Idea for an Android/iPhone app: Call Me a Cab

I still like my last start-up idea about converting MP3 music collections to be legal and cleaning up mangled/ugly filenames. As Amazon and others start to sell MP3s, a startup could easily offer some interesting services. For example, I just saw that a new product called TuneUp will clean up your filenames, metadata, and cover art. That’s cool stuff that fixes a real problem a lot of people have.

Ready for another idea? This one is simple. Make an Android or iPhone app for people who need a taxi. Imagine: you’re in another city, and you just learned that from your hotel to dinner is not walkable. You’re standing on a street corner. What do you do? WHAT DO YOU DO!?

Answer: you fire up “Call me a Cab” on your app-enabled phone. Your phone automatically senses your location and (anywhere in the world) gives you 3-4 suggestions for local cab companies, with phone numbers. That’s the base functionality, but that’s still a huge step forward. When you’re standing on a street corner you don’t often have a page like this in front of you:

Example snippet of a directory of taxi cabs

Now how would you make the app even better? In some places (like, say, these cities) the app would show you where the closest cab is, call it, and get an “estimated time of arrival” as you watch the cab get closer on a map. Something like this page, but on your phone:

Ride finder

How would you make money? Maybe you sell a premium version of the app that does more (more features, or checks for buses or other public transit nearby). Or maybe taxi/cab companies would be willing to advertise in the app just like they advertise in the yellow pages. Maybe you’re a taxi company and you offer this app for free to make your cabs more efficient or to build a brand (most people think of taxis as a commodity right now). And it doesn’t always have to be about the money, you know. Maybe you do it to build awareness about your software startup and unlock future opportunities down the line.

Once you get GPS + cool sensors + the ability to run an application on a phone, there’s a ton of exciting apps you could write. Sure you could find nearby friends, but why not write a GPS-enabled celebrity spotter? Or an “Am I Speeding Right Now?” app that you can use in your car.

If you need other good ideas, I recommend reading through Paul Graham’s list of suggested start-up ideas. I’m a big fan of #3 (finding “New News”), #13 (online learning), and #28 (fixing email overload). Or for that matter, just think about things around your house or business that are messy or annoying and solve that problem.

41 Responses to Idea for an Android/iPhone app: Call Me a Cab (Leave a comment)

  1. Dave

    Matt Cutts is a cab! (sorry, I couldn’t resist)

  2. Harith

    Matt,

    Very interesting post, indeed!

    #3 (Paul Graham’s list)

    “New news. As Marc Andreessen points out, newspapers are in trouble. The problem is not merely that they’ve been slow to adapt to the web. It’s more serious than that: their problems are due to deep structural flaws that are exposed now that they have competitors. ”

    If/when you have good ideas, pls let me know :)

  3. Patrick

    Good Idea, here in Munich you can call a cab online by entering your address. Using the Google Javascript API you can get an estimate of the address using lat/lon Data. Now you only need to get the geodata into the browser of your iPhone (is there someone doing that already?) and you’re finished.

  4. Hey, we had this idea before!! :-) We call it worldtaximeter.com, and it have a stripped down mobile version, http://www.worldtaximeter.com/m.

    We want to make an iPhone/android application for it (that hopefully would use geolocation if available). But we are doing this as a side project and, well, you know, we kinda like to sleep some hours every day :-)

    As you say, we faced ourselves an annoying problem, and we solved it. Happened several times to us that we were in a new city (or travelling to one), and didn’t know how much a taxi will cost from the airport to the hotel, or how long it will take, and of course we didn’t have the phone number of any local taxi company.

    So, using google maps and publicly available data, we built a page that would give you an estimation of the price, the duration, the phone of a couple of local taxi companies and some tips about taxis in the city. 15 cities so far, and we try to include new ones as fast as we can, that is not much. Again, that annoying sleeping-more-than-4-hours-a-day habit :-)

  5. Or you could just ask the Doorman/Concierge :-)

    @harith re Traditional Newspapers I think Marc is missing a point people buy newspapers for a lot more than news they define a lot about there world view.

    A Gruniad, Telegraph or Daily Mail reader are compleatly diferent types of people and want a diferent slant on the news – Daily mail readers want every thing to be the fault of illegal immigrants who killed diana and cause cancer.

  6. Hi!

    For the cab thing i use Maps-App on my iPhone 3G – just search for cab and there you go…

  7. “Or an “Am I Speeding Right Now?” app that you can use in your car.”

    I like this idea – it would appeal to parents.

  8. hi matt there is an app that does this cool fonction on Android

    i dont remember if they are part of the Google ADC

    http://www.callacab-android.com/

    another cool android app is androidscan

    @+

    http://www.monghone.fr

  9. claire

    Matt, Mr Matt Cutts, Mr. Cutts.
    I love your blog, i read it all the time, I look forward to reading it, your cats are so cute, … but please, please stop going on about the iphone. You are rubbing my face in to how good it is.

    I cannot have one, I am in Guernsey, and they dont sell them here. Yes I could get on unblocked, but then i cannot get updates and cannot get 3G stuff.
    Help ..What do i do…?

