Having a Moment

Please indulge me a Whiny Little Bitch moment. I will try to keep it short, but it will be petulant, jealous, and immature. You have been warned.

TUAW’s “RoadAhead is a different and clever nav app” talks up the new RoadAhead app, which finds upcoming services at US freeway exits. They’ll benefit from the exposure, and being free will certainly help.

But contrary to some of the reviews, the idea of an exit finder that figures out what road you’re on and what direction you’re going and only shows you upcoming exits isn’t new. That was the whole point of the Road Tip app I did a year and a half ago.

Obviously, I think that’s the way to go, and I’m glad RoadAhead does the same thing. I think it’s lazy when apps just do a radius search for this kind of thing, because that way you’ll find stuff that’s behind you, or is hopelessly far off the freeway. The idea of “finding stuff along a freeway” is a specific concept, and this app is true to it. Plus, figuring out where the road goes, winding back and forth, and dealing with things like name changes and state boundaries is a genuinely interesting problem to solve.

One point of difference is that RoadAhead can’t resist the temptation to pile on lots of icons and pinch-zoomable maps and other bling. As soon as you go down that road, the app becomes a distraction, and like so many others in this field, they explicitly say it’s unsuitable for use while driving:

One last, important thing – USING YOUR PHONE WHILE DRIVING IS A BAD IDEA (and in some states illegal). Hand your phone to your passenger and ask them to navigate. Please use good judgment when using your phone in the car.

I agree that using your phone while driving is a bad idea, but I still designed for it because I think people will do it anyways, regardless of what’s in your app description, EULA, or whatever. Road Tip uses spartan layouts, large text and buttons, and a design philosophy that everything should be accessible via one-thumb navigation. This frustrates my colleagues who say Road Tip would sell if I added various features, like the ability to save your search locations and drill deeper into them later (like remembering what’s at the exit when you pull off, so you can find stuff after you check into your hotel). My point was to keep the app as simple as possible for use while moving; once you’re off the road, you’ll be able to use the deeper functionality of other mapping apps.

So yay, I’m true to what I want my app to be… and I’m the only one who wants it like that.

The other thing is that RoadAhead is free, so I can’t figure how this app pays for itself. I decided early on that RoadTip couldn’t be ad-supported, because showing an ad to a driver would be unconscionably distracting. So I opted for a pay model.

And that brings up my other point about my exit-finding competitors. I’ve never downloaded them — I don’t want to get in a situation where I could willfully or inadvertently plagiarize them (this is why I also don’t read other people’s books on topics I’m covering) — but I’ve looked through their descriptions and legal terms, and I’ve never been able to figure out where apps like RoadAhead and iExit get their location data. That I use MapQuest is obvious; I’m contractually obligated to have my users accept the MapQuest TOS, and I have to put a “Powered by MapQuest” notice on any screens that result from their data.

So where are the other guys getting their data from? As I wrote in Bringing Your Own Maps, my research revealed that the map data providers’ terms of service for their free services always prohibited use in paid iPhone apps, either because they required callers be free and public web apps (Google Maps TOS, section 9.1.1(a)), or prohibited use based on GPS location (i.e., “present or alert an end user to individual maneuvers of a route in any way that is synchronized with the end-user’s sensor-based position along the route”, as in the Bing Maps TOS, section 2.i), or both, or something else.

This stuff is why I had to enter into commercial licensing with MapQuest (whose terms and API I liked best). Not sure what the competition is doing. Maybe they found some way to get free data legally, maybe they’re getting away with not… it’s not really my business I suppose. But if it does turn out I’m the only one playing by the rules, yeah, I’ll be a little pissed.

I keep calling them the competition, and I suppose that’s not accurate. I’m not competing at all… I’ve totally capitulated. I’m unlikely to put any further work into Road Tip, outside of possibly switching to the new I-AP subscription model that restores across devices (good for my long-time users, bad for me because it means sinking more time into this miniscule-selling app). If Ford ever followed through with opening their Sync / MyFordTouch API to third parties, I might make Road Tip work with it, but then again, I might do so just for my own use and not release it. It’s not something that I really feel like putting any further public work into.

OK, whining done. Back to your regularly scheduled blog.

Comment (1)

  1. Ooh, just noticed Google’s section 9.1.2(b), which I’m pretty sure is new since my last look (late 2009): “The rule in Section 9.1.1(a) (Free Access) does not apply if your Maps API Implementation is used in a mobile application that is sold for a fee through an online store and is downloadable to a mobile device that can access the online store.”

    Perhaps this was added to accommodate third-party Android apps?

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