Lonely Planet’s travel technology predictions for 2011
Load your smartphone up with apps for all your travelling needs. (Chris Beall/LPI)
While I am still waiting for flying cars, a hoverboard and my very own Mr Fusion Home Energy Reactor (OK, so Back to the Future II is clearly my vision of the future), technology is advancing at a scarily fast rate.
In fact, 2011 is going to be the year where travel technology goes mainstream. Have you so far ignored all the benefits that technology can bring while you circle the globe? It is time to get on board.
Crowd-sourcing: The answer to your travel questions
It is increasingly easy to crowd-source for all your travel needs with social media. Want a flight buddy? Use Planely (www.planely.com), the social network for lonely passengers. Want a flight? Just recently, a group of people used Twitter to coax KLM into organising an extra flight for them to get to Miami for the Ultra Music Festival. They found 351 passengers so KLM put the extra plane in the air. Groupon (www.groupon.com) for specially chartered flights with your friends? We would be up for that.
Foursquare has used its massive amount of user-generated content to create a travel guide to America (www.foursquare.com/ifcdotcom). Mediamatic has its own crowd-sourced arts and culture destination guides (www.travel.mediamatic.net). Meanwhile, the Thorn Tree forum is the original crowd-sourcing platform - you would be hard-pressed to find a travel question that has not already been answered by Lonely Planet's intrepid members!
Smartphones: Your ticket to the world
It does not matter whether it runs the Apple iOS or Android. Smartphones are more computer, less phone. Is there anything they cannot do when it comes to travel? Google Maps on the phone provides navigation, as does the internal GPS when combined with navigation software. With a 3G or Wi-Fi connection, you can blog and upload photos and videos from your phone. You can also post trip updates on Facebook and Twitter.
Smartphones will truly take off for travel when the price of data connections drops. In the meantime, when travelling, get a local SIM card with data. And make sure you carry an extra battery or an external battery pack. Heavy usage = dead phone.
Apps for every travel need
Of course, a smartphone is useless as a travel tool unless you load it up with apps. Look for a place to eat on Urbanspoon (www.urbanspoon.com). Read user reviews on Foursquare (www.foursquare.com). Score the best plane seat with SeatGuru's app (www.seatguru.com/articles/mobile_launch.php). One of the apps that has been getting a lot of buzz is Word Lens: an iPhone app that instantly translates languages on signs instantly - fire up the camera, point it at a sign and off you go! This kind of augmented reality is only going to get bigger in 2011.
Lonely Planet has a bunch of iPhone City Guides with things to do and see marked on offline maps. This means that you do not need a pricey data connection to surf your hotel and sightseeing options when touching down in cities from London to Hong Kong. We are biased, of course, but we think they are pretty nifty. We also have phrasebook apps for when you want to order a beer or book a hotel room on the go but do not know the lingo.
All this app buying can get expensive so where possibl,e download them when they are on sale or when a "free" promotion comes about. Or get AppShopper (www.appshopper.com) for the iPhone - it lists apps when they drop in price. Big retailers often discount iTunes gift cards. Wait for the sale to save as much as 35%.
Wi-Fi in the air: The new in-flight entertainment
With more airlines installing Wi-Fi hotspots on airplanes, being entertained on your long-haul flight is now less dependent on the in-flight entertainment program and all about how long the battery on your mobile device lasts! The year 2011 will see more planes equipped with Wi-Fi.
Until now, passenger take-up of Wi-Fi on US airlines has been slower than expected, but with the ubiquity of smartphones and increasing sales of iPads and their ilk (the ultimate travel companions) - and with more competition hopefully pushing prices down - this should change in 2011. For now, if you want to go online in flight, make sure you check costs before blindly using the connection.