    *Frustrated Ecommerce lady & Designer*

  10. Patrick, check this out: http://www.hackaday.com/2008/07/19/creating-web-applications-for-the-iphone/

    [dominiek ter heid] wanted to prototype an application for the iphone that incorporated gps. he experimented, and came up with a step-by-step tutorial on how to create a web application that would push gps information to his iphone through the use of javascript and ajax. this tutorial will save web hackers who want to play with the iphone 3g a lot of grief.

    So I think that gives you all the raw pieces you need? :) My advice is to start with a Munich version but be open to a version that works world-wide afterwards.

    Thomas, that’s quite good as a baseline, but I still think a smart start-up could add a little more value for this type of search.

    Gerardo, good for you! Now you need to do a little bit of SEO, because I searched for things like [iphone app taxi] and [iphone app cab] and didn’t see any apps like what I wanted. So make sure that you’ve got a few descriptive words to let search engines know about your mobile web page. :)

  11. I never take cabs, but when “Send Me A Pizza” comes out, I’m totally there.

  12. Harith, here’s my basic theory of news and spending time online: people just want to hang out and have fun, so provide apps that can support that. Go watch Clay Shirky’s keynote from Web 2.0 about how sitcoms served as the “heat sink” to absorb the new leisure time available in the 60s-70s-80s. Here’s the transcript: http://www.shirky.com/herecomeseverybody/2008/04/looking-for-the-mouse.html

    Now the thing is that most people would rather read than write, and would rather surf or watch videos than read. How does that apply to news and discovering new information online? Give people something to do that meets a certain threshold, and they’re happy to do that for hours (see Facebook, Twitter, and FriendFeed as examples) because the activity is evergreen. For how this applies to news, I would think about how to show a different item or story every time someone loaded a page. Look to provide both the feeling of participation (with immediate rewards for that participation) as well as the feeling that you’re missing something if you’re not connected.

  13. I’ve alway thought intelligent transport systems and mobile phones were match made in heaven. The first crued website I ever built in 1999 was similar to this concept and was specifically designed for mobile devices http://web.archive.org/web/19991112021543/www.taxinumbers.com/ , accept after I got started the realisation quickly sunk in that no phones at that time had GPS and other forms of location based services were practically unheard of. It should definitely be a goer for someone these days though.

  14. Thom

    Yardsale-O-Rama! I’ve been saying for a couple years that newspapers need to leverage the power of Google Maps in their online classifieds. Yard sales, garage sales, auto sales, etc should be available on maps. Let a user see all or a subset they’ve chosen mapped for their weekend run. No more making lists or marking your own map by hand for weekend yardsale spree efficiency.

    I should note that someone has finally headed this direction. Two weeks ago our local newspaper started displaying a quarter-page city map with red dots for all the yard-sales. It’s not perfect but it’s a nice start.

  15. Thom

    Newspapers are largely irrelevant because they’re old news to most of us. Instead of making news like they once did, they repeat the stories we’ve seen on the television news or read online days ago. On top of that they choose to offer the same spoon-fed crap everyone else does.

    Newspapers have a niche and that’s community and local stories that can’t be found elsewhere but they even drop the ball on these by printing mostly articles of limited interest. Give me unique, personal, local stories. Profile unique and interesting businesses. Let individuals from the community submit content for consideration. Leverage the power of a newspaper’s online discussion forums by reprinting select and reasoned arguments. Give me a paper full of mind and logic games and entertaining but educational material so I don’t have to keep printing them or buying so many books from Amazon.

  16. Harith

    Matt,

    Thanks much for taking the time to reply. Food for thought and further discussion, indeed!

    I shall forward what you wrote and a link to it to our folks, also at the top :)

    Have a great day and God bless.

  17. “Look to provide both the feeling of participation … as well as the feeling that you’re missing something if you’re not connected.”
    The real tricky thing to figure out is how to make it interactive and rewarding. I’ve got my iGoogle setup with all kinds of news / info. I’ve even got a separate account full of Webmaster Tools info. Sure, I check it daily, but there’s nothing pulling me back all the time. Even if there was a way to interact, I don’t think I’d participate. Of course, I’m one of the people that’s driving the news companies crazy. I never watch the news, I check the weather on my iPhone, and I don’t buy newspapers. (the last one I had was a USA Today at SMX Seattle haha) I also DVR everything to skip commercials. I figure that if I really need to know something, I’ll hear about it around the water cooler. :)

  18. Great idea, I’d love to use that as a customer.
    And monetization is not really a problem. Afaik hotel, bars and stuff like that have always got commissions from the cab companies that they sent customers.
    What you need is just a distinct phone number for each of the cab companies so they can track how many customers you delivered.

  19. And business people like to have multiple sources of info as well. For example, I have a friend who has like 6 monitors with a different topic on each one. I like the idea of crunching all that data on to one monitor. Great idea.

