WASHINGTON -- For nearly two months, smartphone users resorted to the dark ages of bus travel.
When the NextBus app stopped working on December 20, people had to wait outside for large, horse-less carriages with nothing but hope and a paper bus schedule from the last decade. And Google Maps.
Now available for the iPhone is BusTrackDC. Similar to NextBus, the app uses WMATA's data feeds for arrival times.
We used the app today to get from Adams Morgan to Federal Triangle. Here's how it performed.Pros
- The app loads much quicker than NextBus. Also, it works.
- The map is user friendly. No special bells or whistles.
- The font size is small, allowing most bus routes to appear on the screen without having to scroll. Good if your route is flexible.
- The app is free and open source. If you're tech adventurous, you can alter the program yourself.
- Uses the same system as WMATA, which is far from perfect.
- The font size is small, allowing most bus routes to appear on the screen without having to scroll. Bad if your eyes aren't good.
A very good replacement for NextBus. If you're within walking distance or not exactly sure where you're headed, use Google Maps. If you want to find out when the 42 is coming, use BusTrackDC.
It's great that iPhone users will be able to accurately time their bus. Even so, they still might want to take the train.
BusTrackDC is available for free in the App Store.
At any time during your Google Maps usage, you can input a Home and Work address; once you do, those two addresses will pop up whenever you begin to type in an address in the app. You can also navigate to them quickly by typing in "Home" or "Work" into the main app search bar. You can change those addresses easily: 1) From the main screen, touch the small icon of the man's head and shoulders on the top-right of the screen. 2) Touch the gear icon to enter the Settings. 3) Touch "Edit home or work." 4) Touch either "Edit Home address" or "Edit work address" to input your own locations. NOTE: The address in the screenshot is not my personal address, but is rather the address for The Hustler Club in New York City, an establishment that, while not technically the location of my apartment, is a place that I do consider "Home."
Usually, if you ask Siri for directions, she's going to give you a route on Apple's Maps App; if you're reading this article, however, chances are you'd rather be navigated by Google Maps instead. There is a sneaky little bypass: Turns out, if you ask for directions and add "via transit" to the end of your command, Apple Maps will automatically bring up a screen that will allow you to navigate via Google Maps instead. (Apple Maps still can't handle transit directions, so it offers the choice of third-party transit apps; Google Maps is considered one of those third-party transit apps, and you can choose from driving, walking or transit directions from that screen). It's not a perfect workaround, but if you need to keep your eyes on the road, it's a decent alternative.
Here's another neat trick for when your hands are occupied: Usually, if you want to zoom in on a map, you need to "pinch and zoom" with two fingers, which requires you to cradle the phone in one hand and pinch-and-zoom with the other. With a non-obvious gesture, however, that's no longer an issue for a Google Maps user. If you want to zoom in, you can do so with one finger (probably your thumb). Just double tap your thumb where you want to zoom and then hold your thumb on the display: Push your thumb up to zoom in, and slide it back to zoom out. Easy as pie. The accompanying video shows you how it works, starting at around the 0:46 mark.
When you search on Google Maps, by default the location results are displayed as a bunch of red dots spread out across a map. This is fine if you're choosing by distance, but sometimes you need to make a selection based on the name of the store -- if you're looking for a specific restaurant, for example. While it's not totally obvious, Google Maps does offer this List View. After you search, just touch the icon that looks (vaguely) like a few bullet points and lines on the search bar. That will bring up your results in the friendly list you're looking for.
If you're searching by location on Google Maps, you're going to be looking at a bunch of dots on a map that represent close matches to your search. One way to navigate those dots is the List View we mentioned previously; another is to stay with the map and swipe the title card at the bottom of the screen to the left or right. Swiping left or right will bring up alternate establishments, other choices, with their Zagat ratings, prices and distances. Swiping up, meanwhile, will pompt more information about the currently selected establishment, such as its hours, phone number, photos, menus and reviews.
Apple Maps, of course, lacks support for public transit. Google Maps brings them back and offers easy access to train times, too. All of those red arrows are pointing to public transit stops in (probably the greatest neighborhood of) New York City; that means that all of those little icons representing the stations can be touched to pull up train times on Google Maps. Go ahead: Tap any of them, and G-Maps will pull up a card of the soonest train times. You can also get directions to each station and find later train times, too, with a few other taps.
You're probably on Google Maps because you're tired of the mistakes on Apple Maps; but errors do pop up, even in Google's much-vaunted topography. If you want to report an error, there's no need to find the button or submission field. Just shake your phone (like a Polaroid picture) a few times, and a menu will prompt you to report the mistake. It's obvious why Apple didn't implement this feature: Given the abundance of errors, too many users would have shaken loose the insides of their smartphones. With Google Maps, though, if you're unhappy with your results, or spot a store that has since closed down (I still miss you, House of Wong in Marietta, Georgia), just give your iPhone a shake to correct the error. Isn't that handy?