What’s The Best Cycle Hire App?

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Screenshot from London Cycle App

Just one day now before the cycle hire scheme launches, and already the question is being asked: what’s the best mobile app to use?

A month ago, TfL urged app developers to get on the case and, and they’ve responded strongly. The main contenders for the iPhone are Fiplab’s London Cycle App, which is available to download now, and Cycle Hire App, which is awaiting approval from the gatekeepers at Apple HQ but should be ready shortly.

The London Cycle App is a pretty impressive program. It’s quick to load, and presents a map of the city, with the numbers of docking stations grouped into grey circles when zoomed out, meaning screen clutter is minimal. The app uses your location to determine the nearest docking station, and shows directions on how to get there. It’s also got a decent route finder, and has separate sections on safety and cycle riding tips. It’s all very nicely presented, and the rival Cycle Hire App will need to offer something quite special if it’s to win people over.

In the App Store there’s also London Cycle Hire, which is a little on the slow side (at least when used on a 3GS phone) and has quite a messy user experience, with a hideous sea of coloured blobs overlaying the familiar Google map; once zoomed in, however, the experience is a lot cleaner. And if you’re willing to palm off 59p you’ll get London Cycle, a very basic offering with nothing that’s particularly worth forking out money for.

One thing all these apps lack, of course, is vital information on how many bikes are actually present at each location (they show the total number of docking stations instead). The reason is that TfL are yet to make the API for this data available. Once it’s ready, they will no doubt be updated swiftly, but until then there’s little way of knowing, once you’ve shlepped to the station, whether any bikes will be there.

Unless, of course, you have a phone running Google’s Android operating system. An Android-only app has pre-empted the bike availability data through a neat crowdsourcing trick. The Cycle Hire Widget, developed by Little Fluffy Toys, does the same as its rivals in directing users to the nearest docking station; however, it also prompts the user (once they’re in the vicinity) to report back on how many bikes are available. Its success will, of course, be directly related to how many people use it, and once TfL release the requisite API, the advantage will be null and void; but in what could be a fiercely contested app war, this could be a useful head-start.

Another Android-exclusive app, London Cycle Hire (we’re beginning to resent the lack of original names for these things) has a nice feature that times the length of your ride and presents a cost estimate; given that the bikes are free to use for less than half an hour, this could be quite useful.

Our recommendations: London Cycle App for the iPhone, and Cycle Hire Widget for Android. Lacking a Blackberry we weren’t able to test out apps on that platform, but drop a comment if you’ve tried one out. All of the apps are available via the App Store or Android Market.

See also:

A review of the bikes

First Cycle Hire docking station installed

What’s in the Cycle Hire pack?

The best iPhone tube apps

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  • http://undefined Rishi

    Thanks for the really nice article Dean! Our free app’s official name is: London Cycle: Free Maps & Routes

    You can download it from iTunes: http://bit.ly/cycleapp

    And our website is: http://www.londoncycleapp.com (you can also see a map there of the cycle stations)

    Cheers,

    Rishi

  • http://undefined nic wise

    Hi there

    you may also want to try (when apple approve it) London Bike App:

    http://www.londonbikeapp.com

    Some new stuff coming in v1.1, eg routing, alerts (“you are about to run out of free time”) etc.

    Cheers

    n

    • DeanN

      Thanks — we’ll try it out when the app is released.

      • http://undefined nic wise

        If you have an iphone, send me over the UUID (it shows up in iTunes if you click on the serial number – I think you can copy it just by hitting “edit->copy” or the usual copy key) and I’ll build you an ad-hoc build.

        You have my email as part of the rego here, – or my username (nic.wise) at that google mail thinggie :)

  • http://undefined Crofton

    I have not had such a good response from the FlipLab app it just shows a grey screen and doesn’t load the map as soon as you try to zoom in. Will try the other one when it launches.

    There is also and Android app.

    Can’t wait to use the bikes, available from 6 am tomorow apparently.

    My Boris-Bike fan site: http://www.borike.co.uk

    • http://undefined Rishi

      Hi Crofton,

      Please send us an email hello@fiplab.con – we’d like to find our more so we can address any issues you are having.

      Thanks for your feedback,

      Rishi

  • http://undefined Martin

    I paid 50p (and I don’t often pay for apps) for the Android ‘London Cycle Hire’ – which seemed to be the cleanest and neatest of the three which existed when I looked the other day.
    That said, the Little Fluffy Toys widget looks like it’ll be a nice addition to my homescreen, and ought to sit nicely next to my tube status widgets.

