Travel Smarter With These Services for Your Phone
If you want advice on a restaurant or to meet up with members of your social network while travelling, then a location-based service may just be the solution for you.
Picture this: You’re a stranger in town and you’re not sure what you fancy for dinner. Should you stay where you are and check out a few local restaurants or head across town to see what’s on the menu at your hotel? What you’d really like is to meet up with someone for a drink. But you don’t know a soul here.
Or this—You’re out and about shopping and you’ve used your cell phone to locate the best price on the camera you wanted but the name and address of the shop don’t ring any bells and no one can give you directions.
The solution to these and similar quandaries is as close as the cell phone in your pocket—or more accurately, the iPhone, Android or other GPS-enabled smart phone you carry. Within the past year, the proliferation of “apps” or mini-applications introduced for these devices has turned the “geo-locating” promise of 3G telecoms—first mooted when licences were granted more than 10 years ago—into practical reality. And it is dramatically changing the face of personal communications, social networking and information access.
Apps That Make Travel Easy
The apps are downloaded into your phone. Quite a few are free and others cost just pennies. They find your global position and (after asking your permission) use it to:
• Direct you to the nearest subway station in New York, London, Paris, Boston, Japan, Moscow, wherever you are, with real-time service status updates.
• Turn city guidebooks into personal assistants, mapping your routes and enhancing the usual listings with customisable information, clickable Web pages and phone numbers. For example, London Shophound, an iPhone app, describes hundreds of stores, links to their web sites, maps directions for you and will even call a taxi (and predict, in advance, what it will cost).
Tap Into Social Networks
In the latest wrinkle, location-based services such as Gowalla, Foursquare and Whrrl plug into your networks of Twitter and Facebook friends and connect you with those who are active nearby. Some members earn “badges” for completing certain tasks. So, as that proverbial stranger in town, you can get well-informed local restaurant recommendations and arrange to meet up in the real world with a virtual friend whose tweets have kept you laughing for months.
The advantage of these new systems is flexibility. Users who prefer privacy can choose enhanced blends of information portals and satellite navigation–type functions. On the other hand, social networking fans can dive right in to frolic in the cloud.