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Tech

Rocket Radar is the new must-have TTC iPhone app

Posted by Tim / December 30, 2010

Rocket RadarRocket Radar just launched on the iTunes store last night, cementing itself as a new must-have iPhone app for Toronto transit riders. Created by Interaction Designer (and former blogTO contributor) Adam Schwabe, the app provides users up to the minute data when the next streetcar will arrive at their stop. To pull this off, it makes use of the open data made available through the TTC Real Time Next Vehicle Arrival (NVAS) feed.

Having had a chance to play with Rocket Radar only briefly, I'm already smitten. The first thing that won me over is the interface. It's fun to look at and simple to use with scroll wheels that easily allow me to select my streetcar route, direction and stop location.

And the best part is not only does it tell me when the next streetcar will arrive, but it also gives time estimates for up to the next four additional streetcars. This is handy info to know especially during these cold winter months. I'll use it to plan my departure times and to decide whether it's essential to cram into the packed streetcar or wait for the one just four minutes away.

Currently the app costs $1.99 which is less than a one way fare and well worth it given its utility.

Here's my brief Q&A with the app's creator Adam Schwabe.

Why did you decide to create this?

Ever since Apple announced third party apps for the iPhone I'd been dreaming of creating an app that just answered one question - "Where the hell is my streetcar?" The inspiration came from watching people teeter off the curb, or right out into the road just to try and get a glimpse of the next streetcar coming over the horizon.

How long have you been working on it?

It's been about 2 months from initial sketches to completion. I've been blessed by a super capable team of collaborators on the design and development fronts.

Have you had any contact with the TTC or City about this?

I've met the Toronto Open Data guys, who are both really awesome and keen to get more data out to developers, and they've been really excited to see what I've been working on. I haven't heard from the TTC yet directly, but I'm sure I will at some point.

How is this different than other TTC apps?

There's a few TTC apps for the iPhone already out there, but they all seem to be trying to do everything, and anything related to transit. Rocket Radar is deliberately limited in its functionality; When it's -20 outside, you don't want to be fumbling through menus and controls just to find out when the next streetcar is arriving. Just launch the app, and you're done.

Any plans to create the app for other devices/platforms?

There's been a couple requests to have the app developed on Android, and I'm definitely interested in expanding to other platforms. We'll see once things calm down a bit in the New Year.

Discussion

43 Comments

Tuxedo Penguino / December 30, 2010 at 09:18 am
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Rob Ford hates streetcars.
OMGTTCWTFBBQ / December 30, 2010 at 09:19 am
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That is goddamn awesome
applecurry / December 30, 2010 at 09:26 am
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Android!
applecurry / December 30, 2010 at 09:27 am
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Yes to Android
JLankford / December 30, 2010 at 09:39 am
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The interface looks decent, but I'll just continue using NextBus for free.

http://www.nextbus.com/
Steve Jobs / December 30, 2010 at 09:40 am
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No to Android
John / December 30, 2010 at 09:54 am
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I'll give this a try, looks good.

Nextbus.com is pretty good, and I also text the numbers at specific streetcar sites.

I just wish the TTC would ADVERTISE these resources. I don't know how many people are aware these sites and apps exist.
Bentham replying to a comment from John / December 30, 2010 at 10:01 am
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The app is not affiliated with nor endorsed by the TTC and therefore not marketed by them...
Mark / December 30, 2010 at 10:02 am
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I agree with John - you can text the numbers right at the streetcar stop - and if you don't know ahead of time which stop number it is, it can be found on the TTC's website.
3 / December 30, 2010 at 10:11 am
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Only works with iPhone 4... Shame.
Jildren / December 30, 2010 at 10:17 am
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F wording amazing! Bout time! Get rich!

Also got a 3G and it works fine
skeeter / December 30, 2010 at 10:20 am
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isn't this application rather elitist? how many ttc riders have an iphone? 1 out of every 50?
que replying to a comment from skeeter / December 30, 2010 at 10:29 am
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they have to start somewhere...
and i would guess that that number is higher, no?
Adam / December 30, 2010 at 10:34 am
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@3 You can run it on previous gen iPhones, you just need OS 4.0+

@John/Mark Text short codes is an option, but the issue is you need to know the shortcode # ahead of time to use it, and can't get it until you're *at* the stop. In my few weeks of testing Rocket Radar, I've been using it *before* I leave my house to arrive to time when I'll arrive and minimize waiting.

