The iPhone, Ferry Schedules and You.

(Another guest post from Derek.)

I don’t know how many times I’ve been out with friends in Seattle when I’ve been blindsided by this question. “What time do you need to catch your boat?”

Naturally, my jaw goes slack and the hamster upstairs starts running a little faster. Oh, and I pull out my iPod Touch. The rest of this post is also for you iPhone owners.

Those crumpled ferry schedules in your pockets are SO 2004. Now, when you need to find out when the next boat leaves, you reach for your smartphone. This doesn’t really apply to you hardened ferry commuters who can recite the schedule for your usual run backwards, frontwards, divided by three and in Swahili. But for occasional rider, or those of us who sometimes use other routes (I take Edmonds/Kingston to get to my Dad’s house, but use the Bremerton/Seattle ferry 90 percent of the time.) having access to schedules on your iPhone/iPod Touch are mighty handy.

Right now, there’s a $5 app, an app in development that says it’ll be free, and my slightly more homebrew solution that’s gloriously free.

1.)
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First up: WSF Puget Sound Ferry Schedule app, $4.99
Here’s what you get:

  • Ferry times and service alerts for all the runs.
    A map of the routes.
    Access to the state’s terminal Web cams.
    The ability to search schedules for different dates.

My thoughts: I own this app, actually. It has a load of features (some of which require internet access that I don’t always have on my iPod, but what iPhone users would.) and is essentially a repackaged version of the Washington State Ferries’ Web site. You can access the full schedules without an internet connection.
The next app, which is apparently in development, could be a problem for this developer. The reason? It appears to offer the same features, but will apparently be free. I like the convenience of a schedule in my pocket, along with alerts and cams, but $5 is kind of steep. (As a side note, I downloaded a much earlier version and don’t recall paying $5. I can’t remember for sure, but I think it was a couple bucks.)

*NOTE: This app was created by a private developer, not the ferry system.*

2.)
iFerry, a effort by a Bainbridge company that is “coming soon” to the app store, according to its Web site.

It looks like it’ll have much the same functionality of the previous app, with a few nice additional touches. And it says it’ll be free.

Let’s run down it’s planned features:

  • Current schedules for all the routes.
  • Real-time route alerts.
  • Terminal cameras.
  • Fare information, including those for bikes or larger vehicles or multi-passes. (A nice addition, IMHO)
  • Updated wait times for ferries.

My thoughts: Looks neat. Hope it stays free. Gonna put a dent in the other app’s sales if it is free. It will have ads. But the other app does, too. Keep an eye on both apps to see what happens when they compete. Will they both be free? Will they both decide to charge? Will they not have any real impact on the other?

3.)
My super-cheap workaround.
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If you just CAN’T wait until the new app, and don’t want to spend money on the first one, have I got a slightly convoluted, but free solution for you. I’ll give you a couple, actually.

First, for those of us with iPod Touches who don’t want to pay $8 (YIKES) for WSF’s Boingo wifi, you can simply head to the WSF site at home, and pull up the schedule or schedules to your most-used routes. On your iPod (Or iPhone) align the schedule so it fills the screen nicely, and hit the round button, and top on/off button at the same time. I’ll make a screen grab from your device, and save it in your Photos thingamajig. Every time you need to scan the schedule, just pull up the photo. Our Kitsap schedules stay pretty much the same. Naturally you won’t get automatic ferry updates, terminal cameras and other gee whiz geegaws, but it’s f-r-e-e. And you don’t have to worry about losing that paper schedule you crumpled in your pocket.

For those of you fancy pants people with iPhones, here’s a free workaround to get the two most important features: The schedule and service alerts.

First, you could just bookmark the schedule page. Or, you could add that page as an icon on your home page. Just pull up the schedule in your browser, click the + button, and select “Add to Home Screen”. Icon created! Magic!

You want route alerts, do you? Well, you’ve got internets in your pocket, so head to the state’s Web site here, and sign up for ferry alerts to your routes of choice. Every time a service alert is sent, you’ll get an e-mail.

There you have my thoughts on ferry planning for iPod Touch/iPhone owners. Those of you with Blackberries, Android or WinMo phones, share your tips in the comments, eh?

And for those of you Luddites who still use paper schedules? Well, there’s nothing wrong with that, actually. And that, too, is gloriously free.

– Derek Sheppard

2 thoughts on “The iPhone, Ferry Schedules and You.

  1. And if a iphone illiterate drops by your office one day and you happen to be there… will you? Please?
    Thanks for the info!
    Sharon O’Hara

  2. Ed,

    Thanks for the fare comparison between my WSF app and the new up and coming one. Competition is always a good thing and I hope that this new app does well. My app was free for the first 6 months and has now been on the store for 1 year. Downloads have been steady and I welcome the competition. I only wrote the app to help teach a class that I teach called “Design for Mobile Devices” at the Art Institute of Seattle. It was a great learning experience and has launched a nice career in iPhone app development.

    The biggest difference in my app is that you don’t have to have an internet connection or even cell service to get when the next boat is.

    Actually my sales have gone up since the new app came on the app store and I have only one ad one the phone at present since I have no time to manage sales as well as more development.

    Thanks agin for the fair comparison. and thanks to all of the users that have supported my WSF schedule app.

    Richard Joffray

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