I miss Vindigo. I used it constantly on my Palm V, and once it came to Verizon’s deck, I used it every day.
My home, office and other important locations were saved, so Vindigo was always where I wanted it to be. And I loved that you could enter in any cross street or zip code and immediately get great, localized information about the nearest restaurants, movies or a dozen other categories – even bathrooms, so take that George Costanza!
Vindigo even had restaurant reviews from the NY Times.
Fast forward five years. There’s no more Vindigo. Google has mapped the world and not surprisingly, it’s their applications I use every day, whether directly through Google Maps or via other location based services.
Free mobile applications like Around Me, Citysearch, Travel Channel, Where and Yelp, are all helpful when you’re on the go. But which are the most user friendly, the most informative, the best curated? Is there an über-tool?
While on a sightseeing trip to George Washington’s house in Mt. Vernon, VA, I got hungry. So out came the iPhone.
Travel Channel’s GO application suggested that I eat at places like Baskin Robins and Dominos Pizza.
Yelp came back with a number of non-chain restaurants, including a Mexican and a Thai spot. Much better.
Another handy travel app, called Around Me covers a variety of categories like restaurants, bars, hotels, banks, movie theaters, taxis and more. They don’t specialize in food like Yelp, but Around Me’s restaurant choices seemed okay. There were no reviews to go by, but in a place like Mt. Vernon, few restaurants are reviewed anyway.
My travels next took me to southern California.
I entered my flight information in both Expedia and TripIt, expecting to receive text message alerts pertinent to my flights. Expedia worked fine on the first half of the trip, giving me the appropriate heads up that my plane was leaving in a few hours, including the flight number, gate, etc. But on the way home there was no advance reminder. Instead, Expedia sent an alert after the flight departed.
TripIt has a similar service. However, TripIt’s application would not successfully recognize my itinerary. It had everything right on the website, but when I tried it, the mobile application didn’t make the connection.
Once in California, the biggest challenge was AT&T. It seemed like fifty percent of the time I struggled to get two bars. It was much worse in Los Angeles than what I’m used to in Manhattan, but while everything was slow, it didn’t keep the phone from functioning.
When it comes to both food and the bar scene, Yelp is hard to beat, simply because it has more users than any of its competitors. Yelp is based on user ratings, not unlike Zagat, the once-upon-a-time bible of food guides, which currently charges $9.99 for its iPhone application.
Try searching for the same restaurant on Yelp and other popular tools like Open Table and Urban Spoon. Yelp usually has the most reviews by far, which translates into important information. It was Yelp that got me to Richard Walker’s Pancake House in San Diego, a famous joint that served the best apple pancakes I ever had.
For other categories like shopping, theaters, parking or gas stations, you can continue to use Yelp, but there are other options worth trying. Around Me is especially solid and Where’s clean design is also useful.
Trip Advisor is like Yelp for hotels, while also offering restaurant and flight information. Though the design feels a bit dated already and could use more sections, the content that Trip Advisor provides is good and the reviews are helpful.
Hear Planet is a fun application that incorporates audio descriptions and specializes in places of interest and historical landmarks.
Frommer’s is still stuck in the world of books, though paying $5 for one of their city guides is a third the price of a paperback.
Travel Channel GO combines promotion of their TV shows with aggregated location based feeds from a number of sources, including Citysearch. The results are not edited and Travel Channel’s listings are hard to read.
Citysearch recently came out with an app of its own. Unfortunately it’s a letdown and doesn’t really add anything new to the space. There are also problems with the navigation, which forces you to open a category section when you don’t want to.
So where do we find ourselves in the search for the ultimate travel companion? Getting the content listings is not the problem. A human touch is what’s often missing. The editorial brains behind the automated feeds.
Think of how to give your product more of a voice. Figure out ways to enhance navigation and provide better discovery, even on services with lots of user participation. Fill in blank spots. Become an indispensible tool.
Also add deeper content where it makes sense. For example, maybe a user wants to know all about Yankee Stadium. Read old news clippings. Watch construction videos. That doesn’t mean they also want enhanced information about the nearest CVS.
There are many travel and location based services out there, some free, some not. The information they provide is fantastic, but the trek is not over yet.
This article can also be found at Mobile Marketer.