An iPhone app that helped Dubliners find available rental bikes has been pulled from the iTunes App Store. For once it's not Apple who is to blame but the bike rental company, JC Decaux.
France's Decaux, the maker of the famous Paris Sanisette automatic self cleaning toilets, is in reality a huge advertising business with billions of Euros in annual revenue. While Paris pays JC Deaux to build and maintain the Sanisette's, the company has been very successful with a scheme where toilets and other types of street furniture like bus shelters are provided for free to cities around the world for in return for a license to erect advertising signs.
Recently Decaux has expanded their business to include a bicycle sharing system where bikes are available at a number of automated bike stations around a city. The bikes can be used for 30 minutes for free and can be rented for longer trips. They can be returned to any bike station, making them handy for point to point trips. Like the toilets, the bikes and supporting infrastructure is provided at not cost to municipalities with Decaux being allowed to install a specified number of outdoor advertising signs and kiosks in return. It's a nice idea, helping to decrease traffic congestion and carbon emissions as well as encouraging a healthier lifestyle. For users it provides a convenient alternative to driving or public transit and seems generally well received where it's been tried in Paris, Luxenbourg and most recently, Dublin.
One problem with the bike sharing system is that each station has spaces for a fixed number of bikes. When all the spaces are full bikes can not be returned to that station. To help users deal with this, Dublin based software development shop Fusio developed a free iPhone app which is a mashup of Google Maps and data from the official Dublinbikes Website. It uses the iPhone's GPS to show bike and parking slot availability at nearby bike stations.
Fusio delveloped the app, which carries no advertising, to showcase thir skills and promote their businesses. They obtained the approval and support of the Dublin City Council but apparently not that of JC Decaux who yesterday slapped them with a cease and desist order threatening legal action. Fusio imediately removed the app from the iTunes App store not wanting to pursue an expensive leagal battle over something that generates no revenue.
Decaux has refused to comment on the matter but everyone else seems to think it's a really stupid move. Fusio's app made Dublinbikes work better and provided free publicity for it. It was certainly popular with over half of Dublinbikes 6000 users downloading it. That must be close to 100% of the iPhone toting users of the bike sharing system. Killing it certainly hasn't helped Decaux's reputation in Dublin, where the company was already under fire for safety issues with its advertising signs blocking motorists' view of trafffic signals and crosswalks.
For anyone without an iPhone or who didn't get a copy of the Fusio app before it was withdrawn, there is a mobile web alternative. It's dublinbikes.mobi, created by dotMobi's Ronan Cremin. The main difference is that the mobile web app is not location aware and displays availability of bikes and spaces at all of Dublin's bike stations on a map of the city. Let's hope Decaux's legal department leaves it alone. And maybe, just maybe the marketing geniuses at the advertising firm will realize that the Fusio app was good rather than bad for the company and allows its return.
Mobile Link: dublinbikes.mobi
Ratings: Content Usability
Ready.mobi Score: 4 "Good"