The Indian Railway Lite app allows users to find out train connections between stations, find trains running through a particular station, and access the Indian Railway website services. The app reached number 2 position in the Apple India app store and was getting over 1000 downloads a day. Below are the edited excerpts from Srinath’s exclusive with YourStory.in
Thanks for talking to us, Srinath. What according to you is the key feature of Indian Railway Lite?
Self contained database with access to train information even without internet access, is the key feature of Indian Railway Lite. The app comes with easy to use interface and access to the Indian railways website via web view.
Though there are a couple of other apps similar to Indian Railway Lite on Apple app store, what makes this app popular?
Our main differentiator is that our database is self contained and the app works even without internet access. This feature has proved to be very popular as users can access train information even while they are traveling and are out of network range.
Offline storage of database is a great idea; How do you solve the problem of keeping the database in sync always? Does the user have to re-install the app whenever the schedule or any other data changes?
Currently, we update the app at regular intervals and the user has to download a new version of the app to get updated information. Trains are generally added once in a few months and the timetable does not change significantly, so the user can use the same version until the next one is released.
Do you have any way to update only the deltas? (only changed schedules need to be downloaded)
Are there any interesting techniques to optimize the queries in your database to retrieve data quicker?
We worked on the database to optimize the search by using some indexing and other techniques. The app runs quite fast on more recent iPhone models as compared to the older iPhone hardware. We did indexing on some columns that are mostly used, as well as implemented some code tricks to give a faster and better user experience.
How much time did it take to build the app?
We took around 4 to 5 months to build the app. Significant effort went into compiling the train and station data as this was not easily available. Refining the UI took quite some time as well.
What was your major challenge during the development phase?
Getting data from Indian Railways proved to be a challenge as there is no API available to access information on trains, timetables etc.
What triggered you to build the app? Any personal experience?
When we searched for an app for Indian Railways in the app store, there were no results. We felt that with many iPhone users inIndia, we would be able to get a good response to an app like Indian Railway Lite. The app has certainly exceeded our expectations by reaching the number 2 spot among the top free apps in the Indian app store.
Why did you choose iPhone to begin with?
Our development platform has been Mac OS X and iOS (iPhone and iPad). The company is mainly into development on the Apple Mac platform, hence the decision to first launch for the iPhone market.
Did you use any specific feature of iOS 3.x / 4.x?
We used the standard iOS toolkit to build the app. Some custom controls and buttons had to be created. We used activity indicators whenever required to make app more user friendly. iOS features were also very helpful while optimizing speed of the application and user experience. When first release was out, we faced performance issues on iPhone 3G. To optimize speed and user experience was the biggest challenge in front of us and we did well to minimize issues to a great extent.
Since iPhone is actually a very niche market (here in India unlike US), are you looking at a Java ME & Android versions too?
We plan to work on Android version soon. Currently, we are working on a paid version of the app with some additional functionality on the iPhone platform.
The app is free as of now. Does running iAds help in sustaining?
Currently, iAds are running on the app, but we have not seen significant revenues form iAds. Apple is not serving up many ads possibly due to lack of advertisers inIndia. We do not see many ads and hence insufficient clickthroughs.
Are you planning to add any new features to the app based on user feedback?
We are working on GPS integration with maps, access to Indian Railway site features such as ticket availability, booking etc. through our app.
Can you please share with us the number of downloads that you have seen till date?
Since the app released on 1st June 2011, we have seen over 45,000 downloads.
How do you market the app?
So far no effort has gone into marketing. We have released the app on the app store and the app has been discovered by users through search in the app store.
Anything else that you want to share with the readers of YourStory.in?
We still get over 250 downloads per day. We would love it, if readers of YourStory.in download the app and give us their feedback!
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Also, do check out the Indian Railway Lite app for further details!