  • http://undefined Nikhil

    I just received my Cycle Hire key in the post, and it got me to thinking about the need for a nickname for this scheme. Given that it requires a key for usage, can we call it the Bikey? As in, “how will you get there?” “Oh, I’ll just use my Bikey” etc.

  • http://undefined Kenton

    Thanks for recommending Cycle Hire Widget – it means a lot to us :)

  • http://undefined Ian

    Are they going to go crazy tonight putting the bikes out, when I walked through the West End last night about 1am every dock I passed was still completely empty.

    Still waiting for any response at all from TfL or Barclays about me being charged multiple times and the Contact Us form on the Barclays Cycle Hire site is still broken (seems to be if you put more than a couple of hundred characters in it).

    Have got my key but am disappointed in how big it is. I am lean and mean with what I carry in my pockets and this key is a bit big. It can live in my bag but I don’t always have that with me. It so should have been a nice flat Oyster card sized thing then I could have had it with me permanently.

    Sorry to be so negative about the whole BorisBikes/BarBikes/BoJoBikes/BarBoBikes (whatever you want to call it) scheme but it has been so appallingly executed so far. Here’s hoping they surprise us tomorrow!

    • http://undefined nic wise

      Um, didn’t Ken start the cycle scheme before he got the boot? If it gets a load of use and people generally benefit, does it matter?

      UK politics, esp how the media attaches to one party or the other, still confuse me.

      Nic, from New Zealand originally

      • http://undefined DeanN

        Ken was in favour of a bike scheme — he and TfL’s Peter Hendy visited Paris in 2007 to see the Velib scheme in action — but I think that most of the legwork has been done since Boris became Mayor.

      • http://undefined Ian

        It was Boris that had the cycle scheme specifically in his election manifesto (http://image.guardian.co.uk/sys-files/Guardian/documents/2009/04/27/Transportmanifesto.pdf), I am not sure whether Ken did or not.

        And yes of course it matters. We have another election in a few years, we need to know how many of their promises the incumbent has met, before selecting the next mayor. Unfortunately with Boris nearly everything in that manifesto I’ve linked to has not come about (yet – maybe?). The bike hire scheme may well end up being the only significant thing that Boris actually manages to get done!

    • http://undefined DeanN

      I don’t really have a problem with the size of the key, but the lettering on it is already rubbing away after just a couple days in my pocket.

      • http://thesisavoider.blogspot.com/ RuthL

        Why’s it been in your pocket for the last efew days, when the bikes won’t even be on the streets until tomorrow, hmmm?

        • http://undefined DeanN

          ‘Cos it’s on my key chain.

  • http://undefined ldncyclehire

    The London Cycle Hire app for iPhone you mentioned has been updated overnight.

    Have a look now http://budurl.com/ldnchiphone and there is also a Android app and website at http://www.london-cycle-hire.com

  • http://www.toneknob.com iSleepDiagonal

    Cycle Hire Widget crashes on my HTC Hero as soon as it’s opened – I’m using the tflcyclehire Layar thing instead.

  • http://www.toneknob.com iSleepDiagonal

    oops, I mean London Cycle Hire, not Cycle Hier Widget – sorry

  • http://undefined Mark

    Screenshot of my HTC Desire home screen with the newly installed Cycle Hire Widget. I’ll test its accuracy today at lunch!

  • http://undefined Kenton

    Cycle Hire Widget now displays TFL realtime data if we have it, crowdsourced if we don’t. Original version works just fine, but if you haven’t installed or upgraded since 8.15pm last night, do so, as then you’ll see exact numbers of bikes and slots from TFL at each location in addition to the colour-coded station status. Good luck everyone :)

  • http://undefined polywhat

    I am having the same problem as Crofton with the London Cycle app – just a grey screen with pins in it, no map. There is now a message on the home screen about how to fix the app if it freezes, but it doesn’t solve this problem.

  • http://undefined Stuart Grant

    Here’s a more traditional web map of the hire locations: http://www.geo.me/blog/77/london-cycle-hire-map/ – points out a few features that could/should be added to the official map.

  • http://undefined Boon

    I’ve hacked together a mobile website for phones that don’t have cyclehire apps yet, like a Blackberry – http://www.cyclehi.com

    Would appreciate the feedback.

  • http://undefined Reginald

    I find it odd that you didn’t mention Bixou at all in your review.

    I don’t know how you could have missed it. I came across it in the top selling Navigation apps and apparently it’s been around for over a year now, active in any city that uses the BIXI system. It’s also the only one that displays real-time information on the number of bikes and spaces at each station.

