MTA iOS App With Real-Time Subway Info Now Replicated For Android

By Alexandra Burlacu email: | Jan 02, 2013 09:17 PM EST

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The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has released a new iOS subway app, and hackers have now taken it to Android as well.

The new app, called MTA Subway Time, provides accurate real-time information on subway arrivals, telling people how far away their train is from their subway stop. The app covers six of the numbered lines - No. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6, as well as the 42nd Street shuttle, covering a total of 156 different stations in the city.

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The app uses the countdown clocks that are linked to centralized computers, which have been installed in seven of the city's 24 lines. The MTA Subway Time app was launched just for iOS.

It took less than a day, however, for an independent developer to create a new app using the MTA's newly-released train-arrival data. The MTA Subway Time app launched on Friday, Dec. 28, marking the first time that live arrival times were revealed.

As previously mentioned, the app launched only for iOS, as MTA officials left private-sector developers to deal with apps for Windows and Android platforms. Developers would, of course, have access to the agency's operations data to create such apps.

In just one day, this open-data strategy resulted in the release of at least one Android-based app designed for phones and tablets using Google's popular mobile platform.

Designer Elad Katz told the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) in an e-mail that the launch of the iPhone app inspired him, and it took him less than 24 hours to replicate the app for Android users. Katz' app, called Subway Time for Android, seems very similar to the MTA-released version in Apple's App Store.

Katz said he learned about the MTA's first real-time app while sitting in a "crazy long line" at the JFK Airport, returning from a vacation in the Dominican Republic.

"By the time we were at the cab, we decided that we're going to do some reverse engineering and replicate the app on Android," Katz told the WSJ. Using his wife's iPhone to check out the newly-released app, the couple found that MTA's official app was "basically a website that's being displayed on the phone."

"At that point it was fairly clear that it will be easy to port over, and so we ordered some sushi and got to work," said the developer.

Katz further noted that his app was available in the Google Play store by 1:30 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 29, roughly 16 hours after the MTA's news conference on Friday morning.

Katz leads a software team at Manhattan digital ad agency R/GA, and describes his wife as a fellow techie and group manager at Wireless Generation in Dumbo.

The tech-savvy couple's response, along with the work of other do-it-yourself developers, is exactly what the MTA's internal design team was going for with the release of open-source subway data and an internally-designed basic app.

Moreover, transit officials hope that the private sector will use the data to fuel development and refinement of more complex programs to help people move through the system more efficiently.

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