After a couple of weeks of testing is now time to return with a post for the London Journey Planner series. If you missed the introduction and the review for Bus Checker, my goal is to complete a guide with the iPhone apps that use the live departure feed of Transport for London - basically, testing and reviewing the apps that tell you when a bus arrives to your stop.
In the second episode of this guide I'll have a look at Next Bus London [iTunes Link] by Jeevan Takhar. I've you've been searching the App Store for a bus tracker app, I'm pretty sure you've spotted this icon before. I'm not a fan of text used in icons, but in this occasion, the image of the front of a double-decker bus and the words "next bus" tell you what this is all about without strange metaphors and interpretations of TfL's official logos. This is at least is a good start.
The simplicity continues the first time you launch the app: you'll notice the very simple UI without any custom element except the subtle transparency on the bottom bar. In fact everything looks minimalist, neat and tidy. The default view is a map with your current location and a number of standard red pins to indicate the stops nearby. Once you tap on them, the actual letter that identifies the stop is displayed along with the direction of the traffic and the lines that stop there.
Up to here, this is a very conventional behaviour. Tapping on the station details gives you a list view with the departures and the schedules for every day of the week with their expected frequencies - the sort of thing you see on the posters.
The route view displays every stop on a particular line with the option to follow step by step like the directions tab on the default iOS Maps app. This view can be very useful to give you a clear idea of the distance covered and the most convenient stop to reach your destination. This is, however, kind of buried on the menus and you'll probably forget how to get there.
A little nice feature included in Next Bus is the alarm to remind you that you've reached your destination. Compared to its rival Bus Checker - which sports a similar reminder, setting the alarm is much clearer. The whole app slides down some millimetres to reveal a thin purple line that indicated the stop alert is activated. Nice use of the user interface without cluttering the whole thing.
Next Bus also takes advantage of the system notifications on iOS 5, allowing you to set alerts at a certain time of the day. Say you leave home at 8:15 to get to work at nine. Next Bus can send you a summary of the buses approaching your stop so you know if you have to skip your morning cuppa or not.
Just before I finish, I should to mention the amount of configuration allowed in the app. I particularly like to see a map view at launch when I'm not familiar with the area, but for the everyday use I'd rather have my favourites as the default view. This can be changed on the preferences pane. In this section you can also select imperial or metric units to measure distances, the option to display roadworks on the map and the ability to refresh automatically.
Overall, Next Bus London does a great job at telling you when is your bus approaching. If you're looking for something simple-looking without unnecessary fancy graphics, this is a great option. Also, the developer has taken care to fix some memory problems and bugs in v.1 so what you get is a refined and reliable product.