With regards to NextBus, I find jumping through the hoops of selecting my route/stop/direction tedious every time I want to use it. I know they have a WebKit-enabled site that does GPS, but I think you'll find that tapping an app's icon once and getting a result within a few seconds is far easier.
Adam / December 30, 2010 at 10:35 am
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@3 You can run it on previous gen iPhones, you just need OS 4.0+

@John/Mark Text short codes is an option, but the issue is you need to know the shortcode # ahead of time to use it, and can't get it until you're *at* the stop. In my few weeks of testing Rocket Radar, I've been using it *before* I leave my house to arrive to time when I'll arrive and minimize waiting.

With regards to NextBus, I find jumping through the hoops of selecting my route/stop/direction tedious every time I want to use it. I know they have a WebKit-enabled site that does GPS, but I think you'll find that tapping an app's icon once and getting a result within a few seconds is far easier.
Adam / December 30, 2010 at 10:35 am
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@3 You can run it on previous gen iPhones, you just need OS 4.0+

@John/Mark Text short codes is an option, but the issue is you need to know the shortcode # ahead of time to use it, and can't get it until you're *at* the stop. In my few weeks of testing Rocket Radar, I've been using it *before* I leave my house to arrive to time when I'll arrive and minimize waiting.

With regards to NextBus, I find jumping through the hoops of selecting my route/stop/direction tedious every time I want to use it. I know they have a WebKit-enabled site that does GPS, but I think you'll find that tapping an app's icon once and getting a result within a few seconds is far easier.
Shayna / December 30, 2010 at 10:47 am
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ok so the iphone go the app...what happened to the other phones like the blackberry or the android?
Shayna / December 30, 2010 at 10:53 am
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what happens to the bus routes as well?
M / December 30, 2010 at 11:00 am
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Another free site that does the same thing: http://whereismystreetcar.appspot.com/

What's the deal with paid apps that rely on the city's open data? Does the city get a share of sales revenue?
Chris / December 30, 2010 at 11:04 am
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It's nice eye candy, if you're into that sort of thing, but I think I'll stick with Nextbus' Webkit GPS-enabled webapp. It's quick, shows more than one nearby route at the same time (to help you choose between routes) and best of all - it's free. And to be honest, I prefer Nextbus's simple, clean interface.
Adam / December 30, 2010 at 11:05 am
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@Shayna Bus routes will be added in a future update as soon as the city/TTC releases that data :)
User / December 30, 2010 at 11:12 am
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Google Map is good enough
Maria / December 30, 2010 at 11:19 am
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The Where Is My Streetcar app is free and works with any smartphone or even regular phone that has web access. Or you can access it from home as well.

http://whereismystreetcar.appspot.com/
SDS / December 30, 2010 at 12:03 pm
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Comparing this to other options, it is clearly useful tool.

I am amazed at how many people are either really cheap (it's $2 guys) or seem to resent someone making a few bucks by seizing an opportunity.
Blackinson replying to a comment from SDS / December 30, 2010 at 12:48 pm
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I do not know if it is the fact that people are cheap or just that they are just so used to getting things for free thanks to illegal downloading that people now balk at having to pay for things.

Piracy being as rampant as it has been over the past decade people just sort of expect to get things for free without really caring that much about the creators of the things they are obtaining.
Maria / December 30, 2010 at 12:51 pm
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It's not the $1.99, it's the fact that it doesn't work on my BlackBerry. I find that pretty limiting, especially now that more and more smartphones have are Android.
M replying to a comment from Blackinson / December 30, 2010 at 01:01 pm
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The individual who made this app got all of his data for free. Without it, this app is useless.
Blackinson replying to a comment from M / December 30, 2010 at 01:17 pm
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Yes but you are acting as if the app just created itself.

Is the time it took to gather the relevant information, create the app, and make it easily accessible for pretty much anyone not worth anything?