  20. UA

    I thought USA is “overpopulated” with taxi, and at least one would be around when you’re standing on a street corner :)

  21. I would like a GPS application that will let me take a geotag picture at every “location” I land and upload it to a map.

    I want to do this over a period of say.. a month / week / etc. At the end of the month I want to see it plotted out on a map and see where I’ve been and how I’ve been spending my time.

    The map could display all of my pictures and show a report breakdown of my time management.

  22. This feels like building a “better mouse trap” idea which, if you ask me, doesn’t work that easy anymore in these modern days where the market is flooded with better mouse traps every day. Perhaps I’m already too old (37 too old?) too see why paying for a special “find a cab” application would be more useful than doing a free search in Google Maps and find the nearest cab company phone number like that.

    Maybe this is just a fun way to promote the use of Google Maps? ;)

  23. by the way, This does make a lot of sense:

    Matt said:

    And it doesn’t always have to be about the money, you know. Maybe you do it to build awareness about your software startup and unlock future opportunities down the line.

  24. I hear the “Call me a Cab” app doesn’t work as well on black iPhones.

  25. Great idea…

    I had this idea when I was living in Manhattan. The reason being is it is against the law for car services to pull over and pick you up like a taxi…they have to be dispatched.

    The thought process would be that you could engage a beacon so to speak and your signal would pop up on their navigation system. They then could pick you up legally because you had called them.

  26. Hey Matt,

    Check out the plugin ‘Where To?”.

    Select the little airplane then sort to the letter t for taxi and there you go.

    Gary

  27. Sorry, forgot to add that it works with google maps and the GPS on my iPhone seamlessly.

    GaryTheScubaGuy

  28. David K

    I like the beacon idea. Maybe sometime in the future when there’s HUDs in every windshield, cabbies would see little green arrows over fares’ heads like in GTA…

    The sad reality, at least in San Francisco, is that you can walk to wherever you want to go (or hail a cab) faster than it will take a cab company to respond to a phone request (=>multiple data points with different cab companies; wait times up to two hours at times, never less than 30 minutes).

  29. Harith

    Matt,

    Sorry for posting off-topic.

    Any comment to my today post on Sphinn Matt Cutts Reports Dave Naylor For Spamming Twitter! .

    Thanks.

  30. Ian

    First,sorry for the bad English.We speak french here in Montreal, Canada. Here we already have a system like that, you just have to dial *taxi on your cell phone or whatever you are using, and with the GPS inside it will connect you to the nearest taxi ;)

  31. How about a “call me a tow truck” as well…. one never seems to around when your car breaks down.

  32. david bowman

    An “Am I Speeding App”?

    Somebody already came up with that, and it doesn’t even require a smartphone.

    It’s called a ROAD SIGN.

  33. Mike Szgety

    dan your shameless self promotion worked – i tried ridecharge tonight booking a ride to dinner with LA Yellow. it slick, and it does all this stuff – but they need to do an app for the iphone, looks like they have blackberry/wm done and they’ve focused on taxi receipts, which is a problem for business travelers. they look fairly young, but their PR/News looks good. thanks for the mentione.

  34. The Samsung Instinct has the returned results with the miles(distance) underneath them.

    You can then click on the result and:

    a. map it out and get the returned pinpoint
    b. get directions
    c. share/send to someone via text message and/or email
    d. save the result

    The best feature of it that I love the most is the little ‘car icon’ that you just tap on, which automatically gets the address, opens the GPS, and then plots your course.

  35. Nice idea, google can start showing Buenos Aires streets in Google Maps.

  36. Anonymous

    There is a new iPhone app recently released called Taxi Magic:

    http://taximagic.com/

    It does one-click booking of a cab in 25 cities. Alas, that service is still “coming soon” to Boston so I can’t vouch for it, but it sounds neat. In the meantime it has the simple list of cab companies near your location.

    Phil

  37. goodone

    This is definitely a good idea. I was thinking about this and did some search and came across your posting. My concept was something similar. If i was calling a cab, i dont care which cab company is providing me the service.All I care is how soon will the cabbi be there. So, the concept is, I press a button and in a very less time i get a popup message saying how long it will take for the cab to get there and what is the cab company and the cab number.
    now the question is how?
    So, the assumption i’m making here is the cabbies own a smart phone (iphone or anaroid). This is not a big over head. So, on the press of the button , send messages to all cabs that are free in the vicity of the long/lat. Again the assumption is there will be a way for the cabbie to update their status (free or busy). The message will contain location of the passenger. The first cabbie to accept will send the cab number and estimatedd time will be calculated automatically. The passenger will receive a response/acknowledgement with the can number/other attributes and the estimated time.
    So, essentially no talking , just on a button click.

  38. wahib

    Hi. do these apps allow taxi drivers calling the customer without knowing his mobile number using GPS ?

  39. Tal

    Have you heard of Cabulous? It’s only in SF now but it mainly does what you’re envisioning.

  40. Nate

    There’s a new app that actually helps you find cabs! It’s called CabSense and is available for NYC and will be available for SF soon.

    You can find it at http://www.cabsense.com

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