Choosing the Right Real-Time Live Traffic Information Application for Your Smartphone

Mobile Traffic Application Comparison

We’ve all been there – rushed to get ready for work in the morning, jumped in the car and no sooner have we selected our favourite radio station or cd, than we’re stuck in a traffic jam. Time is ticking. You’ve got deadlines to meet. Wouldn’t it have been great if your Smartphone could have told you there were delays, so you could have saved the petrol that is gradually being burned off whilst you sit there stationary, and taken an alternative route…

There is an increasing number of real-time traffic monitoring applications available for Smartphones. Real-time means that the traffic data is a representation of what is happening at that very moment, using satellite technology and the mobile data network. What this means is, that wherever you are, starting up the traffic app will show you a variety of information on roads across the country. Each app presents different strengths and weaknesses, and the cost varies immensely – so which one should you choose?

Traffic TV – £22.99

Traffic TV is available for iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile and Java at a rather expensive £22.99. The app has a great interface, reminiscent of the Tubemap application released by mxData. It is obvious how to use it, although sometimes the zoom in and out buttons get in the way of the portion of what you want to view and can also be pushed by accident, meaning waiting for loading and refresh times again, especially when the phone has poor 3G or mobile data signal. This also uses up your data allowance pretty quick. This aside though, there are no real issues with the interface.

The symbols that appear on the screen show speed and direction, and an exclamation mark presumably shows a standstill. There is also an estimated delay time.

By far the best feature of this app is the capability to view a list of incidents that may affect your journey. You can imagine how useful this is for quickly plotting a new route out in your head.

The ability to view CCTV cameras over motorways is nice, but a bit unnecessary considering you have traffic information on the map overlay. And so seeing the cause of the delay won’t actually help in any which way, and at £22.99, cannot be a justified expense. Luckily, the CCTV portion of the app is available for free if you fancy a test drive.

One major downside (despite assurances that these issues will be dealt with) is that this app’s traffic data seems amazingly inaccurate (at least in my local area). Wait until this issue is sorted if you choose to purchase this app.

Google Maps – Free

The Google Maps application is great. You can plot a route a – b, you can change the map image to be either a drawn map, a satellite image or a hybrid of the two and the interface is so much more intuitive, with the classic ‘pinch’ and ‘expand’ finger movements to zoom in and out, and the ability to drop a pin in a favourite location. The Traffic data button brings up an overlay on the map screen, showing thick pulsating lines along roads with no explanation as to what they mean. You can’t judge a blockage, traffic speed etc and it is difficult to judge how accurate it is (as I type this there should be a huge standstill outside my office – but I haven’t seen a car drive past in about an hour).

Google Maps is great and should be downloaded (if you haven’t already got it free with iOS or Android). However, it is advisable to use it only for route planning, finding a location, road name or point of interest (train station, police stations etc.) and NOT for traffic monitoring.

The Highways Agency Application – Free

This is a great little app for listing accidents, delays and road works in text format. It does suffer from an amateurish looking interface and longwinded menu system. It asks to use your current location, and yet you still have to navigate through countless menu options to get to a list of incidents in your area. This is frustrating if you believe you live in the East of England, and yet the Highways agency classifies your area as the South East, meaning constantly going back and forth looking for the information you want.

As it’s free, it is worth the download, but again, doesn’t fulfil all the requirements of the modern driver. In combination with a sat nav system, maybe this app would be useful, but they make it difficult to read the text and a scrolling ‘do not use this app whilst driving’ renders it all a bit pointless.

Trafficmaster Trafficview – £1.49

The Trafficview App for iOS has the most up to date, accurate traffic information of all apps tested. The map (powered by Google) has the same ‘pinch’ and ‘expand’ zoom feature and shows traffic speed and direction with coloured symbols (also a setting is available that switches to delay times).

Trafficview is quick to load and refresh, and to date has not frozen on me. The traffic data refreshes every 1 minute by default. Which is quick enough to keep up to date whilst on the move, but not so often that it eats away at your mobile data allowance.

Zooming out, you can get a view of the whole of the UK with the red, yellow and orange traffic symbols still appearing. The app is not complicated, which is perfect for when in a rush or on the move, and doesn’t have unnecessary extra features or difficult menus. It is also difficult to push things by accident as with the Traffic TV app.

This is the only application currently available that pulls information from Trafficmaster’s live data stream which is calculated and collected from a network of traffic speed sensory equipment by the roadside (you may have seen them hanging over motorway bridges, they are more often than not mistaken for CCTV or Speed Cameras). This is an assurance of accurate and real-time information.

For truck and lorry drivers, this app is a direct replacement for the Trafficmaster YQ system and so should make the transition from monitor to iPhone screen relatively painless, if you were previously used to this system.

This app is great all around, simple and easy enough to use without polluting the display with pointless other features that serve little purpose. For the commuter who drives to work every day and for the lorry or van driver who needs to quickly avoid delays in order to make an urgent delivery, this app really has got you covered, and is a bargain at £1.49.

So which one should you choose?

For everyday use or for avoiding rush hour or bank holiday traffic, the Traffic View app from Trafficmaster is by far the best. It’s cheap, and does exactly what it needs to do. It’s hard to justify spending £22.99 on TrafficTV when Traffic View is both more accurate and easier to use. It’s also difficult to give good reason for the expense when the CCTV portion is available free, and the free app from the Highways Agency also lists accidents in the same way. Google Maps needs a lot of work before it should even be considered as a real-time traffic app, and the Highways Agency app, despite being free needs a GUI redesign. I would recommend downloading the Highways Agency app alongside Trafficmaster Traffic View and using the two in combination. If you feel you need the CCTV cameras, download the free ‘Traffic View’ (with a space) by CLO Software, although in my experience, it freezes easily even when the 3G signal is strong.