Trapster iPhone Speeding App Attracts the Most Unlikely Users

Trapster iPhone Speeding App Attracts the Most Unlikely Users

Trapster is a popular iPhone app that alerts drivers to police speed traps, red light cameras and DUI checkpoints. It’s attracting between 15,000 and 50,000 new users a day. Among those new users are are some of the most unlikely – the police themselves.

Trapster is partnering with several police departments to get cops to add their own traps to the database. The company is training cops how to use the software. The Travis County Sheriff’s Department in Austin, Texas, is already publicizing its use of the app, and the company expects to announce more partnerships soon.

“It’s more effective at slowing people down than issuing citations,” says Trapster founder and CEO Pete Tenereillo. “It’s not about revenue; it’s about enforcement.”

Travis County Deputy Tom Carpenter told a local TV news crew the same thing: “Our job is compliance, so if I can slow traffic down by just being there, that works too,” he says.

Tenereillo disclosed  more interesting facts: Trapster’s biggest competition is not nav apps, but Pandora. And even though navigation apps are popular, people hardly use them.

Until recently, it’s been individual cops themselves who start using Trapster — it wasn’t the company’s idea. “We had no idea the Travis County Sheriff was using the app until we were contacted by a TV reporter,” he said. “We thought they had made a mistake; it was a typo. But when we saw the report, we just screamed.”

Tenereillo says about 100 cops around the country are unofficially using Trapster (without official sanction from their departments). Trapster makes the cops moderators so that they can add whatever data they like: from speed cameras to road closures. Only after it became obvious that cops were using the app did Trapster start approaching police departments.

The app also lists some DUI checkpoints, which the company tried to remove but faced a user backlash. As quickly as they pulled DUI checkpoints, users put them back in. Tenereillo concludes that they are powerless to resist users. “You can’t block the tide,” he says.

Boasting more than 4 million users, some are extremely dedicated to keeping the database spick and span. One user has devoted an estimated 2,000 man hours of work documenting every traffic camera in London. “He’s just really into it,” Tenereillo explained.

As well as working with cops, Trapster is also working on its business plan. Funded by private equity, the company gives the app away for free but has several potential sources of revenue. The plan is to grow first, then monetize.

* Tenereillo says there will always be a free app and money will come from in-app revenue, such as skins, voices and other customization options. As well as revenue, goofy voices boost word-of-mouth. The app saw a “huge uptick” in downloads when it added custom voices, Tenereillo says, as people showed their friends the goofy voices.

* Location based ads: Trapster is uniquely postioned to serve local ads. There are lots of apps that are location-based but very few that people leave open as they drive around. Apple prohibits using location-based services for advertising, unless they have turn-by-turn navigation. However, people use navigation apps on average just five minutes per month, Tenereillo says. “You only use it when you are lost, checking traffic or looking for something,” he says. “For most day-to-day driving around town, people don’t use nav apps.” Because apps have to be left on and running, streaming music services are Trapster’s biggest competition for location-based advertising. “The only formidable competition on iPhone is Pandora,” says Tenereillo. “People leave it on. If you are running Pandora, then you are not running Trapster.” This is why Trapster added an integrated iPod player to the app — to stop people quitting the app to change the music. “We die if people don’t leave the app on,” says Tenereillo.

*Selling traffic data. Trapster is one of the few systems on the market that can collect a lot of realtime traffic data. TomTom has a 2-way device but has a relatively small number of users. Trapster collects a lot of anonymous data about traffic that can be sold to nav system companies, and in-car data suppliers. Tenereillo declined to name names.

About the author

Leander KahneyLeander Kahney is the editor and publisher of Cult of Mac. He is the NYT bestselling author of Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple's Greatest Products; Inside Steve’s Brain; Cult of Mac; and Cult of iPod. Leander has written for Wired, MacWeek, Scientific American, and The Guardian in London. Follow Leander on Twitter @lkahney.

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