The Apple and Android online stores have pages and pages of creative travel apps, making it overwhelming to figure out which ones are worth your time.
From easy-to-use hotel booking tools to smart ways to
book a private car, here are my five
favourite free apps that
launched this year:
Evernote, the note-taking app with
10 million users, recently launched a food-specific spin-off called Evernote Food, to help people
"capture, share and re-live" their favourite meals. This app is
especially useful for travellers given that meals take pride of place in many
people's vacation memories.
Say you visit Milan and stumble
into an excellent restaurant like Trattoria Masuelli. Use the app to snap a
photo of your risotto (or of the menu); write a note about the tastiness of the
Carnaroli rice in the dish (or about the chandeliers on the ceiling); and add
to your note the restaurant’s name, location and contact details by searching
for the information in the app's database. Then, whenever a friend wants a
recommendation of where to eat in Milan, you can search on the words
"Milan" or “risotto", find your note and share the information
with them easily. Any text in your photos is also searchable, such as the words
on a menu that has been photographed. You can also share your notes via
Twitter or Facebook.
It took a long time, but Expedia, the
site that sells more hotel rooms than any other online travel agency, finally
created a hotel booking app this year. The wait was worth it, because the app
is a well designed, efficient way to find and reserve a night's stay on the
fly. No wonder Expedia
Hotels quickly became the most downloaded travel app in dozens of
countries. As of today, it's also the only app that has been customised for the
iPad and Android tablets.
The "Best Of…" app find
recommendations of the best places to drink, eat and sample culture in more
than 10,000 spots in 32 US cities. The app was created by owners of New York's
Village Voice newspaper, and an independent, youth-oriented edge is noticeable
in the reviews. The app also stands out for having "best of" picks
that are primarily chosen by professional reviewers, unlike the restaurant and
bar recommendations found on user-generated apps like Yelp, Urban Spoon and
Cab-related apps have exploded in popularity this year.
But when it comes to booking private cars -- a task that's particularly
relevant for travellers heading to airports -- Uber is the most intuitive and helpful
app available. Currently covering only a half dozen US cities (NYC, Chicago,
Boston, San Francisco/Palo Alto, Seattle, Washington DC), plus Paris, the app
should grow quickly next year because it recently won more than $30 million in
funding to expand.
Audio guides have long provided helpful narration of the artwork in museums. New
app Broadcastr aspires to do
something similar: provide audio guides for walking around outdoors at a
destination. The app "crowd-sources" audio stories about the
landmarks in popular tourist areas of major cities. Anyone can leave an audio
note about an attraction and pin it on an online map that's shared for playback
via web or smartphone.
Imagine you've downloaded the app,
and you're playing music on your smartphone while you stroll down a street in
London's West End theatre district. As you pass a major landmark, your phone
may switch off your music and turn on an audio recording of a person describing
a landmark you're passing. The recorded material might be from a celebrity,
such as comedian Ricky Gervais, or it might be from an ordinary person. To make
sure you hear only relevant information, you can set the app's filters to only
share audio about your favourite topics, such as food or architecture.
Broadcastr also curates audio clips to make sure they're worthy of the general
listeners' time. A big drawback to the app is that there are only 14,000 audio
recordings so far, mostly in New York City, San Francisco and London. But the
app -- and the concept behind it -- is promising.
What’s your favourite travel app? Let us know by via Twitter or Facebook.
Sean O'Neill is
the travel tech columnist for BBC Travel