Jul. 21, 2009 10:30 am

Ten Philadelphia iPhone apps that don’t exist but should

The iPhone application news has to be getting a little tiresome, no? Google says the mobile application collection is a fleeting concept. The iPhone store is completely flooded with more than 36,000 and few are making money or much worth the time. Still, they keep coming. We reported that Comcast has its own new iPhone […]

The iPhone application news has to be getting a little tiresome, no?

Google says the mobile application collection is a fleeting concept. The iPhone store is completely flooded with more than 36,000 and few are making money or much worth the time.

Still, they keep coming. We reported that Comcast has its own new iPhone and iPod touch mobile app. Educational software company Blackboard and freakin’ Harry Potter have apps. Newspapers on occasion have them, but big ones like the Wall Street Journal and USA Today are trying to figure out how to charge.

Philly has many apps made by Philadelphians, like one about old Abe Lincoln and a righteous one for Philly concerts, but they are hardly comprehensive.

So why doesn’t Philadelphia, rife with culture and on the cusp (and perhaps in need of a bit) of a technology renaissance, have more of their own?

That profit problem, of course. Because, really, with rare exception no real money is being made, so it isn’t likely that a crush of Philadelphia-specific iPhone apps are going to be made anytime soon. But it sure is fun to indulge.

So, after the jump, find the 10 Philadelphia iPhone (or Windows mobile) apps that should exist, but don’t and probably never will.

Our 10 best:

  1. SEPTA Everywhere — OK, they got in cahoots with Google, which was, uhm, five years behind, but they opened their data up to third party developers. So, let’s think big. Nearest bus, trolley, regional rail and train routes, stops, directions, schedules and plan your route features. With all mass transit ensnared with GPS, the realtime location of the next bus is easy to find. How about being able to swipe your iPhone in place of cumbersome tokens or flimsy passes? One of these bus stops would be just around the corner. Who should make this happen? SEPTA, of course. Can we get one of the nine SEPTA blogs to work on this, too?
  2. Parking Wars parking spot finder – We’ve heard this before, even in our comments, but it makes it no less a good idea. Digitize the city’s parking meters with weight sensitive monitors. Make money by being able to dispatch the Parking Authority to unpaid meters and announce open spots using GPS to users. Cuts down on traffic and keeps the authority moving. Add a traffic news and prediction element, by using collected data about traffic, create an algorithm to predict when and where traffic might happen. Give users the likelihood of traffic at certain places in the city and give directions around those problem areas when folks are looking for parking. Who should make this happen? A partnership between A&E, the channel that produces the controversial reality TV show Parking Wars, and the Philadelphia Parking Authority, which is the show’s focus. Consider it the show’s promotion and could include the show’s hours and upcoming episode schedule.
  3. The Fumo Files — It’s a government transparency application that lets you scroll through miles and miles of open-source databases, documents and information. You can create your own graphs, tables, PDFs and more. It lets you save, highlight, promote via social media and cruise hundreds of years of this information that Allan Frank digitized himself, unencumbered by a suddenly larger staff. Who should make this happen? The Committee of Seventy or whoever steps up and replaces Hallwatch. Or, hey, a partnership between the city government and the Inquirer once every Philadelphian dutifully signs up for a subscription. OK, or host an awesome competition like the 67th ward did.
  4. iSteak — We take the best 50 or so cheesteak and roast pork joints in the city and geomap them. So, when you’re on the 66 crusing Frankford Avenue and you get that hankering, you can immediately find the nearest best place to grab the city’s most famous grub. Photos, prices, hours, aggregated ratings from other sites are all there. Who should make this happen? Dudes at Unbreaded or Caroline Wyman‘s promotions team.
  5. Insult My Team — Let’s be real. A little part of you never wants, expects or looks forward to winning anything. The 700 level crew from the Vet wouldn’t have been anything if the Eagles ever won a freakin’ Super Bowl. And, Hell, things are starting to seem a little too cheery after the Phillies victory, even Charlie Manuel agrees. So next time Chase Utley grounds out, and you can’t help but want to hug him anyway, type in player and game, and the app — which aggregates in real time Philly pro sports teams’ standings and in-game statistics — gives you an insightful and witty insult for your own team, beacuse that’s what we do best. “Utley, in the sixth inning with runners in scoring position, you go left more often than Arlen Specter in federal funding votes.” Who should make this happen? Our boys from the 700 level blog with some funding from 610 WIP.
  6. Philly to English Translator and Dictionary — This goes two ways. Philly accents and slang are decoded and more traditional verbiage can be brought into the local tongue. Finally, “Yo, can youse toss me that lager jawn, nahmean?” will be as easy to say for you as it is for Vinnie in Pennsport. Hey, and we’ll give a bonus if it can translate Philly to English to other useful foreign languages, like Russian for Bell’s Corner, Italian and Spanish for Ninth Street, Mandarin for Chinatown, French for the Sansom strip, various African languages for West Philly pockets and others. Who should make this happen? The Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance.
  7. Oral History — This isn’t yet a city overrun by artists and writers and filmmakers. While we have plenty, we remain a city whose stories and secrets are largely untold and unshared. They remain on the streets and in the minds of the people who live here or visit here. Dig this: starting with requested submissions from hundreds of Philadelphians of all stripes, 30-second stories or memories of a given location are geotagged throughout the city. On a map you can see where they are and GPS can lead you there, but you can’t hear the audio until you’re actually at that spot. Registered users can submit their own, all of which will be ranked — the better the ranking the larger and easier to find the geotag. Who should make this happen? The Greater Philadelphia Tourism and Marketing Corporation.
  8. Philly iPhone games

