A few months ago the bicycle trade gathered at the Hilton Metropole, NEC and saw one of the trade-nominated and judged BikeBiz Awards go to the Bike Hub App.
So why the accolades? As you’ll already know, ‘apps’ is a fancy name for software running on smartphones like iPhones, Blackberries, iPod Touches, and a zillion other devices, providing games, news, utilities and much more. They can even help direct you around the many halls of Eurobike or manage your trade account with Madison.
Why the fuss about apps? It’s something to do with the fact that smartphone sales in the UK hit in the region of 20 million last year. It’s a huge market that Bike Hub is tapping into.
One of the best-known names in the industry – Carlton Reid, also BikeBiz’s executive editor – was tasked with making the app happen.
He told BikeBiz: “The main aim for the app was always to get more cyclists out on their bikes in urban areas. We all know there are millions of bikes gathering dust in sheds. This is partly because hesitant cyclists don’t want to mix with motorised traffic that’s often fast-moving and scary. But you don’t have to cycle on dual carriageways. There are always other, less busy roads and cycle tracks to ride on. The app helps people find those routes.
“Cycle campaign groups have long used cycle route maps to do the same thing. The Bike Hub app takes these and makes them mobile.
“As well as getting new people on bikes, we also found that keen cyclists used the app to work out quicker commutes. This is a great use for the app. Even jaded, long-time bike commuters can be surprised to find the app throws up better, quicker routes for them.”
Even more relevant for the trade, was the shop locator, says Reid: “The other big reason for creating the app was to direct consumers to independent shops. There’s an app doing this for London and it’s sold well. The Bike Hub app does the same for the whole of the UK, and for free.”
The app has been well received by those who voted on the BikeBiz Awards, among others, but how have bike retailers, on the front lines of retail, reacted? “Many bike shops are fans of the app,” explains Reid. “It helps when the owners or staff are smartphone users. Bike shops missing from the app for whatever reason – maybe because they’re new, or weren’t in the original database supplied to OpenStreetMap via the ACT – are manually added. The fact I get complaints from bike shops missing from the app suggests that bike shops see the value in being listed.”
The app has proved to be popular with the public too. Rarely out of the top ten free navigation apps in iTunes, more than 150,000 copies of the app have been downloaded to date. Reid believes it’s just the start: “Many more will follow as smartphone use increases. We keep adding new and innovative features to the app, keeping interest high.”
Downloads might have done well, but has the app met with original expectations?
“I sold the concept as a PR tool for promoting Bike Hub. In this it’s done incredibly well, being featured on the BBC, in the Guardian, on tech sites such as The Register, and, of course, on all the cycling sites, such as BikeRadar and Road.cc. Every user who opens the app is geo-located by a Bike Hub roundel, not a cross-hairs icon. This is the sort of daily ‘in your face’ brand recognition that would be difficult to achieve in any other way. I was charged with making the Bike Hub name better known and I think the app does that job in a cost-effective way. It’s much cheaper than an annual PR campaign, that’s for sure.”
So with expectations of increasing popularity of the app among the growing numbers of consumers joining the smartphone throngs, there are plans for increased functions to develop the usefulness of the app too. Reid explains: “The app was started as an A-to-B satnav, but has now grown to also being an A- to-A touring tool. This is a world exclusive for a mobile device.
Users can be routed, in a circular tour, following points of interest of their choosing. Things like National Trust properties, pubs, or cycling-friendly cafes. If there’s info on locations in OpenStreetMap, the app can be set to create a tour linking them.
A short tour, a long tour, whatever. It turns the app into a leisure device, not just an A to B navigation device. As OpenStreetMap becomes richer in information, the app will suck in that info. It’s a future-friendly app.”
Find out more about the app and Bike Hub at http://bikehub.co.uk/