Neil Duckett, author of an excellent and widely read Japan blog has posted a brief review of the latest iPhone /iPod Touch release from Presselite, Tokyo Metro[iTunes, 115 yen sale]
As Neil says, this is a great app for Tokyoites, with a decent resolution pinchable image of the Tokyo subway network and, unlike most timetable apps which require an internet connection to function, this one will work mid-tunnel too.
It includes a GPS-enabled station finder for those times when you haven’t a clue where you are, or you can just enter the name of an area of Tokyo and it’ll pick out your nearest stations for you.
With a range of interface languages to choose from (depending on this is a welcome addition to the line-up of japan-based public transport apps available, most of which require at least some knowledge of Japanese (Ekitan being the cream of the crop at present).
Whilst lacking that certain iPhone sexiness, the metro map is easy to use, with relevant stations being highlighted following searches. There’s also a link through to Google Maps, allowing the user to move seamlessly from the train to above ground to continue their journey.
There’s certainly room for improvement though, something the developers themselves acknowledge with their mention on the iTunes product page of updates currently being worked on.
Improvements that would be good to see in future updates
Currently, the list of train lines is static, and merely serves as a key to understanding which line is which on the main map. Ideally, tapping on a line name would bring up a scrollable linear map of all stations along it, complete with interchanges for other lines.
As noted above, with the app using a local database no network connection is needed to plan a route. However, this also serves to curtail it’s functionality, as even when you do have a network connection results are limited to showing where to change trains and how long the total journey will take – there are no real-time departure or arrival times.
Additionally, searches net only one result when multiple journey options may be available.
Being designed for non-Japanese readers, the lack of additional Japanese script for station names is understandable – but deprives users of the fun of learning kanji whilst they travel.
It would also be good to see more interactivity built into the map. For example, rather than having to search for a station by name, it would be far quicker to simply tap on your starting point and destination, with an option to add a third station to go via (useful if you have a train pass for certain lines).