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Review: Amtrak for iPhone pulls into the App Store

16 August 2011 10,561 views No Comment

One of the great things about Amtrak.com is that you are encouraged to imagine — maps, schedules, photos, external links, etc. — the people and places you can see when taking the train, and I love riding the train. For better and worse, those are exactly the things that are missing from this app.

I have been waiting for Amtrak for iPhone (iTunes, free) with something akin to bated breath, looking forward to idling away some time.

Whereas Amtrak for iPhone, which runs fine on my iPad (portrait mode only), is good for checking schedules, train status and buyings tickets, it’s not a app designed to let your mind wander. For example, the Stations button of the app provides only rudimentary text descriptions and none of the photos, prose and detailed listings that make these places destinations rather than just stops along the way.

Also, one of the great things about Amtrak.com, or the printed schedules with maps that you can pick up at most train stations, is you can browse. However, even a table of scheduled trains, which this app lacks, is more evocative than Amtrak for iPhone — to view even a schedule snippet, you have to provide a city pair.

A pinch of social

The app does make a stab at the adventure aspect of train travel called “Passport” that encourages you to check in at the stations you visit. You earn a stamp for each station and get bonuses for new stations, routes or buying tickets in the app.

Yes, you can tweet or Facebook your trips and check ins, but there’s no competitive element to Passport, no built-in opportunity for community — a key element of train travel. That is, it’s just silly to think that slapping a Twitter button on something makes it social.

How about station, route, train or mileage leader boards, for example, or tying the acquisition of stamps into Amtrak’s Guest Rewards program?

Miles to go

Like the rest of this plain jane app, Passport lacks imaginative license. For example, if you tap on a station on Passport’s map, which can’t be zoomed or explored, it will only tell you if checked in there previously, nothing specific to remind of adventures past or encourage a new one.

Then again, these omissions might be the point of this app – it’s for people who take the train (mostly) as a matter of course, who need to know things and not just wonder. Further, this is version 1.0 and perhaps the long wait gave me more than too much time (it is 2011 after all) to imagine what it could be.

Amtrak for iPhone (iTunes, free) really ought to be both utilitarian and be a window (if only a small one) on the stations, scenery, characters and history that make train travel distinctive and a destination in and of itself…

What’s your take?

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