains & river services, potentially with a choice of multiple services (i.e different bus routes to the same stop). The line view design does not work well for this. The way journey plans are displayed now are also better for people with visual impairments, I even provided more enhance views to make it work better with VoiceOver.

Q. Why can I not get the highlight circles (show on map) on the map for a journey plan?
A. Essentially the same answer as above.

Q. Why don’t you do some big download thing, so the app will still work offline.
A. To big, complex & slow. There are over 20 million possible combinations when you consider all services across Greater London. The iPhone is not the place to be doing those calculations.

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