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Embark
Offline functionality and itinerary sharing dominate this multi-city metro app
by James Thorne
on 24 January 2012
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The network of transit apps now available has grown nearly as complicated as the oft daunting subway systems they were created to navigate. Certain New York-focused programs we've used have their strong points—New York Subway features an augmented reality function for above-ground navigation; NYC Exit Strategy maps out which cars to ride for fastest transfer and iTrans shares service changes directly from the MTA. The relatively new Embark stands out by simplifying the system with a "tailored trip" concept.

Originally developed for San Francisco, Embark now serves Chicago, NYC, London, D.C. and Philadelphia, as well as the Long Island Railroad and New Jersey Transit systems through a series of location-specific apps. Most notably, Embark functions without a data connection, allowing users to plan new trips while underground. The user interface makes station-to-station navigation fast and easy, and trips can also be designed around address and landmark destinations. Linking with local transit announcements, Embark sends push notifications to keep users apprised of relevant delays, warnings and service changes.

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Embark CEO David Hodge believes that, in the age of the smartphone, people shouldn't have to think about how they're going to get somewhere. Embark minimizes time spent on the app, streamlining A-to-B navigation with its offline functionality. In some ways, Embark does less than other similar transportation apps, but is able to set itself apart through intelligent navigation. Small details like planning trips based on arrival rather than departure and walking speed adjusted by city also give Embark a crucial edge.

Users are also able to Tweet, text and email itineraries so that friends can know when to expect each other. The free app looks to include transportation systems outside of railways in the future, and will expand to public bus schedules and routes next. With a flood of Olympic Games tourists set to hit the London Tube next summer, Embark hopes to ease the movement of unfamiliar travelers in the European metropolis.

Embark is available for download from iTunes.

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