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London Bus Pal

London Bus Pal v4.0.4

This is a follow-up release on v4.0.3 with some quick bug fixes based on observed behaviour in production. Due to the iOS app still being under review, this will be released for Android only.

Platform: Android

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London Bus Pal

London Bus Pal v4.0.3

Map views are back and definitely improve on the map views we have had so far. They also include route line indicators, so that you can get a better idea of where your bus will be driving.

Together with the map views, the app is also much better optimised for use with tablets.

This release also makes up the first version 4 release to Android.

Platforms: Android and iOS

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London Bus Pal

Version history

As I’ve just published a fourth major revision of my app, I thought I would relive the history of the app just to see how far it’s come:

Version 1 – the prototype

This was my first attempt at ever making an Android application. I used Google Web Toolkit which I then rendered in a web view in the application (basically GWT compiles into very optimised Javascript). Not being a fully native app wasn’t really an issue since I managed to successfully do callbacks between the app and the web view, so the app would handle things like a user pressing the back button or doing an in-app search without any hassle. Correctly handling the user pressing the back button is something which stands out for me.

This version was first published on 6 September 2013, version 1.0.1 (incorrectly numbered 1.01) followed 2 hours later and version 1.0.2 followed 2 days later.

Version 1.1.7 – the “Metropolitcan line” purple stands out.

Opening version 1 with no nearby stops (as I no longer live in London) just shows a blank screen. I see no options and I clearly deployed a version with no ads enabled!

Version 1.1.7 was the final instalment of version 1 and went live on 28 December 2013. When I now open the app, I see an error (as I am not anywhere near London), but it is quite generic and could really be anything.

Improvements I can see is a loading indicator, the search bar looks much better and a new map icon which appeared. The map views have always annoyed me as I haven’t given it too much attention. Something else which is quite obvious is that the lines are not high enough for a touch device.

Version 2 – going native

Version 2.1.3

The first release of version 2 was in October 2014. I rewrote the entire app to get rid of Google Web Toolkit and all the callbacks between basically a front-end and back-end.

Opening version 2.0.0, it looks very much like a minor change from version 1.1.7 (except I know it was a substantial change!). The one thing which is obvious is that the listview tiles have become even tighter.

Fast forwarding to version 2.1.3, the list view is still very “tight”. The changes I can see from version 2.0.0 are: I can now search for specific bus stops by name and we now have some settings. In the settings I can see that by this time I changed my implementation to allow more granular view of nearby buses (showing in 15 seconds intervals rather than seeing “due” for 90 seconds, which can feel like forever if you are waiting for a bus!).

Version 3 – material design

Version 3.2.11 – The final version of the third rewrite

Version 3.0.0 was released only a week after 2.1.3, but I had been working on it for quite some time. This version was all about material design and it was fairly cutting edge, as material design was only announced in June of the previous year. The design hasn’t changed too much since this release – apart from a styling change for dialogs. The main design has remained fairly similar since. In the back, there were a fairly large amount of moving parts, but most of this would have been invisible to users.

The next notable update was in May 2018 with GDPR coming around. With 3 days to spare, I put out the GDPR release on 22 May. This caused so many headaches that I had to try again several times to the point where I actually started over and finally released the last version on 7 June 2018.

Version 4 – Flutter and iOS

Version 4.0.0 – Not made public for Android

At work, a colleague told me about Flutter and I decided to investigate. Having looked at it, it seemed to be a really easy implementation of material design and there was the added bonus of being able to also build apps for iOS. I’ve had some requests to also make my app for iOS, but I didn’t want to end up having to maintain two code bases, the only way I would do that is if I ended up with a single code bases. I had considered many times if I should go back to my version 1 design to facilitate this. Early in November, I installed Flutter. It was a slow start, but I gained speed and confidence really quickly that I was using the right technology.

On 16 December, I published version 4.0.0 of London Bus Pal. Not as an Android app, but as an Apple app. I wanted to try the Apple deployment process and see if I missed anything major. And I was still missing map views, so I decided to soft launch on Apple and Android would follow once I had map views in place. Finally on 26 December, I launched version 4.0.3 on Android. Being another rewrite, it is quite nerve wracking, because things which were previously fixed or just stable, might not work. I have seen a few small issues, but not being used to the new error reporting software, I don’t always know if my users can see all of the errors.

What’s next?

Well, for now I’m going to focus on stabilising version 4 of London Bus Pal. The way it has been designed now, means that it should be quite easy to add new features. But I might just leave it alone, because I have a steady following of users.

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London Bus Pal

London Bus Pal v4.0.2

This version increased the speed of route searching significantly as it was terribly slow previously.

Bug fixes:

  • Fixed two minor issues which could cause the app to look like it is still loading more data when it wasn’t.

Platform: iOS only

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London Bus Pal

London Bus Pal v4.0.1

This update contains just a minor fix as advertisements were not displaying correctly in the previous version.

Platform: iOS only

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London Bus Pal

London Bus Pal v4.0.0

This is the initial release for iOS devices only. The app has been entirely rewritten from the ground up, but don’t worry, all the features remain (except for map views which will come shortly).

