My TouchCab migration

 photo iPodThrottle-1_zpsuleleppj.jpg
(An iPod Touch makes a terrific wireless throttle with TouchCab installed)

In my report on last week’s visit by my friend Michel Boucher, I mentioned that while the layout ran very well from a mechanical perspective, I had a couple of problems with my throttles. One of my two Lenz keypad throttles is wearing out, and a Lenz rotary knob throttle was having problems talking with the command station. I decided I needed to do something about this.

My initial thought was to buy a new Lenz keypad throttle. But when I priced them, I realized that they’re about the same price as a brand new 16Gb iPod Touch. This is relevant because I’ve been using an iPod Touch as a throttle for a while now, thanks to an app called TouchCab. As a bonus, this solution gives me an elegant and robust wireless throttle – something Lenz has not offered.

Given that I’ve had positive feedback on TouchCab during visits from several friends, including Hunter Hughson and David Woodhead, I’ve decided to use TouchCab as my layout’s primary throttle.

I’ll still need to have one Lenz keypad throttle in good condition, which I can use to handle all programming tasks. (To that end, I’ll likely pick up a keypad throttle at some point to have as a spare.)

But for regular ops, I’ll use TouchCab from now on (or, at least, until I find a good reason to not do so).

To that end, the iPod Touch in the picture above arrived today. I’ve loaded it with a stripped down set of apps and it will live in the layout room. I will have to look at cases (perhaps an Otter Box) to keep the device safe from the inevitable trip to the floor. I will also have to design and build a rack to mount near the sector plate for charging and storing throttles.

Regular operators with an iPhone or iPod Touch can also load TouchCab on their own device and use it on my layout.

14 thoughts on “My TouchCab migration

    • Hi Simon:
      No, I haven’t. I’m not a DCC guru and I’m quite comfortable using the Lenz throttle for programming. So there’s a bit of “don’t mess with success” going on in my thought process here…
      As well, a Sprog would require linking a computer to a test-track (or to a programming track on the layout). Since my computer resides two storeys above the layout, it’s a bit of a hike. My Lenz DCC system, as is, can do everything I want it to right at the layout.

  1. Thanks for all the research and testing you’re doing for those of still out in the “Wilderness”

    • Interesting idea, Walker.
      I have a four-device charging station that plugs into a standard wall socket. It will do the job nicely.

  2. Thinking about this, there is no need for the iPod Touch (or other device) to be a top of the range fully up to date model. Given that WiThrottle runs on iOS 5.1, then a second hand (or discarded due to upgrade) 3rd generation device could be used. If dedicated to use as a throttle, then it does not need to have a large memory store, either. This also applies to Android devices, etc. Even including the full version of WiThrottle, this puts the price of a hand-held wireless controller at less than $80/£50 – possibly quite a lot less! Using the SPROG + Raspberry Pi mentioned earlier, then a whole systems can be put together quite cheaply. For a small extra cost (including per loco) it is possible to go completely wireless, too.

    So, how are the ergonomics? How do you get on without the tactility of knobs, sliders and push buttons?


    • Hi Simon:
      The ergonomics are really good. An iPod Touch is lighter, yet more solid-feeling, than a Lenz throttle. It fits smaller hands well.
      A touch-screen is a lot different than a keypad, and one does have to look at the throttle when making adjustments – something I did not have to do when I had physical buttons. That said, TouchCab allows me to change the layout for left and right handed people, add icons to the function buttons so that operators can find the “bell” instead of looking for “F1” (or just “1”), and so on.
      As with any change, there will be a period of adjustment. (I’d liken it to changing cars – from a compact to a mid-size, for example. At first, you don’t know where the corners of the vehicle are, and you park miles from the curb. After a few drives, you adjust and driving the new vehicle feels normal.)

  3. I’ve got touchcab loaded into my Iphone 5s so I can use a friends layout. He has two exhibition layouts both using the same system. I know nothing of the ‘teccy’ stuff, but as an end user find it an intuitive and easy to use system. We’ve not run into any issues regarding phone battery life whilst using them at a two day UK exhibition, though we always have chargers to hand. Pleasantly surprised as to how good it is. It also gives true walk round control, which has helped on the larger layout.

    • Hi Paul:

      Thanks for sharing your experience here. It may help convince others to try TouchCab or other throttle apps.

      As more people adopt touch-screen smart phones, the user interface and form factor will become second nature. I know it has for me.

      I suspect that soon, pre-ops session briefings on many layouts will include the WiFi ID and password info for those who have brought their own throttles.


  4. The layouts in our local operting group support these types of phone-based throttles. I’ve been using WiiThrottle on a six year old iPod touch. When I first tried it I thought I’d miss the rotary dial from the throttles I’ve been using everywhere else but find I don’t. It’s a really good throttle and would recommend it to others.

    It’s neat to have a software tool like this that allows individual operators to bring their throttles with them to a layout. Further, the ability to customize each throttle to the individual operator’s comfort is powerful compared to a more traditional throttle option.



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