How we developed one of the most popular public biking apps in Taiwan in 10 days?

It was the year 2013, me and Yu-lai registered to the popular public biking system in Taipei called Youbike, which is basically Taipei's version of Barclay Bike and Citi Bike. The service was so popular at the time that you actually see people standing next to the station and wait for the bikes. This scenario raised the question, why isn't there a good app that can help you locate stations and get updates of the bike numbers? We downloaded and tried several different Youbike apps, all of them do the jobs right, but the experiences are all bad. So we couldn't help thinking of this: Why don't WE make an app with better experience ourselves?

We quickly formed a studio with designer and developers called SMD lab and before we started to design this app, we asked ourselves some simple questions:

  1. What kind of problems are the users facing?

  2. Why are the current solutions is not good enough?

  3. How can we solve these problems? 

To be honest, before developing this app, none of us is a loyal user of Youbike. So in order to answer these questions, we decided to get out of the building and talk to the users, let the users answer these questions.


Hypothesis and Research

Our first hypothesis is simple, people just need a better interface. Cause at the time, all the existing apps don't put many efforts on its design. We quickly designed a prototype that listed every station based on distances, in this version, the map is more in a supporting role.


Existing apps design at the time

Existing apps design at the time

Early version of design 

Early version of design 

To proof our hypothesis, we went to one of the most popular Youbike docking station, Longman plaza and separated into 2 groups and randomly interview people around the station. We interviewed more than 20 group of people, by letting them use our prototype for some time and ask them what do they think of it, we gained some very useful insights:

  1. List is not important: Most of people don’t know the name of the station, for example, people say “Chung Shiao Dun Hua” instead of “Longman plaza”

  2. Map and the number of bikes are the most important things: More than 50% of people says they “really want to see the map”, cause not only they need to know where to get a bike, they also needs to know where to return it. 

  3. Waiting is boring: Longman plaza is super popular with more than 20 people waiting for a bike and they both have one thing in their mind, “Should I keep waiting or just walk to another station?”

With the insights from our street interview, we designed a 25-question questionnaire based on the result of it in order to get a deeper and broader understanding of user's need and to explore Youbike user's journey. 

With around 500 responses(you can click here to read the whole survey report but it's in Chinese though), we found more than 80% of users have had used an app to locate docking station or check the number of available bikes. It also shows about 65% of users have encountered "Wait of leave" dilemma current app design couldn't solve this problem. So there is our Customer Pain Point: Should I wait or should I leave?


Solution and Design

We did our second version of design based on our research result and here are the 6 main differences

And here's the final design


The results were amazing, Ubike gained more than 20k downloads in less than two weeks, and by 2015, it has around 200k downloads. It was the most popular free travel app in Taiwan and had reached number 6 in free overall apps. 

It was also been reported by 2 TV news and several online medias, including Engadget Chinese's good app section, Inside and Liberty Times.


Ubike app has changed how other developers design their public biking app. Features that we introduced first, such as estimated wait time, has become a standard function to public biking app. Ubike is now still one of the leading apps for Taipei's public biking system and it received 30K from Taiwan's OPEN DATA competition.