A request for travel-app developers: automatic screen brightness

This weekend has many of you on planes and trains, which means many of you have been  fussing with smartphone apps to get a ticket’s QR code to scan properly. Thanksgiving-weekend travel pain may be unavoidable, but code-scanning snafus should be a solvable problem.

national-airport-runway-1They remain unsolved in practice because travel-app developers can’t seem to grasp the idea of brightening the phone’s screen automatically when displaying a boarding pass. Instead, these apps keep leaving that work to you.

That’s definitely the case with the Android travel apps I use most often, United Airlines and Amtrak. With UA, I can sometimes get away with leaving the screen on its usual brightness–but not if I want to have the code scan properly at both the TSA checkpoint and the gate. With Amtrak, even maxing out the brightness–something the conductors always remind passengers to do–doesn’t ensure the ticket will scan on the first time.

(I’m kicking myself for not calling out this shortfall in Amtrak’s app when I reviewed it in 2012.)

If I had an iPhone, I could bring up United boarding passes and Amtrak tickets in the Wallet app, which does brighten the screen automatically. But I don’t own an iPhone, and neither does a huge fraction of the traveling public.

From what I can tell, other airline apps are no smarter about this. American Airlines’ app doesn’t appear to adjust screen brightness (although that company should probably first fix the issue that results in a boarding pass becoming invalid if you don’t bring it up at least 30 minutes before boarding) and Delta’s doesn’t seem to either.

Paper is wasteful, but at least I know my ticket code will work every time. When I go to a Nationals game, it’s my only option–the barcode scanners at the turnstiles have yet to accept a ticket code in an e-mailed ticket, no matter how bright the screen on my phone gets. (My wife’s iPhone 6 doesn’t have that hangup, because reasons.)

Meanwhile, Eventbrite’s app has automatically maxed out screen brightness when I bring up an event’s ticket since the first day I opened it. It’s too bad that I’m almost never asked to show a ticket code on my phone when I show up at an event booked through that service. Perhaps it would help if somebody set up an event for travel-app developers and required Eventbrite mobile tickets?

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Weekly output: WWDC, tech policy, Web chat, prepaid iPhones

Happy Father’s Day, everyone. When I became a dad almost two years ago, a friend welcomed me to that new title by calling it “the toughest job you’ll ever love.” I think he was right. And next to that, my last seven days of occupational output seem small in comparison.

6/11/2012: Apple’s WWDC News: iOS Hits The Road, Discovery News

After all of the pre-conference hype about Apple unveiling its own mapping solution for iOS 6, I found the reality presented at its Worldwide Developers Conference Monday morning in San Francisco to be a tad underwhelming and so ranked it fifth on my list of top-five WWDC announcements. Note that I had to update this post a couple of days later to reflect for the fact that this app will, contrary to Apple’s initial silence on the issue, include walking directions. But transit navigation could still be decidedly inelegant.

(Also note that I watched the keynote as almost all of you did: by viewing it online after Apple posted it a few hours later, on account of Apple not issuing me a WWDC press pass. I did, however, get a few peeks at iOS 6 from WWDC attendees Monday night.)

6/15/2012: TPS Report: The Election’s Missing Tech-Policy Issues, CEA Digital Dialogue

After mulling over two days of enlightening banter at the Tech Policy Summit, I wrote up a summary of that conference for CEA that closed by remarking on the allergy some Silicon Valley types have to engaging with Washington in any sustained manner. I may have to explore that at greater length in a future story–along with some other topics discussed at TPS, such as a proposal to hand governance of some core Internet protocols to the U.N.’s International Telecommunications Union and the debate in Europe over mandating a “right to be forgotten” online.

6/15/2012: Mobile Minded (Web chat), CEA Digital Dialogue

The monthly Web chat focused almost entirely on smartphones and tablets, as it should have a week after WWDC and a week and change before Google’s I/O developer conference. The curiosity about iOS 6’s Maps and Passbook apps in particular struck me, so I know to focus on those when I review iOS 6 sometime this fall. I also got at least two questions that should work well for my USA Today Q&A, so that’s good as well.

Now, for a tech-support question of my own: CoverItLive, the DemandMedia site that provides the chat system we’ve used so far, is essentially doing away with its free option at the end of this month. CEA may elect to pay up, but there are alternatives to consider (see, for instance, Digital First Media journalist Mandy Jenkins’ list); if you have any recommendations, I’d like to know about them.

6/17/2012: Cricket or Virgin: What’s best iPhone deal?, USA Today

Not long after Cricket Wireless surprised me by announcing that it would start selling the iPhone, Sprint’s Virgin Mobile USA revealed that it, too, would sell Apple’s iPhone 4 and 4S at a higher cost but lower rates than Cricket. This post compares these two offerings–Virgin comes out ahead in coverage and pricing–and notes one difference left out of most stories on the topic: Cricket’s iPhone will be internationally unlocked for use on GSM services overseas, while Virgin’s can’t be switched to any other carrier. The column closes out with a reminder about taking better photos with a phone.