Travel app puts local designer on global map

Source: Times Colonist
Author: Adrian Chamberlain

A 24-year-old Victorian has designed a travel app that shot to No. 1 in popularity in the U.S. and Canada.

Oliver Brooks, a designer at Victoria’s MetaLab, co-created Relay with a U.K. developer. The app was released May 5.

Brooks says the application differs from other travel apps in that it offers more functions in a streamlined, visually appealing manner. This means users spending less time online and more time enjoying their travels.

Relay, which retails for $1.99 US, was ranked No. 1 in popularity among iPhone travel apps in North America the weekend after its release. It’s been in the top 50 in more than 25 countries, reaching top five status in Japan on Monday.

The initial surge came after Techcrunch.com wrote a complimentary review.

“It’s a very big online tech publication. That gave us a huge amount of exposure. Sales and everything just skyrocketed,” Brooks said. “I’d say [its sudden popularity] is pretty unusual. There’s a massive volume of apps released every day.”

Relay lets users combine all the places they want to visit in a single map view. Multiple locations are represented as easy-to-access “pins” that are numbered and colour-coded. Users can input directions, routes and personal notes for different locations “so you don’t forget what you’re supposed to do when you get there.” As well, these personalized maps can easily be shared with other Relay users.

Relay is the first app Brooks has independently created, although he has helped design others for MetaLab. Technical aspects such a coding were handled by Craig Merchant, who’s behind other popular apps such as Manual and Everyday. Brooks studied briefly at the Rhode Island School of Design before joining MetaLab, where he has worked for four years. MetaLab is a design agency whose clients include Google, Disney and CBS.

He dreamed up Relay three years ago while travelling in Europe. Brooks found using existing systems as Google Maps unwieldy and wondered if a more efficient all-in-one app could be devised.

Relay’s creation took two years, mostly because Brooks designed it in his spare time.

Apple takes 30 per cent of the revenue, with Brooks and his partner splitting the remainder. Brooks declined to say how much he has already made — but added the potential to make money is there. “[The app] is cheap, but it’s an economy of scale. If you can get that volume, you can do quite well,” he said.