Traveler information on phones/PDAs
This section should be read in conjunction with the section, “Traveller information on PC/internet”.
Mobile phones and personal devices (PDAs, Blackberry, iPADs) provide additional channels for users to access traveller information. However, the capability of mobile devices varies greatly, which in turn impacts on both the range of services that can be supported and the amount of information that can be transmitted. Mobile devices can be clustered as:
- Mobile phones of limited functionality (older or simpler devices): In many cases, these devices do not have the functionality for internet access, or they do not have the processing power to handle large or complex files. They require information services based on SMS, text or other simple file format and short content.
- Standard mobile phones: These usually have the capacity to access the internet. However, they are often limited in their ability to display full screens and to process complex images at readable resolutions. They may also be constrained by bandwidth availability. Providers of traveller information services may need to design a different version of the information for use on phones compared on PC/internet, and might not be able to offer the full capabilities
- Smart Phones and PDAs: These usually have the capacity to access the internet, to display full screen and to offer full functionality. They are designed for greater transfer of data, but they may still be constrained by the signal strength and bandwidth availability in their location. Nonetheless, the typical PDA user still expects internet-standard services.
Providers of traveller information must therefore consider three different information offers:
- SMS/Text message based, which can support simple tasks such as arrival time of next bus(es) at a specific stop
- Compressed version of internet-based information, configured for mobile phone displays and mindful of bandwidth, and offering most functions on the internet
- Normal internet service on mobile devices
A further consideration is that users may be in one of three situations, and seeking information services related to that situation:
- Pre-trip, in a poadly similar situation to any home- or office-based PC/internet user
- On the move and seeking information to make a trip – e.g. route options, location of bus-stop, real next bus or train arrival time. While some of the information needs are similar to the PC/internet user, there are also some location- or context-specific needs (e.g. street map of current location)
- In transit and seeking information to complete the trip, or about the onward destination/activity. These requirements are very specific, and are not usually sought by PC/internet users – e.g. connection options, alternative routing options if current bus is in delay and will miss planned connection, directions from stop to final destination)
Services specific to mobile devices include:
- Real-time information in the format of the next arrivals at a designated bus-stop.
- Options of ‘pull’ or ‘push’ services – i.e. the user chooses whether to receive the information on request (‘pull’) or for the information to be sent to the mobile device whenever available or relevant (‘push’).
- Alerts and delay messages
Some PC/internet services – especially any involving payment - might not be available on mobile phones due to lower security capabilities.
Technologies, data and resources
The technology requirements for Traveller Information on the provider side will not be different from those required for the PC/internet information services. Some additional services, and variations of the service format and transmitted content will be required. SMS-based message generation capability is additional.
The data requirements for the mobile device services will be similar to those for the PC/internet services. The format and content may be modified.
Advantages and Cautions
The primary advantages of Traveller Information on mobile applications are to:
- Have access to a poader range of customers, especially those who do not have PC/internet
- Have access to people on the move, when they cannot access their PC/internet
- Be able to provide information to travellers during their journey
- Provide alerts in case of service disruption, emergency, weather event, etc.
The principal cautions in relation to Traveller Information on mobile devices (in addition to those cited for Traveller Information on PC/internet) are:
- Feedback from a number of transport authorities/operators is that simple applications are the most useful for mobile users (e.g. next buses at a bus stop, delay alerts)
- Design of format and content must take proper account of the limited facilities on many mobile devices. It must also take account of potential coverage and bandwidth limitations
- Navigation options need to be simpler, as page downloads and refresh can be much slower than on PC/internet
- Mobile device users - especially mobile phone users - may face access restrictions or incur significant charges when downloading internet content
- Online traveller information contains a very large amount of information. Structured processes are required to ensure that information is complete, accurate and timely.
- Visitors from other countries – who may be in real in need of the travel information - often face expensive, volume-based tariff rates.
Relevant Case Studies