When my colleague Josh Lowensohn wrote his original and well-received 10 Absurd iPhone Apps blog, I agreed with most of his picks. Yet there was one application with which I rather sheepishly had to take issue. I love maps of all kinds so I was dismayed when I found "public transit maps" in the No. 8 slot. Yes, Josh makes good arguments that transit maps are free online, and that you can plan your route before you leave the house, but I thought it sounded like a cool idea. So, during a trip to New York City last week, I packed CNET's iPhone armed with the CityTransit NYC Subway Guide by Magnetism Studios. I put it to heavy use during my stay and definitely thought it was worth the $2.99 price. Here's why.
Don't look like a tourist
I know New York somewhat well, but if I need to get from 39th Avenue in Long Island City to 14th Street in Manhattan, I'll need to look at a subway map to do so. While I can plan out the route before hand, my short-term memory seems to vanish while on vacation. With the complete subway maps on my iPhone, however, I can check my route while on the train (remember that you can't get the Internet while underground), but I can do so on the sly. I can avoid being the gawking tourist, craning my neck around seated riders to read the map on the side of the car. For all they know, I'm just reading my e-mail.
You also can look at a list of all stops on each line--very useful if you get on an express train accidentally. My only suggestion is that you can't zoom in on the maps very far. And even when you can zoom in, the maps can be blurry.
Accuracy and information
Other New York Subway applications are available, but user reviews on iTunes named CityTransit as the best. Since the maps are licensed by the city's Metropolitan Transportation Authority, I know they're up to date. I was unaware that the No. 9 subway line had disappeared so it was nice to figure out that was the case when I went to 79th Street to get my H&H bagels fix. What's more, the application gives you current information on service advisories for all subway lines. Such information can be very valuable when you need to navigate a long and delayed ride on the No. 7 route back to the city from the U.S. Open.
More than just the subway
Not that I ever plan to take the bus in Manhattan, but if I do, the CityTransit application shows all bus lines on the island. It also offers maps of Metro North trains and the Long Island Railroad. New Jersey Transit would be nice as well, but the omission is understandable since that system is not operated by the MTA.
With a GPS connection you can check which subway stops are close to your current location. Though I didn't use this feature that much, it's still a nifty option.
Just for fun
The last feature--an antique subway map circa 1948--is more fun than functional. Though it can get you where you want to go in some cases, its real appeal is seeing how the underground of Manhattan of sixty years ago differs from that of today.
Transit maps are available for other cities including San Francisco, Chicago, New Jersey, London, Sydney, and Washington DC. Just be aware that not all the applications are made by Magnetism Studios so their quality will vary. I haven't had the opportunity to try them for myself yet, but as far as CityTransit for New York goes, I'm sold.