Best travel tech in 2012
In December, Google unveiled Flight Explorer, a free online tool that plots average airfares throughout the year, helping you gauge the best time to book.
Whether you travel for business or pleasure, this list of amazing websites, apps and gear – all of which debuted this year – will change the way you get from point A to point B.
Best new site for booking flights in and from North America
In December, Google unveiled Flight Explorer, a free online tool that plots average airfares throughout the year, helping you gauge the best time to book. Pick a destination, move your mouse over the graph to see typical fares week by week and filter the results by the length of your trip. Unlike similar trip inspiration tools, such as Kayak’s Explore and Travelocity’s Travel Deals, Flight Explorer can sort results so that you only see flights on a particular airline alliance, which can be handy if you’re looking to maximise your frequent flier points. Unfortunately, the tool only works for travel within or departing from North America. Type in a general search, like flights from Dallas to Europe or the Caribbean and you may be surprised by the places you could visit on an affordable ticket.
Best revamp for booking flights internationally
In November, Vayama, a Netherlands-based online travel agency that sells international flights, hotels, rental cars and tours, began testing a beta version of its US website, which lets anyone in the world search for overseas flights in several innovative ways. Try the “matrix view”, which lines up side-by-side the cheapest tickets on every airline flying a particular route; “map view”, which plots fares on a Google Earth map; or a “quick list view”, which presents a handful of the most eye-catching fare sales departing from your chosen airport. Vayama’s beta site produces results quickly, unlike the search on the previous version of its US site, which sometimes made users wait up to half a minute for airfare results. (Vayama plans to roll out similar functionality to nine other versions of the site). Additionally, Vayama has a price guarantee: if you find the same itinerary cheaper within 24 hours of purchase, the company will pay you the difference plus give you a $50 credit.
Most innovative photography gear
Years ago, Joby invented the GorillaPod: a camera tripod whose pretzel-y, rubberised bendable legs can affix digital cameras to most surfaces. In October, Joby debuted its GripTight collection of stands, the first line by any company that attaches exclusively to iPhones and Androids and has bendable legs that a traveller can scrunch into a pocket or purse. There are two versions: the GripTight GorillaPod is the slightly larger of the two and can wrap around objects, such as a fence, to secure a smartphone camera in place. The smaller GripTight Micro Stand can attach to a keychain and – when placed on a flat surface – enable you to angle your device up to 36 degrees in any direction, perfect for hands-free video watching at a cafe.
Most inventive twist on travel photography
Unveiled in November, Memoto is an incredibly small (6mm x 36mm x 9mm), wearable camera that will automatically take geo-tagged pictures every 30 seconds. Clip it to your jacket lapel to catch any impromptu moments of your journey. To recharge it (which you’ll only need to do every few days), plug the device in to your computer’s USB port, which is also how you must upload photos to the company’s subscription-only, searchable and shareable photographic file storage service. From that database, you can upload images to social networking sites like Facebook, your computer hard drive or another storage place. The point of the online service is to have a place to save the four gigabytes of photos that the device will be snapping each day, which could quickly eat up memory if stored on a machine. The Swedish company is currently taking orders and will start shipping cameras to customers in April 2013.
Best tool for tracking flights
When it launched in April, Flight+ (for iPhone and iPad) was named Apple’s App of the Week because its intuitive interface makes it incredibly easy to track any commercial flight worldwide. It plots a plane's location on a map in near real time, and will alert you when your flight is delayed or cancelled. If you need to book a new flight, you can use the app to see upcoming departures at nearby airports. Flight+ continues to be one of the best-rated apps in the App Store.
Best tool for deciding what to do at your destination
Launched in May 2012, Nokia City Lens is a free app exclusively for Nokia Windows Phones that offers the cleverest use to date of augmented reality (AR) – which means layering data like audio, graphics and animation over live video from your smartphone camera. For example, you could point your camera at a street scene, and the image on your screen would be overlaid with cafe reviews, directions to the nearest subway stop and other useful travel information. While the Yelp and TripAdvisor mobile apps pioneered the use of AR, Nokia’s new app makes the technology user-friendly. Unlike those earlier tools, Nokia City Lens lets you freeze the view, so that you can put the camera down to choose your options without having to awkwardly hold your device in the air to continue seeing the overlaid information. You can also click a button called “sightline” to remove any information that’s not relevant to what’s immediately in front of you, and if you have a habit of always stopping at cafes in a new city, you can save that search as a bookmark, making it easier to look for the same thing when you arrive at a new location. In a third unique trick, the app lets you make a note of things you like, so that the next time you’re near one of those spots, Nokia City Lens will notify you. Here’s hoping other app makers learn from this one’s tricks.
Sean O’Neill is the travel tech columnist for BBC Travel