Note: cross-posted from TechFlash.
At a summer cocktail party last week, a developer of Windows Mobile applications asked me which apps I use on my iPhone. His company was considering getting into the iPhone business. Actually, not that many, I explained, because so many of them are just not that good. I work on my iPhone – tweeting, blogging, emailing and organizing – and don’t have time for every new “there’s an app for that.”
The developer was a cyclist, as well, and eventually asked me which bikes apps I use. My phone is in my jersey pocket on rides and I’ve got other computers on board for my miles, speed, and power. They work very well. I had installed REI’s recently released Bike Your Drive on my iPhone, even though I hadn’t used it yet. The app lets cyclist track, view, and share their bicycling experiences. I pulled out my phone and demoed the app for the developer. Together we discovered it’s also not that good.
REI and its Novara brand certainly know cycling. I’ve ridden and raced bikes with many of them here in Seattle. On the web, Bike Your Drive is REI’s bicycle commuter evangelist site. It’s chock full of tips, tutorials, and resources to help cyclists commute. The iPhone app doesn’t connect to Bike Your Drive, but instead to EveryTrail.com, an entirely different website and application. EveryTrail is a geotagged, user-generated travel content site. It creates maps and statistics from GPS devices and shares them with the EveryTrail community.
REI’s app uses the iPhone to record information about your trip – letting you map your route, geotag photos, and get information such as calories burned and carbon offset. You can the upload the information to the EveryTrail site. That interaction is confusing because I didn’t download REI’s app to connect to EveryTrail. I did it to connect to REI’s Bike My Drive program.
To use Bike My Drive on the iPhone:
- Start a trip
- Take photos
- Add a title and story
- Upload to Everytrail and view trip on the Google Map.
The purpose and confusion of the app aside, on every other launch, the app threw a GPS data error telling me I should be outside (I was). It also suffers from UI issues like a keyboard that overlays a dialogue box . I’m sure the developer’s mind was spinning on how his company could make a much better bike app, likely using the iPhone Augmented Reality features expected in the next major release from Apple.
Once you upload a ride, it’s no longer in your saved trips. As I learned later, Bike Your Drive is just a data collector for EveryTrail. You’re not able to view your ride or map on the iPhone. Like other iPhone apps, Bike Your Drive must run in the foreground and while doing so, depletes your battery. That’s OK for a short commute, but not for a longer ride.
The app, while well-intended, joins other 1st wave iPhone apps that lack usefulness and polish. I expect another wave will come with apps that are more mature and useful. Hopefully REI will connect their apps to what they’re doing rather than a 3rd party. They should also rely upon their technical expertise. As I said above, they know cycling and are doing much to promote commuting by bike.
An app that connected me to Bike Your Drive to download and view their tutorials and share my rides would be killer.