A couple of years ago, I tried the major free train transit apps and came to the conclusion that none were stellar (some links here). Following the discussion on the Jorudan and romaji post, I went back and tried a few again. Unfortunately, this is still the case, though there are improvements in usability, probably mainly due to the greater resources in modern phones.
Over the next few weeks, as time permits, I'll make a few posts with my thoughts on how these apps have improved and what is still lacking. So far, I'm thinking to include the major, full-featured apps such as Google Maps, Jorudan, Ekitan, and Navitime. (My personal preference is for Japanese display, so I'll leave out Japan Trains, and hyperdia can only handle input that matches the system language.)
I'll explain the reason for limiting this to free apps. While I appreciate the desire to purchase apps that you like to support the developers, this model is flawed when applied to Japanese train transit apps for the following two reasons, the second of which is the deal breaker:
- The developers are typically established companies that charge way too much for buggy apps.
- They have institutional memory of the i-mode, walled garden days when almost all information services were subscription and continue to employ that model today.
Premium services typically unlock features like bookmarks and saved searches, as well as offering additional ways to proceed after initial search results (without restarting the search).
There are two osetnsible justifications for this. Old i-mode phones had limited resources, so saved routes, stations, and whatnot were stored server-side, not on the phone. The subscription allowed continued access. The other justification is that the transit data are not static but must be sporadically updated as schedules change to provide precise, accurate transfer directions. The train companies do not give away for free this information, and some make it difficult to even scrape. So the developers are paying for the schedule.
And of course customers are accustomed to paying for this stuff.