    • Chase Utley’s WFC Dog Catcher — How many stray dogs can Chase bring to safety before Mr. Met gobbles them up? Look for a sponsorship deal from P.A.W.S.
    • Frogger on the Boulevard — If you thought crossing the street with that little frog was hard in the iconic arcade game, try maneuvering that sucker around the 1993 Buick LeSabre barreling down Roosevelt Boulevard toward Red Lion Road at 5:15 p.m. in this sure-fire classic mobile game.
    • Scrapple for You — An interactive Choose Your Own Adventure-style game in which you make choice how to convince hungry tourists to eat the (really) most Philadelphian food there is. Example: “Mr. Delaware suburbs says no. Do you (A) lower your prices, (B) mock his masculinity in front of his wife and children or (C) Make an equal parts lame, vague and threatening allusion to your “friends in South Philly.”
  9. My Philly ‘Hood — I’m tired of arguing with my girlfriend and bartenders and my postman. This app has the final say on the street by street neighborhood lines on an interactive map with important landmarks included within the region of the city. No, South Philly ain’t good enough anymore. With Wiki-style editing, it stays accurate and includes aggregated news, events and updates by tags from big media, new media and locals. It includes suggested news, places to go, eat and drink and more. And, yes, you can toggle between how those neighborhood lines have changed through every five or 10 years; so, you’ll see just when Northern Liberties was birthed from generic North Philadelphia and what parish you’d be living in if the Archdiocese had any freakin’ sway anymore.
  10. Our Corners — We’re the most historically significant city in this country (suck it, Chester), and that history extends far beyond Old City. This app would let users peruse historical photos, building histories and historical Inquirer headlines from any location within city limits. Who should make this happen? A partnership between the city’s Historical Commission, PhillyHistory.org and the National Park Service.
  11. The ‘They Ain’t Closed Yet’ Library application — This app lets you search for and reserve books at any Free Library branch. A calendar of events and hours for all the branches are available, in addition to branch and library history, information and contact information. You can also pay late fees, get directions, chat with libraries and download free ebooks. Perhaps a partnership with the School District, the city’s universities and research institutions could add their private collections to the list for scholars or their own members. Who should make this happen? The Free Library (just use the cash for the expansion of the still stalled central branch).

I mean, dudes, we could do this forever. Zipcar has an app, so why doesn’t Philly Car Share let you find, purchase and open cars using your iPhone? I’d pay for an ‘I didn’t say that’ application in which entirely falsified quotations are attributed to the city’s elite (Philly Turkey, are you on that?) Every time I’m in Fairmount Park or Pennypack or FDR, I want the elusive bug app that can tell me the details of any insect I snag a photo of.

But we figured this was a good start. OK, who is going to get any of these done? What ones did we miss? What is the best of our ideas? And, can we be clear that if you make any of these and earn some scratch, we totally deserve a cut? We’ll keep reporting the news if you do.

…We won’t hold our breath.

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Skyline photo credit: Emy111, stock photo c/o Apple, Illustration by Brian James Kirk

This is a semi-regular department we may or may not call Top Ten Tuesdays. There’s no judging in brainstorming. See others here.

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Christopher Wink

Christopher Wink is a cofounder and Editorial Director of Technical.ly, the local technology news network. Previously, Wink worked for a homeless advocacy nonprofit and was a freelance reporter for a variety of publications. He writes regularly about news innovation and best business practices on his personal blog here. The bicycle commuter loves cities, urban politics and squabbling about neighborhood boundaries.

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  • @myasmine

    I’d pay good money for the parking spot finder if it was accurate. Other things it could include:
    – locations where you can buy the SmartCard
    – valet only meter warnings
    – 15min timer for when your meter will expire
    – listing for parking times on meters
    – nearest parking garages and if they’re full
    – cheapest parking garages near your location
    – payment methods those parking garages accept

    A lot, huh? I commute to Philly and these are all things I’ve wanted at one time or another.

  • http://www.christopherwink.com Christopher Wink

    Great suggestions. I particularly love, love love the timer for when your meter is set to expire. Keep those ideas coming!
    -cgw

  • http://www.phillydesignblog.com danya

    I love the neighborhood wiki app! But who could make that one happen? Seems one of the easier ones…

  • Colin

    Wouldn’t a timer for when your meter is about to expire be simply a “timer?”

    Don’t most phones have an alarm clock for these things?

    • http://www.christopherwink.com Christopher Wink

      It’s all about the package, Colin, and your way isn’t nearly as fun as a package of all those elements housed under one roof.
      -cgw

  • http://www.drawonthewalls.wordpress.com/about Bianca

    on #8.. have you checked out http://www.planphilly.org? they have a neighborhood by neighborhood breakdown, down to the streets!