    Surely it was worth mentioning to your readers before making a recommendation.

    • DeanN

      Reginald — it didn’t cover London when I was looking at the apps, so didn’t get included. It’ll probably get included in a further round-up when some more apps are launched and the bike availability data is widely available.

      • http://undefined Reginald

        Logically, I don’t see how you could expect it to ‘cover’ London before the live data was being published online. These things go hand in hand, I reckon.

        Still, a mention would have saved me, and I expect other users, much time. It seems like the benchmark app for bikesharing at the moment, so why treat it as an afterthought?

        • DeanN

          Bixou the benchmark, is it? It’s okay but it doesn’t offer some of the route-planning that other apps have, which is pretty useful. I’d be loathe to describe anything as the “benchmark” without having used it for a while.

          • http://undefined norman

            Honestly, Bixou is the app everyone uses here in Montreal, where London got its bikes. It’s the original and I’d wager most used worldwide. That at least makes it the prime reference for these types of apps, does it not?

            But more to the point, I don’t think Reginald minds how you would describe it, so long as you do.

            And I do see his point. You chose to include one that wasn’t released yet, and yet omitted the one that’s been around the longest (and perhaps others). The use of ‘best […] app’ in the title of your article is rather categorical, implying to your readers that you tried them all.

          • http://undefined Reginald

            Frankly, the route planning in these apps isn’t spectacular…
            Besides, as a commuter, that’s a superfluous feature to me. I’ll rarely use it. What I want in the day-to-day is a simple, clear, reliable cycle hire app, and so far Bixou is still the best interface, hands down.

  • http://www.toneknob.com iSleepDiagonal

    Can someone provide a link direct to the LFT Cycle Hire Widget? It doesn’t appear on my searches through Market, nor does scanning the barcode on their website produce and links to it. Thanks!

  • http://undefined Boon

    SleepDiagonal – try searching the Android Market for ‘Cycle Hire Widget’ or look for help here: http://www.littlefluffytoys.com/

  • http://www.toneknob.com iSleepDiagonal

    Thanks for the reply, Boon. I tried both of your suggestions before my original post. I tried both again to be on the safe side (including scanning their barcode), sadly neither takes me to the app. Do you have a direct link to it so I can download and install it manually?

  • http://undefined Ed

    I’ve built a web app to find your nearest docking stations. It works on iPhone, Android and many desktop/laptop browsers – the emphasis is on clean and simple user experience.

    Check it out here: http://dockr.co.uk

    I’m making lots of improvements so let me know if you have any suggestions.

  • http://www.toneknob.com iSleepDiagonal

    Seek and ye shall find: Cycle Hire Widget only works on Android versions 1.6 and up. Orange (my provider) and 3 are only at v1.5 at the moment.

  • http://undefined Raj

    Check out the TFL Cycle Hire API @ http://bike-stats.co.uk

  • http://undefined mutuelle

    Hopefully we will have the Cycle Hire App as it will be a great opportunity to have the numbers of docking stations which could be zoomed out too. It sounds interesting and reliable as we the sections on safety and cycle riding tips will act as a guide. I just wish it will provide us the number of bikes ,i gues it will be just what we are looking for.

  • http://undefined EasyBoris

    Any phone can you this simple web page to save their favourites:

    EasyBoris

    Can search by any postcode, street or building.

    Shows map with colour coded stations.

  • http://undefined mamphy

    I haven’t had a blackberry for long but I got the app called London Cycle hire from Aztux Ltd and would be lost without it!
    It shows me where the nearest docking station is, how many spaces/bikes there are, also I’ve logged my favourite spots which makes everything so easy, It does more but I don’t want to sound like a nerd :)
    I got it on a free trial first from http://www.aztux.com/londonbike which I liked. Then bought it from the Aztux website.The support team were really quick and helpful to respond when I had a question too. I love it, hope others find this useful!

  • Franzitaly

    Hi All,

    I got frustrated with the lack of a simple and quick mobile app to find the nearest docking stations so I wrote a quick one that seems to work pretty well:

    http://www.cercalondon.co.uk/borisbikes

    It’s not an app, you don’t have to download anything and expecially it works on all browsers.

    It does not use the the GPS on your phone so you have to enter your current location, it accepts coordinates, postcodes, addresses, places of interestes, anything you can find on Google maps basically.
    You can search for available bikes or docks (updated every 15 mins) and it returns the nearest 5.

    I’m not trying to make money out of it, I’d like to know what you think.

    Thanks,
    F.