It barely costs more than a pack of gum.
keven replying to a comment from M / December 30, 2010 at 01:23 pm
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yes, it's open data. Not open as in monetarily "free" but rather open as in "freedom" free. There is a huge difference.
Blake / December 30, 2010 at 03:35 pm
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You can save yourself $2 if you dont want the fancy interface by visiting http://nextstreetcar.ca/ in your mobile browser.

Works for iphones, blackberries, and android phones!
Sean / December 30, 2010 at 03:43 pm
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The "TTC-Navigator" App is Free and has GPS Tracking of Streetcars. It's not as pretty but it works well.
Justin / December 30, 2010 at 05:06 pm
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Neat idea but would have had more of an impact released cross-platform up-front, rather than a casual brush-off of other platforms. "A couple" of requests for this app on Android? You either have very few people downloading this, or you are in a pretty tight circle of Apple fanboys, because there are a lot more than a couple of us out there with Android phones (we outnumber iphones now) who would find this useful. Come on, man, don't lazily cut out an entire segment of potential profit.

For now, Nextbus it is, and I don't even have to install anything...
Romano / December 30, 2010 at 06:53 pm
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This is app is gorgeous and dead simple to use. I dont understand how people are complaining its two bucks. That's not even the price of a ttc ticket.

@adam: You've done a marvelous job with this app. It's going to save me so much time in the morning.
Vijay / December 31, 2010 at 10:08 am
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Android again, please.
Adam / December 31, 2010 at 07:30 pm
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Thanks for all the enthusiasm re: Android! As you probably know developing an app for a single platform is a challenge unto itself. Putting it out for multiple, simultaneously is just asking for trouble :)

I'd love to put out RR for Android. Stay tuned.
Zach Swan / January 1, 2011 at 09:16 pm
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It's a great app in concept, but is only slightly better than useless if you're on a route that has more than one route variant running on it. For example, if you need the southbound Spadina 510 to Union Station, the app can't distinguish which vehicle is going to arrive in the next 1, 2, 5 mins etc. Is it the one that turns around at King? Queens Quay? or the one you actually want that goes on to Union Station?
Adam / January 2, 2011 at 01:12 pm
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@Zach If it's not the route you're interested in, just swipe right on the routes to select the correct one. The app finds all nearby routes, but you're right in that there could be multiple routed going by the same stop you're looking to get to. That's the only situation where someone using Rocket Radar usually has to make a slight tweak to the information returned when the app launches.

Scrub / January 4, 2011 at 09:29 pm
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I used Nextbus on my Blackberry (you can use any smartphone). Just save your favourite stops as Favourites so you don't have to click down each time you use it.
Jason / January 5, 2011 at 12:20 pm
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This is such an awesome idea. I just switched to Android and would love to have access. Well done!
anonymous replying to a comment from Scrub / January 26, 2011 at 04:13 pm
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The problem described by @Zach isn't choosing the wrong route but on routes that have short-turns. So for the 510 southbound, only 1/3 streetcars goes on to Union, the rest short-turn at King. Looks like there's no way to differentiate them through the app (or through the Nextbus API).
anonymous replying to a comment from Adam / January 26, 2011 at 04:14 pm
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The problem described by @Zach isn't choosing the wrong route but on routes that have short-turns. So for the 510 southbound, only 1/3 streetcars goes on to Union, the rest short-turn at King. Looks like there's no way to differentiate them through the app (or through the Nextbus API).

(repost - replied to wrong comment)
Jason / January 27, 2011 at 11:26 am
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Bus routes and schedules are of way more use to me. Do any of these apps cover those? I went to the Next Bus Website and still only seems to have Streetcar routes (Unless i'm mistaken). I need the Jones Ave bus routes specifically. Am I correct in assuming this will be part of the free upgrade when the city releases bus data?
GM / September 28, 2011 at 04:36 pm
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I DONT GET WHY TTC DIDNT HAVE THE IDEA BEFORE. THEY SHOULD GENERATE SOME REVENUE WITH AN APP. ANYWAY, ANDROID HAS IT FOR FREE....FOR YOU APPLE PEOPLE....WELL IT COSTS A BITE.

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