    • http://www.christopherwink.com Christopher Wink

      I haven’t seen one from Plan Philly, but I know of one from Penn: http://cml.upenn.edu/nbase/nbProfileMap.asp

      It simply doesn’t reflect the current climate of many of those ‘hoods and, really, the mobile version could have so many other fun elements.
      -cgw

  • niel

    Smartphones in general should be usable in place of print tickets for a wide variety of scenarios – on transit, at ballgames, at movies. You already do a lot of the reserving and paying online – why not just swipe the phone you carry with you already?

    The GPS idea for SEPTA is way overdue and would be incredibly useful. The new SEPTA leadership is more open to new ideas than the previous, so perhaps there will be interest.

  • Pingback: Technically Philly » Friday Tech Links: Domelights has been taken down for now, reshaping Philly and More | Covering the Community of People Who Use Technology in Philadelphia.

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  • http://www.acctpad.com ekille

    Love these! iSteak is great…. i just finished AcctPad.com so I’m looking for something interesting to do.

  • http://www.gophila.com/withlove Caroline – Philadelphia Tourism

    Ok, ok, I know I am late on responding to this. And while we don’t have any iPhone apps (yet!!) I do want to make a few notes about what we DO have:

    2) We have pulled together all sorts of parking tips at http://www.gophila.com/parking, including a parking locator.

    As a bonus, we also have http://www.gophila.com/parkingdeals, which is, as you can guess, discounts on parking. (We encourage visitors to book the Philly Overnight Hotel Package and get free hotel parking.)

    4) http://www.gophila.com/cheesesteaks doesn’t have the compare-and-contrast you are looking for, but I find the descriptions are pretty accurate.

    7) Oral History. This is the one you charged us (GPTMC) with. Well, we have done a lot of this already, just not as an iPhone app, on http://www.soundaboutphilly.com. We have real Philadelphians talking about their experience of Philadelphia, be it different neighborhoods, sports, food, etc. Definitely worth a listen and some downloading.

    That’s just a start.

    Brilliant ideas, all of them.

    • http://www.christopherwink.com Christopher Wink

      Caroline:
      Thanks and we totally dig the stuff you’re doing over there at GPTMC.
      -cgw

  • http://lightageart.com birving

    This one already exists! If you get a chance check out the Philadelphia Sports History app for the iPhone. Great data for all philly sports fans. I’m kind off partial, I wrote it. Nevertheless, good stuff and very positive reviews so far.

    • http://www.technicallyphilly.com Christopher

      Cool, we’ll have to check that out. Maybe a big list of existing Philly-made apps?
      -cgw

  • http://www.stmjr.com scott

    I have been using iSepta, which is a site for mobile devices. It is user friendly, and also quite fast. It also saves a few trips on the main screen for you. I have iSepta on my Home Screen, but would love an app!

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  • http://www.avencia.com/ Deb

    So I’m weighing in a bit late since this post is a month old, but I thought I’d let you know that a history related app as suggested in #9 does exist. I work on PhillyHistory.org and we’ve created an iPhone web app that enables iPhone users to search PhillyHistory.org. It’s available at http://www.phillyhistory.org/i.

    It’s also now location aware for compatible iPhones – useful if you want to check out historic photos of your location. Hope you enjoy!

  • http://www.pifflesnips.com tanner0035

    I can DEFINITELY understand the frustration with Philly sports. Especially before last year’s WS.

    Check out “Insults by Pifflesnips” in the app store for a funny insult app! It can generate over a million random insults, email insults to friends, and provides some clever British retorts. Well worth the dollar

  • http://www.shopiks.com shopiks

    Shopiks @Philadelphia is a great iPhone app. that allows you to get deals and updates from Philly local shops and recommend them to your friends.

  • http://www.icihere.com Ken

    The is a new iPhone app called ici (icihere.com) coming soon. This app published user generated content on any topic (history, architecture, nightlife, etc.) and delivers the content to users in the area. It will target Philadelphia first.

  • TM

    I would love to see an app that tracks the street vendor carts in the city.
    You could do a search by location, type of cuisine, type of product, prices, reviews, code violations and daily specials.

    When your on a budget and want chicken salad made with grapes on rye bread this would be invaluable.

  • kris

    why does the septa stops/schedule jawn Have to be an iphone app? considering how good most recent mobile phones are at rendering html, why not a really basic google maps application with this information? i think that’d be a huge win for Anyone with a phone with a web browser, not just the iphone ‘elite.’

    • http://johnpaultitlow.wordpress.com JP

      I agree, the SEPTA data should be available in a more universal HTML format, but for the time being, native mobile apps are better suited to utilize GPS location data.

      In the meantime, we have train schedules available on mobile via http://isepta.org – Pretty nice UI, too.

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  • http://caroundtheworld.com Chris @CAroundTheWorld

    If you’re looking for the best travel app for Philly, check out the Philly Essential Guide from Sutro Media – http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/id367522949?mt=8