Applications That Help Me Every Day

I can’t believe just how much I rely on my mobile devices nowadays. I went to University without a mobile phone and I got on perfectly well. I lived through my teenage years without having a mobile handset glued to my ear. I am continually wondering what happened to change my perspective on the mobile handset so dramatically.

I can’t actually walk out the house without taking my phone with me. I am physically capable of doing so, but I don’t like doing it. I feel naked. What if someone wanted to contact me? What if I got locked out and needed to phone a locksmith to come and let me in?

Time was I used to take life’s curveballs entirely in my stride. Sometimes I would go out of the house on Saturday morning and head down to Canary Wharf for breakfast, before doing a bit of shopping then catching a movie. I’d then return at about 6pm and forget to check my mobile to see if anyone called until the next morning.

I can’t imagine doing that any more.

From Knowledge Comes Control

I am particularly interested in the feeling of confidence that having a phone in my pocket affords.  In the last year or so I noticed that it’s not really the device that I care about any more, but the applications inside it.  Is the applications that are really helping contribute to a better life for me.  For instance, whilst I carry a BlackBerry as a primary device, I’m turning more and more to my iPhone for actual one-off queries fulfiled by single purpose iPhone applications.  Unfortunately although BlackBerry AppWorld is continuing to develop at a super pace, the really cool and useful applications are still hitting the iPhone first.

Here’s an example of just how much I’ve found myself relying upon (and valuing) mobile applications:

Unexpected Termination

Just last night engineering works caused me to have to get off the tube at West Kensington. I expected to be able to get to Hammersmith but I’d read the signs incorrectly and was surprised to hear the driver announce “All change”. For anyone that doesn’t know, West Kensington is a dive. An utter shithole, especially late in the evening.

She’s a slapper. Literally.

I arrived out of the tube station to see a group of youths screaming at each other trying to board a nearby bus. As I turned to survey the area, my eyes took in the various tired, graffitied shitty buildings. I decided to patronise the local 24-hour grocery store and went to buy a bottle of water whilst I got my bearings. As I tried to get into the shop, my way was blocked by 5 massive youths. I did the obligatory polite ‘excuse me’ and they didn’t budge. So I pushed past them and got into the shop. Joy. As I headed into the shop, some drunk girl (commonly referred to as ‘slag’ in London) was rowing with her partner. She slapped him. Me, the youths at the door of the shop and the shopkeeper watched as he then slapped her. She slapped him harder. Then the man brought out a bottle of cheap Whisky and, to my surprise, that solved all hostilities. They both took a gulp each and started laughing at each other.

Across the street, another chap appeared to be doing a good trade in some kind of illegal substances. Meanwhile a bulldog was straining at the leash viciously growling and snarling at another similarly furious dog just half a metre away. The two respective owners were letting the dogs scream at each other whilst holding them just out of biting distance. Nice.

Information When You Need It

“What the hell am I doing,” I thought. 1030pm on a Sunday night stuck in shitsville. Only a few tube stops away, the quiet politeness of Chiswick beckons. But there are no taxis. No taxis anywhere. I saw one that I hailed. The driver saw me and drove straight past. Fair enough. Illegal though, they’re meant to stop whenever you hail them. But he obviously didn’t want to stop in such a dodgy area.

At the back of the shop, I located a bottle of sparkling water (I like the bubbles) and slipped out my iPhone. I thought bringing the iPhone out in the street would be a ‘no-no’. Indeed, bringing any phone out into plain sight in this area is bad news. I quickly flipped screens on the iPhone over to the latest app I’ve bought and downloaded: Next Buses.

Does what it says on the tin. I fired up the app and it located me immediately then displayed my location in the context of the nearest bus stops. “Great, I thought,” as I selected the nearest bus stop. The app then quickly displayed the anticipated arrival times for the next bus.

Thank You, Next Buses

Thanks to Next Buses, I knew that I only had 3 minutes to wait until the next bus arrived.

I secreted the iPhone about my person, paid for my water, then pushed past the youths standing at the shop door and headed to the bus stop.

15 minutes later I was in the familiar and relaxed surrounds of Chiswick.

The fact I was able to query the bus timetable from my handset — and get the answer in less than 5 seconds — was of huge value to me. On the sign by the bus stop, it simply said ‘buses every 10-12 minutes’. Which is hardly useful when you’re standing in the middle of a dodgy area. I wondered whether I should start walking in the direction of Chiswick or wait for the bus. But if the bus is going to take another 20 minutes, I need to know that. I needed to evaluate the risks of hanging around in a slightly dodgy area versus walking through an even dodgier set of areas.

What Price, Knowledge?

The assurance and confidence that my mobile handsets and their applications brought me across this period was sizeable.

It’s not that I’m afraid of walking down a particular street or area. I know how to handle myself. I’m also a big chap so most people don’t tend to bother me. I also have a room full of karate belts. But I just don’t want any exceptions.

I could have summoned a cab. But I don’t have an Addison Lee taxi account, nor do I have the app on my phone.  I don’t know of any other decent taxi summoning applications.  And I judged it completely inappropriate to get out my handsets and make calls whilst standing at the bus stop. No one else was using their phone. Not a phone was in sight anywhere, lest the dodgy weirdos decide to try and take it off me.

