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The original world nomad "Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance." - Confucius.

10 travel apps to plan your trip

AUSTRALIA | Saturday, 19 December 2009 | Views [6103]

Travel these days inevitably starts with Google, which for people who like to organise their own travel arrangements is wonderful in that it enables you to find and book the most obscure little experts or services that had no chance barely 10 years ago, even if all they have is a handful of hand-crafted web pages on some dodgy server. Certainly none of the people we have organised through has anything flash, but a few pages, an email address and an English Language ability are pre-requisites.

On my last trip barely six months ago I was disappointed at the range of useful travel applications available on the iPhone, but how quickly the technology world can move, and now there are heaps of useful ones, although perhaps not the ones you might have anticipated.

Evernote would be my number one service. At first glance it is simply a note-taking applications but what these people have done is perhaps more profound than it seems at first blush. They have a range of applications you can install on your home computers and a nice iPhone app ... and more importantly, these all synchronise with each other. So, what does that do for travel planning? Well, what this allows you to do is your planning from your desktop, in fact from all your desktops (home, office) and even between Yuki and I. And here's the best part: all of this travel planning is instantly synchronised with your iPhone so that when you depart you can just pick it up and take all your detailed travel plans with you.

Like what? Well, cut and past your flight booking, your hostel emails, web pages about things to do, important phone numbers or a list of places to eat. And there you have your custom guidebook plus more instantly with you while you are on the road.

SketchBook by those clever people at AutoDesk or Brushes are the most awesome painting programs for the iPhone. For people who love to draw when they travel. It's fun and easy, the only drawbacks are the screen glare during the harsh light of day (something good old fashioned pencil and paper doesn't encounter) and the inevitable battery life. Still, as with digital photography, this can be a great ice-breaker and non-language communication tool when playing with local kids.

Pano is a clever little photo app that stitches together a sequence of images taken with the iPhone's camera to remarkable effect. Again, out in the harsh light of day screen glare can make it almost impossible to use since you are unable to align each image with the one previously taken, and it's useless for people pictures, but for panoramic landscapes especially in the early morning it is a quite remarkable little gadget.

Unlike Facebook Tumblr is a micro-blogging app and is clever in that you an post things into it offline and then post them to you blog in one go once you get to a WiFi connection. Lessons here.

World Nomads Arabic language guide - better than nothing but not nearly comprehensive enough.

All of the following sound like a good idea but I reckon are years away from being practical for travel as they all require a mobile data connection. Of course there is Flickr for you travel photographers and Skype which sounds like it should be useful and promise cheap calls to anywhere while travelling ... the only problem being that mobile data would make it cost prohibitive, and local WiFi networks are either too slow or they ban the use of Skype as it sucks up all the available bandwidth to the detriment of everyone else. Wikime - would be an excellent travel encyclopedia except it doesn't work without a connection. It would be useful if you could save the Wiki entries for offline use but it doesn't work that way.

Tweetie is my favourite Twitter app and works well at home but is useless for anything without a data connection and you can't do anything offline. iTranslate sounds like it should be useful but doesn't (can't) work offline because it harnesses Googles translate api. Makes it bloody useless then. Firepin or Iamsafe are useless as neither work when no internet connection so Iamsafe in particular is a joke. Brightkite or Foursquare - dont' work without mobile data and Travel 'guides' like Tripwolf don't work offline. Lonely Planet can garner as much publicity as they like with their augmented reality iPhone app but has anyone in the company actually tried to use it while travelling I wonder?

But oh dear, the iPhone as a travel device? Not anytime soon it seems. The day before I left I had a delightful phone call from Vodafone enquiring if I realised my current bill was over $700? (up from a normal $40 per month). Er, no. The device, so they claim, had been accessing the internet every 15 minutes for the last few weeks and this was all my responsibility apparently.

Having had this situation earlier in the year, paid the bill, complained and heard nothing more, I didn't find this particularly acceptable, and I declined an offer of a 50% discount on this bill. For example, if they can provide such wonderful customer service when the bill hits $700, why on earth can't they do the same when the bill is a mere three times over the normal usage? And since I have wireless networks at both home and the office, how come it has been accessing internet data on 3G constantly, even when I'm asleep? What app for example has been doing this magical connecting?
Vodafone don't provide any detail, other than the large bill of course.

More importantly, what are they thinking? That customers will quite routinely accept bills 15 times normal a couple of times a year? If they want to kill off user acceptance of access to new technology, they are certainly going about it the right way ... and that's just at home. Does anyone for a second think that mobile data when you are travelling is even close, when they can't even get it right at home? The first thing I did the next day was replace the vodafone SIM with a GoSIM travel sim - then at least I can use the iPhone to make calls without risk of returning home bankrupt.

But the downside, of course, is that I equally can't (or won't) test how effective some of the iPhone apps are when you are travelling. In Cairo I would have loved to use Google maps to find my way around, or wikime to locate useful historical data, or Tweetie to tweet about the 110kg of gold on King Tut's sarcophagus ... but alas, this technology is years and years away from being practical or commercial.

And all three trips in the last year all draw the same conclusion. So half of my favourite apps work offline as well as online: think Pano, Evernote, World Nomads Arabic language guide, Sketchbook, Postino and maybe that's the trick. The travel apps that need online connectivity and roaming data like Google maps, WikiMe, Flickr and others are just years away and aren't even worth thinking about at this point in time.

Tags: iphone, mobile, trip planning

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