Some people hit the trails on their mountain bikes to get away from the office and technology. But when Chris Aidan and James Setaro went biking with friends in New Mexico last year, they found an idea for an iPhone app.
When the two had trouble finding the start of biking trails (or "trailheads") they had to ask local shops for help. That planted the idea for an app that would use GPS and mapping to show you exactly where to find trailheads so you could spend more time riding and less time navigating.
The result was "Mountain Bike Trails," a $1.99 app that contains information about more than 5,000 trails in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia. Many of the trails have been submitted by users of the application and the TrailFu.com website. We spoke to Chris Aidan, co-founder of Austin-based Totalsquare LLC, the company he formed with Setaro, about "Mountain Bike Trails:"
American-Statesman: How challenging has it been to locate all the trails featured in the app? Are a large percentage of them submitted by users to the site or do you have other sources to get the best trail info?
Chris Aidan: Our user community has been fantastic; they have helped us grow the number of trails, dramatically improve the accuracy of information and really get us to a place where we are confident in the data. In early versions of the app, we struggled with incomplete information on trails that had closed due to forest fires, land development and usage rights, so it was tough to get our arms around. Early adopters really got on board, so with these users and partnerships with bike clubs we have rapidly expanded data, improved the quality of the app and made some great inroads in the community. Riders were sending us so much information that we had trouble keeping up with the data, so we created the TrailFu.com website, which allowed them to instantly share data and reduced our overall workload.
How long did it take to develop the app and what were the biggest challenges?
The application came together really quickly; we developed the initial version in about three weeks. The biggest challenge wasn't really the technology, it was choosing the right features and then making sure our data was very high-quality.
Earlier this year, Google introduced Bike Trails for Google Maps. Does the information in the app overlap much or is it different given that the app is focused on mountain biking?
Google's mapping strategy is only a portion of the mountain biking experience. It is designed to get you from Point A to Point B, whereas our app's intention is to provide our customers with maximum trail enjoyment by supplying them information to make informed decisions on where to ride. Our focus is on growing the mountain biking community, promoting trail stewardship and providing equal access to information that can sometimes be difficult to obtain. The most common thing we hear is, "I had no idea there are so many biking trails around me." We are not trying to be all things bike-related. Since our niche is limited to mountain biking, we stay focused on that task and think it will be key to our continued growth.
With so many apps in the App Store is it hard to stand out? How do people usually find out about the app?
What's important to us is to stand out to mountain bikers, so we don't worry about the App Store as a whole. People usually find the app through word of mouth, bikers telling other bikers. It also helped that we had trail data for the entire U.S., Canada, Australia and the U.K. right out of the gate. When we first launched the application, we ran a contest on Twitter. Each day we would Tweet out a mountain-biking question and whoever replied back with the correct answer would get a chance to win a free copy of the app. People really liked the contest and it was really fun for us.
Does TotalSquare have plans for other app development or versions of "Mountain Bike Trails" for other platforms besides iOS?
Right now we have a major update coming for the iPhone that adds mapping capabilities that we think is going to be really exciting. We are in the process of prototyping Blackberry and Android versions of the application, but don't have any firm release plans. All of the resources available in our app are available on our website, but it is nice to have everything in your pocket.
What's the best strategy for biking with your phone? Do you keep it mounted somewhere on the bike?
There are only a few companies that make good iPhone bike mounts, of those there are only a couple that we think are rugged enough to protect your iPhone while on the trail. We are actually working with one of those companies because our products are a natural fit together.
At the end of the day, keep your phone safe. They are expensive. Right now most of our users carry their phone in their hydration packs and pull out the phone when they need to look something up. Since the next version of our app will feature mapping capabilities that show your location on the trail, this will become more important.
There's a creator for that
We're taking a look at developers of mobile applications (or ‘apps') in this series. If you have suggestions on Central Texas-created apps we should profile, e-mail us at email@example.com.
‘Mountain Bike Trails'
$1.99, available in the iTunes App Store for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad
Update: The last name of Chris Aidan was misspelled.