If I’d been able to summon a cab to my location with just a quick tap, I’d have done that.

But since I’m not aware of any services that offer one-tap taxi ordering, I stuck with the bus.

Thank you Malcolm

So thank you Malcolm Barclay . Malcolm is the iPhone developer who created the Next Buses app (it launched just last week). I’ve got a load of other Malcolm Barclay apps including Tube Deluxe, London Bus and Tube Status — all of which I use on a regular basis. These apps make my life better. They assure a pleasing (or enhanced) existence for me on a daily basis.  Let’s be clear, the information that Malcolm’s applications deliver is — in many cases — freely available on the internet.  You could, if you had 15 minutes, search and find the information using your phone’s rubbish browser and the stupidly slow data connection speed.  However you and I both know that the repositories for these various bits of information like bus schedules and timetables are usually completely or almost inaccessible to mobile devices.

Beyond iFart

It’s all very well developing games and fun little toy iFart-style applications — but the real value, I feel, is in making applications such as Next Buses. Applications that help me, that give me speedy access to what I need to know, when I need to know it.  At least, those are the ones I don’t have to think about when it comes to the checkout.

I’ve only looked at Malcolm’s transport applications today, but there’s a heck of a lot of other apps that I use to give me a measure of confidence and control every day.  I wouldn’t necessarily look up a bus timetable on the internet every time I was heading out but I now find myself popping up Next Buses, click on favourites and smiling at the fact it took me 3-4 seconds to establish when the next bus is due at the stop nearby.

I’d welcome your recommendations for applications that really do make your day better (any platform, not just iPhone).

What Are Your Suggestions?

You can contribute your suggestions on the post here: Applications That Help Me Every Day or drop me an email.

iTunes Links

  • ramtop

    I'm using an android mobile, but it's the same.
    Some really useful application help you 1 day are you are completely sold. I cannot imagine me using a “standard” phone like symbian or winmobile anymore.
    And no company can win alone against all the Malcolm Barclay out there. You need a real dev comunity, so developing must be fun on your platform for you to survive.

  • dani2xll

    I had quite forgotten I was reading an article for a moment, I thought it was the beginnings of a good book lol. I do have Malcolm's apps but found that I rarely use them except when I venture further afield to visit kinfolk then I find the Tube Status invaluable as to what services to avoid. I didnt know about the Next Buses so I have just purchased it. It does not have live info for my area but scheduled timetable is useful to have as a way to judge my leaving home for the local bus-stop. I know its not Malcolm's fault that you no sooner purchase one app that another with more facilities is available then you find his apps overlapping one another. Perhaps in-app upgrade would be better suited for his applications. Back to what apps help me every day, Outside – the weather app, and the simple apps such ebay, facebook, tweetie, ping, WhatsApp and SkyNews app. They, most of all, keep me up to date with the social, virtual and real world, along with email and text messages. Unfortunately, I think about the one day when I may lose my iPhone, then have no way to contact anyone, anywhere about anything! Great piece Ewan!

  • Fai

    So what happened to the 'calling Addison Lee' option? You don't need a corporate account to call up a taxi from them!

    Funnily enough I rely on the TFL mobile website heavily within the Orange portal – bookmarked and ready to go. It takes 30 seconds instead of the 5-10 seconds to find routes, but the ability to know what changes and how long the overall journey will take from some unknown part of London is indeed very useful on a dark night. In fact, there are many mobile websites out there that perform what “apps” will do, but the tricky part is, apart from discovering them in the wild web, is discovering one that is sufficiently usable to use.

    I do think you discount the usefulness of 'voice-based applications' aka telephone services. Apps are great for simple queries, but UIs can only be designed for so much. For everyone else, there are numbers to call for these services – I have some friends who exclusively call services for information (next bus/train/nearest place). Yesteryear services like the now defunct Orange Wildfire were made for these people, back before the age of the geo-aware apps. Again, there is the issue of discovery (and directories suffer from the Apple App store issue of “too much”).

    The ability to discreetly query information with your geographical location has indeed opened many doors – though I wonder how voice-services could be transformed if accurate geo-location could be transmitted – I can see the emergency services benefiting from this (would you seriously start an app for this if you saw someone getting shot?) if they can solve the privacy issues. [In fact, are there any services in the UK where the operators allow this?]

  • http://www.mobileindustryreview.com Ewan

    Ah the key reason I didn't use voice is that I didn't want to be on the phone for any amount of time, Fai — not in the semi dodgy situation I was in

  • http://www.mobileindustryreview.com Ewan

    Nice one Dani. The Next Buses site has a list of areas that it can currently deliver live updates for.

  • http://www.mobileindustryreview.com Ewan

    Totally agree, Ramtop

  • AJ

    West Kensington? A dive????? Are you serious?

  • http://www.mobileindustryreview.com Ewan

    At 1030pm on Sunday evening, with the dogs snarling at each other whilst their owners laughed, with the man and woman slapping each other, oh yes…

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