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Use your iPhone to find your way around the London Tube.

 

I still find the London tube system an impressive achievement but navigation around this complex network of tunnels would be extremely difficult if it weren’t for the simplified schematic map created by Harry Beck in 1932. Fast forward 78 years and we have the option of having the famous London tube map on our iPhones and iPods. 

I have to be honest and say I’m still a little unconvinced that an iPhone app would help you around the tubes of London any better than the plethora of existing signs,posters, leaflets and booklets but then again, I suppose as you have your iPhone or touch with you all of the time it can do no harm to have a tube guide to hand. An iPhone tube guide can also give you additional information such as journey times, line problems and how to find the station in the first place.

I have looked at three of what appeared to be the more fully functional and well rated of the available London Tube apps and it should be noted that I have not tried these apps out in a real world situation but simply researched and tested them from the comfort of my office. Here are my findings.

London tube -
http://www.londontubeiphone.com/

Launching this immediately pops up that familiar map. It offers little in the way of interactivity but can be scaled a little by pinching and also works in landscape mode. Back in portrait mode we have five icons along the bottom of the screen which allow you to search by line or station, specify a route, find your location and return to the main map. 

Lines - This allows you to check the status of lines to make sure they are running without delays and shows a linear version of just that line; similar to the line maps found running above the windows inside the carriages. This is particularly useful for tracking how far along the line you are and how many stops until your destination. 

Stations - This also presents you with a searchable list allowing you to locate the station on the tube map or Google maps; which is very useful for finding your station in the first place. This screen also allows you to enter a destination station resulting in your route and journey times presented in list or map form. 

location - If you have location services switched on this may be able to automatically locate you. 

Route - The final button is dedicated to showing and providing you with information about your route. You enter your start and end destinations by selecting stations from a list or actually on the map.

On the whole this app has most of the features you would need but its operation can be a little convoluted. 

TubeDeluxe - 
http://mbarclay.net/

Upon launching TubeDelux you are presented with a nice list of tube lines displaying icons which determine the status of the line. Clicking a line gives more in-depth information about any problems there may be. Additional buttons along the bottom allow you to view the main map, plan a route, check out departure times and identify your location.

Map - This view again offers you a limited amount of zooming in and out, works in landscape mode; You can also directly select stations o. Selecting a station allows you to specify it as a starting point or final destination, view its departures board and view the stations location on Google maps.

Plan - This is where you can plan your journey. You can specify your start and end points and the app will present your journey in list or map view. The map view offers interactivity allowing the journey to be displayed one step at a time.

Departures - Departure times can often change and this is the place to check them. Updates to this information can be received by simply shaking your device.

Once again I found this app to do what is required of it but it does it in a rather confusing way.

Tube London City 09 - http://visualit.co.uk/Apple/iphone.htm

Launching Tube presents the usual tube map. Zooming in and out is via tapping the screen rather than pinching and there is no landscape mode. At the top of the map is a search box, red and green marker buttons and a small blue arrow. Along the bottom are four buttons; the standard map view, a route finder, information and options. 

Brows - This map view works surprisingly well. Stations can be selected without leaving the screen either by using the search box at the top or by directly tapping on the map. Once a station has been selected, tapping the small blue arrow at the top reveals a box containing information about the station including contact information, connections and other station details. Tapping the green marker button highlights this station as the starting destination. Selecting your destination station and tapping the red marker selects this as the destination. Tapping the route button at the bottom then draws your route between the stations. The green and red marker buttons have now turned into arrows allowing you to step through the stages of your journey and the map animates to show these steps. Tapping the blue arrow at the top now gives you information about the selected route. Its worth noting here that we still haven’t left the main map screen which is good as this really simplifies the workflow and avoids confusing navigation.

Information - Its now time to leave this screen and head over to the information button. This is where you realize that this app is a whole lot more than a simple tube map. Here we find an extensive list of information about the application, the city, the transport system, airports, hospitals, hotels and much more. Tapping many of the items highlights their location on the map and once again tapping the small blue arrow provides you with information about the location.

Options - Finally there is the options button. This allows you set preferred route preferences and also has a handy feature that allows you to instruct the app to ignore certain lines. This means that if you know a certain line is out of action, you can deselect it and the app will create an alternative route for you.

This app is well designed and easy to understand and use.

Conclusion

In my opinion of the three app’s I tested, Tube London City 09 really stands out. It is easy to use, has a far less convoluted workflow than the other two app’s and presents its extensive information in a clear way. Just goes to show, you cant judge an app by its icon.

For more information about London tube map history please visit http://homepage.ntlworld.com/clivebillson/tube/tube.html or http://www.tfl.gov.uk/corporate/projectsandschemes/communityandeducation/2443.aspx

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