Friday, May 27, 2011

SBS Transit calls for meeting with SG Buses developer

Daily downloads of SG Buses have doubled thanks to SBS Transit
SBS Transit has called for a meeting with SG Buses developer Muh Hon Cheng next Tuesday to learn more about his apps, SG Buses and SG NextBus, after initially rejecting his application to access their bus arrival times data.

Hon Cheng said he hopes to get approval to "use the SBS IRIS data for my apps in all three platforms (iOS, Android and Windows Phone 7), not just in platforms that they do not currently support."

He also hopes that SBS Transit will open the data to developers without licensing fees, and without serving advertisements for SBS. "Some kind of branding for SBS is probably acceptable in return. After all, developers are giving them free service."

SBS Transit is currently facing a deluge of bad publicity both online and in the mainstream media following the company's decision to block independent developers from accessing the necessary data.

It has resulted in a number of letters to the Straits Times forum page and inspired the Twitter hash tag #sbstranshit. SBS Transit's decision was also criticised by the chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport.

People are also taking out their anger on the company's iPhone app. To date, some 257 out of 312 users have given the app a one-star rating on the Apple App Store.

Ironically, while the company's decision to bar independent developers from accessing the data has affected a number of apps, this has been good for Hon Cheng's own apps. This is because he has found a way to get around the barrier put up by SBS Transit. As such, his apps SG Buses and SG NextBus are among the few apps that still deliver bus arrival times. In fact, after SBS Transit began blocking access, the number of daily downloads of SG NextBus doubled as a result.

One argument for making the data freely available to developers is that developers can then release innovative services using the data. Just today, Hon Cheng demonstrated this by developing a way for people to get bus arrival times using Twitter. All you have to do is send a tweet to @sgnextbus with the the bus stop number and the bus service number.

Another argument for making the data freely accessible is that SBS Transit has been slow to create native apps. Hon Cheng's SG Buses has been in the Apple App Store since June 2008 while the official app, SBS Transit Iris, has only been available since April this year. Since July last year, people have made almost 290 million requests for bus arrival times through SG Buses alone.

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