Fellow Rutgers grad Jim Barry shared with me a link to a press release on the RULost iPhone app. While I was initially excited to see Rutgers come out with an app to aid students in navigating the huge New Brunswick campus (which is actually 5 campuses split between New Brunswick, Piscataway Township, Edison Township and a small portion in North Brunswick Township) and its extensive bus system, after plunking down 99¢, I’m not so impressed.
First off, I’m including a snapshot of the home page, even though you’ve already seen it if you read the Rutgers press release. What is absent from the press release shot is the advertisement that is at the bottom of a paid app. Granted, unless they sell this app to every student, professor and alumni, which is highly unlikely, they’re not going to make much money off of it. I could see using advertising to further your profits on a game or social media application, but you shouldn’t be monetizing your orientation or transit system’s information. This info should be as widely disseminated as possible, as more informed students are more likely to remain safe when traveling through and between campuses.
I am working with several people at Rowan to better develop mobile apps for our students. I’m pushing that the apps, especially my mapping apps, be developed as HTML5 apps. The reason is simple: this is information you want easily accessible to students and HTML5 is the most open, accessible platform for mobile development at this time.
Information keeps students safe. Especially on a campus as large as the New Brunswick campus of Rutgers, students need to know where to go and how to get there. They need easy access to that information and a mobile app that has any charge applied to that is not accessible to all.
Even if it were free, the app still fails to help the students get where they are going. Put yourself in place of a freshman, not knowing which town to be in, let alone which building. Here’s how the RULost app provides bus routing.
No map to guide you. No location-based services to automatically pick the closest bus stop first. Just a list of names and a somewhat clumsy interface (home is at top right and done at top left, reversed from the norm).
The app talks to the NextBus API, an can deliver predictions as to when the next bus will arrive. This is where the app is worth 99¢. When waiting for a bus, it is incredibly helpful to have realistic estimates of arrivals. However, this only helps students already familiar with the complex Rutgers bus system. A bus system map – even a static map – would be incredibly helpful to new students.
Adding maps to mobile devices is fairly trivial. Hell, even the main rumaps.rutgers.edu site works fine in Mobile Safari, and there isn’t even a link to it from within the RULost app.
Even the instant search works, allowing you to type in a portion of a Rutgers place name and locate it on a map.
The RU Maps page is not really geared to mobile devices, but it does work on Mobile Safari, albeit with quirks. And without ads.
Buy this if you want to support current Rutgers students. Buy it if you want to see a good example of using the NextBus API. Otherwise, don’t buy it. It needs a lot of improvement before the entire campus is going to be using it. Having said that, I think the app has a lot of promise and other universities have released iPhone apps (like UOregon, a free app) to great success. And I don’t believe any of them have been student projects, like RULost. However, despite the few positives, this app needs more time in development before it can really be useful.