Why a new website but no app? Part 2

In Part 1 of this post I talked about the reasons we have not released a TfL app alongside our new website, and how our ‘open data’ policy powers around 200 apps currently in use. Part 2 looks more closely at apps, including issues around apps for our transactional services such as Oyster.

Can you recommend a good app?
We don’t recommend specific apps as that wouldn’t be fair, but there are lots of good public transport apps available and you can view recommendations in the app stores and make up your own mind. They are generally low cost, so if you don’t get on with one of them you can easily move on to another.

TfL, app, accessibility ,
To fill a gap, we ran a competition to encourage developers to produce apps with accessibility features


Sometimes when we feel that the app development community has left a gap, we try to encourage activity. For example, we recently ran a competition to encourage more apps with accessibility features in them, and we gave some publicity and a modest prize to the winners.

We’re looking at providing an ‘app garden’ which would show the available apps, with their reviews from the various app stores – however this depends on the availability of feeds from those app stores, which are not universally available.

What about Oyster apps?
Some developers have produced apps for Oyster but these are unauthorised. We don’t provide app developers with access to Oyster accounts and we’re very obsessive about the protection of your data. These apps use a technique called ‘screen scraping’ to take your details and use them to log into our website, retrieving information off the screen and presenting it back to you in the app.

The problem is that you can’t be sure how securely the app developer will deal with your personal information and access details.

You are responsible for maintaining the confidentiality of your Oyster username and password so you need to keep this information secret and not share it with anyone else.

To make it easier to use Oyster on your smartphone we will be launching a mobile-friendly version later this year.

Oyster, TfL, mobile
You can manage your Oyster on the TfL website. To make it easier to use Oyster on smartphones, we’ll be launching a mobile-friendly version later this year

Apps vs web confusion
For some the terms ‘app’ and ‘mobile web’ mean the same thing. I’ve seen people refer to our new website as an app. Often people use the term as a shorthand for something which is easy to access and works well on a smartphone.

Others are more aware of the differences between a native app and a browser-based service.

The approach of responsive web, coupled with open data, is what we believe will meet customer needs best at the moment. We’re always watching what’s happening though and will be quick to react if things change, so we can make sure you get the best range of services to make your travel choices.

11 Comments

  1. “The problem is that you can’t be sure how securely the app developer will deal with your personal information and access details.”

    Why not instead provide an API that is secured by OAuth so users don’t have to give apps their username and password, and both TFL and users can revoke the app’s permission to access their data at any time?

  2. While I can appreciate your concern wrt screen scraping access to Oyster account information, the fact that many 3rd party services resort to it is indicative of stronh user demand not met by your own service

    Please can you share why you do not make Osyter information available via a properly managed API? OAuth? Tens of thousands of services empower users to share their data with 3rd party services in this way.

    If you do have plans for an Oyster API, please share when it will go live, and on what basis?

    After all, if HMRC can do it, having offered API access for over a decade, why can’t you? http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/softwaredevelopers/

    Thanks
    Tom

  3. I’m completely with Tom here. You say that you shouldn’t trust 3rd party apps with your Oyster details but the very fact there’s a demand there indicates a clear need for an API rather than the inherently less trustworthy screenscraping technique.

    As another poster has said the concept of “authorised apps” is not new to the technology sphere – it seems odd that after route planning what is possibly the most useful set of, personal, data is missing an API. Heck use the ability to choose permissions – i.e. view data only. The user can be clearly shown what permissions are being requested. Even this message gives me the option of using Twitter, Facebook etc credentials!

  4. I am very frustrated and disappointed. I don’t know who advice you on this decision TFL, but it’s clear that the mobile site is shiny but useless. It is too heavy, too slow and doesn’t support basic features like “saving journeys”, history, etc.
    Honestly, you have thrown away so much money to produce such a bad product, that as a user I feel terribly frustrated.
    Please, have a look at the very old National Railways app. That is the kind of experiences that your users are expecting. It is light, uncomplicated, saves the frequent journeys and destinations… basically it’s simple and easy.

    1. Hi there, the new site has a number of the features you mention. It saves recent journeys for one-click access at http://www.tfl.gov.uk/plan-a-journey/. It also remembers stops you plan from and suggests these. You can set bus stops as favourites. Further improvements are planned to enable the site to be increasingly personalised and to make common tasks faster. I hope we’ll win you over as you get used to the site and see the improvements we’re making.

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