Virgin Trains released an iPhone app recently, which is a bit of a disappointment and, judging by the low ratings it has received so far, the users seem to think so too. 

The app gives information on Virgin Trains services, and that’s about it. The opportunity was there to create a useful app for customers, as thetrainline and Cross Country trains have done, but Virgin has missed this chance.

The app is fairly unimpressive to look at too, the different tabs aren’t distinct enough, while the links at the bottom are a bit too small for a touchscreen phone.

The information provided is very basic, and since many users would be on the way to the station, or at the station where they can see the arrivals and departure boards anyway, it’s not especially useful.

There are some good examples of apps for rail passengers that Virgin could have followed. For instance, both thetrainline and Cross Country apps allow users to search for upcoming train times and routes so they can plan their journey. This would have been much more useful.

Virgin could have gone further, and added some mobile commerce functionality to the app, allowing users to book and pay for train tickets on their mobiles. No other apps do this at the moment, but I can see the potential demand for it so people can book last minute tickets without having to queue or pay a premium on the train, 

It seems that Virgin has created an app almost for the sake of having one, and has implemented the bare minimum of functionality.

The reviews left in the App Store so far tell the same story. An average of two out of five from 64 reviews is poor, and it’s only this high because nine people gave it a five star rating for some reason.

This review sums it up:

It’s so basic that it’s rubbish. Seems to be more of a poor marketing effort than an attempt to provide customers with information and functionality of value. Don’t bother downloading it, you’ll be disappointed.

I think that, while companies are to be applauded for being forward-looking and developing iPhone apps, it’s better to make sure that they provide something that customers find useful or entertaining than rushing out an app for the sake of it.