Have Smartphone, Will Travel

In 1996, phones became smart. At least that was when phones did more than simply make calls. Today, more than 1 billion people around the world use a smartphone of one kind or another, according to a study released today from Strategy Analytics. That’s one in seven people on the planet. It’s the first time the global market has crossed the milestone, and the number is actually set to double by 2015. While the Nokia Communicator, a clunky clamshell, may have been the first mobile with brains, according to the study, it was the introduction of the iPhone in 2007 that set the market on fire—a blaze that continues to burn brightly, especially with the introduction of iOS 6 and iPhone 5 (mine’s on pre-order).

So naturally all of the smartphones make for a wonderful environment for applications to aid you in your travels. With new applications appearing every day, I thought I would highlight a few that have recently hit the market.

As I mentioned above (and in previous posts), I’m a bit of an Apple fan. Nevertheless, all of the applications highlighted here are available for Android phones as well. (In a recent interview, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt said that Android phones actually outnumber Apple devices four to one. In fact, he predicted that next year there might indeed be more than 1 billion Android users alone.) That said, let’s start with Apple.

Since the release of iOS 6, the latest operating systems for Apple iPhones and other mobile devices, the reviews for travel have been mixed. Let’s just say they are filled with more promise than payoff for now. In particular, I’m talking about Maps and Passbook. As early-adopters know, Apple nixed Google Maps for its own mapping app with this latest operating system. Perhaps it was a product that wasn’t ready, or that creating good mapping programs is harder than it looks. Whatever the reason, the new maps, by most accounts, stink. For now at least. Sites aren’t where they should be on the maps, the map detail wasn’t as good, no familiar street view, no public transit maps, etc., etc. Many are hoping that Google offers an app so that life can go back to normal. Regardless of what happens, I believe in Apple as an innovator. I’m sure their product will get better, sooner rather than later.

As for Passbook, I’m anxious to try it. So far, not too many providers have signed on just yet, but from the demo provided on Apple’s site, its future looks bright as vendors such as Starwood, Delta (which has already signed on), Sheraton, and others will allow travelers the ease of producing tickets and other vouchers right from their phone, all in one convenient location.

Here are few other apps that have caught my attention:


“Wish You Were Here.” The familiar catchphrase from old-timey postcards gives travel that nostalgic appeal. Part of the fun of travel has always been the ability to share your adventures with friends, especially with postcards from off the beaten path. Sure, you could simply post photos to your Facebook page, but that just isn’t the same. With Postagram, you can create your own unique postcard, using photos from your phone’s camera, photo albums or Facebook, and send them to whomever you like, without having to lick a stamp or find a mailbox. Just create your card, customize the text and complete the address, and your friends will receive your one-of-a-kind postcard in the mail. The app is free, and each postcard is 99 cents, postage included.


GateGuru is among the latest apps that work to be your best friend in a crowded, crazy airport environment. Wonder if you’ve missed your connecting flight? Want to know how close you are to the gate? How long is the security line? What’s there to do during your hour layover? GateGuru will help you with each of these questions. The app helps you all along the way, until you reach your destination. Among other services, GateGuru provides real-time access to flight information, and provides access to your Kayak or Tripit travel itineraries. It even contains more than 30,000 reviews of airport restaurants and other amenities.

Word Lens

I could certainly see this app coming in handy during a European trip. Simply open Word Lens, point your camera to a road sign that you wish to be translated, and magically the words transform on your screen. Honestly. I’ve only tried the free demo, which simply reverses the words on the sign, and it works. Each language you wish to have translated costs $4.99. Here’s a video demo of how it works.

SeatGuru by Trip Advisor

While many apps may provide flight status and availability, not all of them answer an all-important question when you need the information: What actual seats are available? As the name of the app implies, SeatGuru helps provide an answer. The app contains a powerful flight status search engine, provided by Trip Advisor, but the real value is in the color-coded seat maps provided for each flight. Some reviewers claim the app knows more about seat configurations and availability than front-line airline employees.

If you’ve got a few favorite apps on your smartphone, I’d love to hear about them.