Tube Exits is an innovative and very handy new iPhone app that helps users save time on Tube journeys by helping them to select the best carriage to board sp that they can get off at their destination right by the platfom exit.
I've been talking to the app's creator Lance Stewart about Tube Exits and the challenges of developing and launching an iPhone app...
What made you develop the app?
I made the bold decision at the height of the credit crunch last year to move away from the rat race and do something on my own. I wanted to work for myself and pursue my own projects and take a different path.
Since leaving my previous job, I've been working on some projects which might come to fruition one day, but the problem was that they all required investment, and this is difficult to find at the moment.
One day I was taking the Tube and got off at Oxford Circus at the wrong end for the exit, meaning I was stuck behind the crowds, and was late for a meeting. The next time, I made sure that I got off nearer the exit, and it struck me that this doesn't have to be put down to chance.
I though it would be a useful app for all the commuters in London, and would save them time and make their journeys less stressful.
You mentioned that you aren't technical, so did you outsource the app's development?
I have a broad awareness of IT but I'm not an expert so there was no way I would be able to deal with the coding. I did look into the costs of outsourcing the development but this was not in my budget.
I believe in the idea of collaboration to produce a better outcome so I took on a partner with the necessary skills to take a share in the revenue. I looked at iPhone apps already out there that had a great user interface, thinking that these developers must be good, and the first one I contacted agreed to work with me.
How long did it take to develop?
I initially though it would only be a matter of weeks for something with such a simple function and interface, but it took three months in the end.
The back end is quite complex, and there are a lot of algorithms that need to happen to provide the correct answer. To cover every journey on the Underground we need to have information on 270 stations and 700 platforms.
Is it true that you had to gather all the information yourself?
I did get someone else to do it initially, but after checking their work, I realised their results weren't reliable so I had to swallow my pride and do it myself.
This meant a week of constant travelling on the tube but it was the only way to be sure that the information on the app is accurate and usable.
How much did it cost to develop?
It cost me around £3,000 in total, in addition to the revenue sharing deal. To a large extent, the biggest risk is in the time spent doing it.
After that though, apart from occasional updates, that is the total outlay on the app, and hopefully the sales will come in to cover the costs.
What was the Apple approval process like?
I have heard stories of people waiting a long time to get apps into the Store, but our experience was a good one, as both the lite version and the full app were approved within a week. It may have helped to have someone on board who had gone through the process before.
There is one issue though, as once its approved by Apple, it goes straight out, so co-ordinating PR etc around the launch was difficult, though I've since learned that you can set a launch date into the future and then bring it forward after approval.
What are the differences between the lite and paid versions of the app?
When you offer a lite version, Apple is keen to ensure that you don't cripple the lite version to force people to upgrade, so in our case the lite version has all the functionality, but only covers the top 12 tube stations.
How did you decide on the price?
Apple has a set of different price settings that go up in 70p increments, so we picked a price (£1.79) that would appeal to people without putting it in the premium price range. It's about the cost of a single Zone 1 tube ticket, so I think it's good value for users.
Do you have advertising on the lite version?
We do, while most apps work on a CPM model, we were working from a standing start and I knew we were unlikely to have enough users to justify this. I thought that a better solution would be to go with a strategic partner that would appeal to the user base of London iPhone owners.
I made a list of companies that matched this, and eventually approached Absolute Radio as they had just launched their own app, with the aim of linking to their app and getting some publicity for mine in return.
We hope that the Tube Exits app will prove to be a sticky one, people should keep coming back to it to use, and that they will tell their friends about it.
Are you looking at providing the app for Android and other mobile platforms?
We are looking at porting it to other platforms, and hopefully that won't be too far away. I thought iPhones were the best phones to launch the app for initially though.
We're also looking to launch the app for other cities, and we have a version for the Paris Metro on the way.
How many times has the app been downloaded so far?
We've had 2,000 downloads of the paid app, and 1,500 of the free lite version.
What advice would you offer to other people that are thinking of creating iPhone apps?
I'd advise people to have confidence in their idea, but also to show it to friends and colleagues to see if they like it, and take some feedback on problems and ways it could be improved. Some people have ideas and don't do much with them, so it's important to have some confidence to get the project completed.
You should also work with other enthusiastic people whose skills complement yours. I'm a bigger believer in the value of collaboration and conversation to produce a better outcome.
Regularly engaging with users when testing can really help to uncover any usability problems and generate some great ideas for improvements.
Finally, you should be aware that it always takes longer than you think it will.
What are your favourite iPhone apps?
Since I live near there, I'll say the Wimbledon app, and I should also plug Absolute Radio, as it provides a great reception. Skype is a great app as well.
I like apps that make my life easier, and things like news feeds that provide information on the go, while apps like Facebook make downtime more interesting.
Do you have any other apps on the way?
I've enjoyed this experience to date, and I'm working on a new app at the moment, something which should appeal to Econsultancy readers, so I'm in talks about bringing that project to life. I'm always looking for people to collaborate with, so anyone who is interested should get in touch.