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Subway app more trouble than it’s worth

A tale of wasted lunch hours.

Alex Walls
Fri, 08 Apr 2011

It started out so well. 

NBR was sent the press release detailing the new Subway application for mobiles, now available on all platforms (a nice touch at a time when many developers only have eyes on the trendy iPhone). 

The application was touted as the end to wallets, involving as it did a smart phone application with a QR barcode that linked to a Subway card, meaning users could order online via the app, and then simply scan the barcode over the reader at the store to pay for the meal.

The online ordering system has been available on iPhone since August last year, and the onscreen QR barcode ID feature was launched at the end of March, with Java, Windows 7 and Android platforms launched Monday.

Subway offered NBR $10 gratis to try out the QR code.  A QR reader was downloaded with ease, and this proved to be about the end of things running smoothly for test driving the Subway app.

Things did not begin well. First, a host of website issues with registering a Subcard proved troublesome, but not debilitating and as the developers at Altaine pointed out, had nothing to do with the application.

Hungry for results
With the app finally installed on an Android phone, NBR attempted to order online.

But lunch was not to be. The mobile phone, or password (sent by Subway), the app said, were invalid and the user was advised to visit the website to retrieve the password sitting in the phone’s inbox.  Hmm.

Having ordered the sandwich by the tried and tested method of talking to people, the QR barcode displayed on the phone was swiped over the scanner, NBR apparently being the first customer to do so, and with a nod from the salesperson things seemed to be looking up. 

But alas, this was not so – NBR was called back because the SUBCARD had not been registered online – something neither the app, nor the website, had allowed and which the Subway spokesperson had said was not necessary.

Returning to the office somewhat disgruntled, NBR spent the rest of that afternoon and the next morning on calls with genuinely helpful PR people, managers and developers, who eventually said that:

a) the updated version of the application needed to be downloaded from the Android market place, released about Wednesday in response to reports of a glitch when trying to register the SUBCARD, which director of Altaine Jo Gelb said was a combination of “very strange things” affecting a small amount of people.

b) online ordering had not been allowed due to an encryption error relating to the particular password given to NBR.  This was an Android glitch and a fix had been uploaded Friday morning, requiring another install of the application

c) to access gift dollars (what NBR should have been given, but was not), it is not necessary to register the Subway.  To access reward dollars (which NBR was given) it is, requiring the user to enter their full name, email address, gender and date of birth. This was also nothing to do with the application, Ms Gelb said, but was a business rule relating to points with Subway.

d) to register the Subcard, the password on the back of the card is required.  To register for Subway Express, the password sent to the user on registering for the express service was to be used – unless the user was one of the passwords affected by the glitch mentioned above.

e) another glitch was discovered last week that occurred when trying to order online when entering cell numbers other than 021.  This was fixed immediately on Android and Java but the Apple update is still pending.

e) NBR was the only customer who had had such a host of issues with the application (yeah, right - editor).

Let's try that again
Subway topped up NBR’s card with $20 to make up for the lunch purchased in the reading error, the errors were investigated as quickly as possible and profuse apologises were made. 

But the whole point about this app was the convenience and setting it up proved anything but convenient.  Sorting out its issues was the same situation and took all afternoon and into the next morning. 

Layer upon layer upon layer
What also caused a headache, apart from application glitches, was the lack of convergence of the different sections of the Subway strata – the rules regarding the card, the workings of the application, the technology of the card and the app, and more. Reward dollars needed registering and gift dollars didn’t; the password needed for one section of the app was different to that of another; some of the glitches involved card technology as well as app technology.

Jo Reynolds, Subcard manager, said the open nature of the Android platform had taken the company by surprise with how difficult it was to build on.  She said extensive testing over the past three months had still not found all the bugs in the application.

Once running smoothly, NBR took the application out for a second spin today.  The application worked like a charm – the online order went through and the QR barcode beeped once and subsided – NBR was free to leave.

Another NBR staffer who tried the new app payment system said while it worked fine on the updated Android version (she did not order online), she was required to go into the store to put money on her Subcard, and then swipe her phone over the scanner.

Delays
Subway’s website reported that online payment would be coming in 2010, and the application said it would be coming in 2011.  Ms Reynolds said the website had not been updated and online payment was expected by the end of this year.  The delay was due to Subway waiting for new systems to be installed, which would have a live database of each store and its individual pricing, she said.

Final verdict?  Don’t bother.  It was faster by about half a day for NBR, in the end, to line up the old fashioned way.  Even running an iPhone on 021, users will still encounter different passwords in different areas and having to register the card with personal information.  Granted, once up and running the app worked fine, but getting it going proved more trouble, and wasted lunch hours, than it was worth.

Alex Walls
Fri, 08 Apr 2011
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Subway app more trouble than it’s worth
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