The iOS version can be found here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/london-bus-pal/id1447045946

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London Bus Pal

History of the app so far

Back in 2013, I was a regular bus user in London and I remember having to use two different apps to get the information I wanted. The exact details have faded, but I remember that I liked the one app, because it was simple to use – you just open the app and it shows you the buses you want to see. The other app I used was to track progress once I actually got on the bus. Finding the right bus wasn’t always the easiest thing to do and having to use two apps was a bit frustrating.

By the end of July, I had put together an app using the technology I was familiar with (Google Web Toolkit) and I was delighted with the results. I remember feeling surprised that I made something which was better than anything I could find on the app store and my app did exactly what I wanted it to do. As I built the first version only for my own personal use, it meant that I could focus only on what was absolutely useful. All of the core functionality remains to this day (except for one unimplemented minor feature in the latest version which will be reinstated shortly):

  • Quickly see all the bus stop nearby and arrival information for each
  • Ability to select a specific bus and track progress
  • See the details of an entire route and where that bus would stop

I had been using the app on my own for about a month and I was happy with what I had built. I showed my partner who game me some great feedback about the app. Towards the end of September, I decided that I should share what I had built with the world! Of course I was going to use this as another opportunity to learn something new – so I threw myself into the world of app monetisation and I decided I was going to put a simple ad at the bottom of my app. Even though my original app obviously didn’t have ads in it, it was a good compromise to make to see if I could make a little bit of money with my creation. The rules were clear for me from the start – do not annoy users with ads.

By the end of 2013, I had accumulated less than £10 in total advertising revenue. But this wasn’t the point – it was a hobby and I was super happy with my app, because best of all, it was useful for me.

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London Bus Pal

What a GDPR disaster!

May 2018 has been a really long and frustrating month in terms of updates to London Bus Pal.  I would never have imagined just how much effort I would need to put into my app when I thought that I was free from any GDPR requirements.

I was on holiday and I saw some emails from Google and then also saw an article on The Register (https://www.theregister.co.uk/2018/05/10/google_gdpr_consent_klaxon/) which pretty much made it clear that I would have to do something.  Upon return from my holiday, I immediately got on the internet and started reading all kinds of horror stories of people building entire consent databases and having to come up with really intricate ways to obtain and store consent.  It felt like it was overkill and like it was completely against what I thought the spririt of GDPR was (less data, not more!).  The panic started to set in as it seemed like this was a much bigger beast than I had anticipated and I started studying the regulation itself, rather than just reading blogs based on third-hand information.  At least it turned out that I was right and that GDPR was meant to limit and reduce the amount of data we process, not process more data because of it.

After reading the regulation and no consent SDK being available yet from Google, I decided to build my own pages to manage this in the app.  I settled on the following requirements:

  • Location permission – I already had to obtain these due to Android requirements and my app works fine without it.  I decided to still build a screen to tell users about it and that they can revoke permissions if they want.
  • Ads – this was the main reason I built this, because it felt like Google was willing to stop us from using AdMob if we did not do something to gain consent.  To be honest, I understand where they are coming from as they would be held responsible if they didn’t insist on us doing something.  The consent isn’t to consent to ads or not, it was basically to use personal data to personalise ads or not.  More on this later!
  • Crash reporting – as I didn’t consider capturing crash reports as a legitimate enough reason to keep my app going, I decided that I had to gain consent to store crash reports.

There is very little else that I do with data – I just take a location or bus route or bus stop request, get the relevant data and show it back to the user.  I really have no interest in obtaining data I don’t need.

So I built my GDPR consent screens and I ran into a bit of trouble.  My crash reporting and analytics tools are bundled together really.  If I switch one off, I have to switch both off.  I then decided to change the wording for crash reporting to something along the lines of tracking expected and unexpected behaviour (the former being analytics and the latter being crash reporting).  I had some issues with the analytics, so I then had to go and find each use and check if I could use it or not before posting something as I didn’t use standard methods everywhere.

Due to the GDPR consent screens being one of the first screens and having to test with different permutations, I decided to just do some manual testing instead of expanding (and fixing) my automated tests.

I changed my AdMob settings to select my own technology providers and I published version 3.2.6 on Wednesday morning, two days before GDPR was due.  Things sort of looked normal, my ad revenue seemed unaffected and even though I could see a bit of a drop in users reported through my analytics tool, the users who still opted to keep crash reporting and analytics on, still had a 100% stability rate.

Over the next two days I noticed some 1-star reviews, two of them were removed before I could get to them and it just looked like someone trolling the updated GDPR screens.  But there were some legitimate ones too and I started to investigate.  I noticed on the Play Store that my app stability had decreased since the GDPR release and I found some specific pieces of code I missed!  If someone had chosen to turn off analytics, I still had some instances where I was trying to track events and it would crash the app.  I asked the users to contact me to give me more detail to help my investigation.

Rushing to get a fix out, I made sure I found all of the uses, fixed it and I released version 3.2.7 on Saturday morning.  I received another 1-star review saying that the app was broken – this review was left for version 3.2.7 and I also received an email from one of my users who confirmed the same.  Frustrated, I decided to take the nuclear option and remove all of my GDPR updates (by reverting the code back to version 3.2.5) and then just serving non-personalised ads.

I have now scrapped the idea of requesting consent for crash reporting and analytics since I believe that this is actually crucial information for the app to work based on the nightmare I had.  I was trying to stick to the “letter of the law”, rather than the spirit of the regulation.  The data I am collecting does not contain enough information to personally identify anyone and I’m happy to have it go under scrutiny.

Today I watched as my revenues plummeted.  This is either due to only serving non-personalised ads or the fact that it’s a bank holiday in the UK.  It’s probably a combination of both – I can see my click-through ratio has gone down and so has my CPC.  So I made another attempt at implementing a quick consent request so that I can at least get personalised ads back on for some of my users.

Effectively, all of the work I have done to implement GDPR in version 3.2.6 and 3.2.7 had to be undone and I started from scratch.  This time also, I have taken a softer approach and just made it a pop-up where you can choose Yes, No or Later – similar to my rating pop-up.  (I still used all of the saved consents from version 3.2.6 and 3.2.7 if it worked, so at least people won’t be annoyed with more pop-ups!).

I’m going to package version 3.2.9 now and publish it to all the app stores.  I am hoping that this is the final version for GDPR and that I can finally get onto other things.  If you are a user who was impacted by my GDPR disaster, I can only apologise!!!

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London Bus Pal

Map views are here!!

I was hoping to get this out there quicker, but rather late then never!

This week I added some map views of all the data to London Bus Pal.  There are four “distinct” views of data in the application, but only three maps are interesting (seeing a single bus stop isn’t the most interesting view!).

Multi-stop view

If you switch to the map view from a list with multiple bus stops on, you will get a view similar to this.  It shows you markers of all the stops near you with their “letter” indicators on, it there are any.  This is a really useful view to see any bus stops in the area or near somewhere else you might be going (try searching by post code).  Tapping any of the markers will give you the name of the stops and where it goes – if you tap on the information box that appears, you will then be taken to the screen to see the estimated arrival times for all buses serving that stop.

Screenshot_2013-09-21-22-20-51

Bus prediction view

The next view that is possible is one showing you a list of all stops for any specific bus over the next 30 minutes and the number on the marker indicates how many minutes the bus is expected to take to get there.

Screenshot_2013-09-21-22-22-27

Bus route view

The last view I want to show you, is the bus route view.  This is a calculated route based on all buses for that route over the next 30 minutes showing their stops.  Red markers indicate one direction and blue markers indicate another direction.  The pins are also arranged so that you can get an idea of which way the bus is going (I will add some arrows soon!)

Screenshot_2013-09-22-09-21-17

If you don’t have London Bus Pal yet, you can download it from the Google Play Store: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.mulder.buspal

 

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London Bus Pal

Racing the bus by tube!

I travel between Angel and Waterloo on most days. Most of the time, I take the 341 bus, because it always seems quicker than the tube and it’s also a whole lot less fuss. The strange thing is though, when I’m running late, I choose to take the tube, because even though the bus feels quicker, my logic tells me that the tube must be quicker. So I put it to the test this morning.

First, some ground-rules: I always walk as fast as I can without running or being rude (no pushing people out the way). I walk up any moving escalator, and I know my route very well, I take the shortest route to each platform and take the first available train.

  • 09:21: Arrive at Waterloo station. Check the bus will be at stop F in 1 minute – if I want to make it to the bus, I need to get there now, but today, I’m racing the bus instead of taking it.
  • 09:24: I get down to the Waterloo & City line platform with a train ready and waiting for me.
  • 09:29: Arrive at Bank station. At the point I begin to even wonder why I bothered – it all seems to be going quite quick. Unfortunately though, because I jumped straight on the train at Waterloo, I am right at the back of it, so have to fight my way through people to get to the Northern Line.
  • 09:33: I get to the Northern Line platform and I can see the train coming into the platform. Timing has been great this morning for trains, because usually I end up waiting for a few minutes.
  • 09:40: I arrive at Angel station and I am thinking that I am probably way ahead of the bus. Unfrotunately there is only one up escalator, so “traffic” is a bit heavy, but I still make it up in the end.
  • 09:43: I walk out of Angel tube station and open up my app to check where the bus is. I look across the road and think “No! This only happens in movies and documentaries.” – I’m assuming this will be a different bus, but I check the registration number and it is – the bus beat me to Angel station!

The benefits of the bus far outweigh taking the tube every day. Firstly, I’ve just proved that it’s faster for me to get across central London by bus (obviously, there are many tube routes which are faster – possibly if I tried doing the same starting from Vauxhall, results would be different), I have mobile signal when I’m on the bus – the wifi access on the tube works, but only in stations and I couldn’t pick up any signal at Moorgate station. And then there’s all the stairs and walking, which might be good for some trying to stay healthy, but I really hate getting to work all sweaty and red in the face. And the bus has a view of London! That’s probably the best reason to take the bus.

The above experiment was done using bus times from the London Bus Pal application for Android. You can download it from the Google Play store here: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.mulder.buspal

Take the bus!