This past week an extended business trip to Providence, Rhode Island – a city I had never visited, coupled with a group of fellow conventioneers with whom I had little or no previous knowledge — led me to rely almost purely on my iPhone for navigation, restaurants, event opportunities, and . . . contact with my expanding online community. Here are 10 free Apps that, today, I appreciate and think could add value to your next travel experience, whether you’re going to to a new chow spot in your neighborhood, or taking off on a cross-country trek.
Some people might want to break their App love into the same, or similar, categories Apple uses to organize them, but for me, I am going to keep it simple: 10 apps that made my iPhone the second most important tool on my trip. It was second only to my iPhone charger. Period.
10. Phone. Yes I list the phone utility of iPhone as an App. It was the least used of the tools on my Swiss Army Phone, and it helped me connect dots and people as needed. But to be honest, even Messages got more use than the traditional mobile phone tool.
9. JetSet Lite. This is a fantastic tool to help you track expenses on the fly. I have now used it for three consecutive trips and it has proven to be amazingly useful. It provides a simple, clean, complete menu that is totally visual. Let me be honest: it is eye candy for business travelers. I hate hate hate dealing with travel receipts and expense reports, and this App made it fun even for me. In 16 years of business travel, I have never put the words, “expense reports” and “fun” in the same zip code. Until now.
8. Open Table. Three different evenings we found ourselves looking for a different place to eat. On the first of these occasions, my two colleagues and I were dragging ourselves back to Providence from an evening event in Newport, and wanted comfortable digs and comfortable food. Thanks to the faster 3G network seemingly available everywhere except where I live (more on this later), I downloaded the Open Table App, searched for a restaurant, read reviews, made a reservation, and mapped us to the restaurant. In less than five minutes, no exaggerating. I felt powerful, and Gracie’s Restaurant proved to be a highlight of our trip.
7. Pandora. About midway through our trip, I needed to lift my mood dramatically. While trying to reduce my 360 email inbox to a digestible number of messages, I queued up my “Earth, Wind & Fire” channel and the steady stream of ‘70s and early ‘80s R&B simply took me to another place. I ripped off about 100 emails in an hour, and most of them even got reasonable responses. It changed the rest of my day. The backstory is that I had sampled six other channels, but couldn’t find one that matched my mood and need for pure feel-good energy. This included creating two new stations in the process. Pandora allowed me to keep searching, far beyond my iPod App’s pre-owned capabilities. That made all the difference. My musical DNA is scientifically documented!
6. Facebook. What can I say . . . why use “reasonable facsimiles” when the original is superb? This is how I keep up with my peeps. I drive HootSuite (free from my laptop), TweetDeck (free from my iPhone), and Facebook-direct content to my closest friends, family, and colleagues using this great app. It was the linchpin and absolutely helped me stay connected, importantly, during an extra day and a half of weather-delayed travel.
5. Siri. I read about this on @Mashable, and took a quick look because, well, I was in a session that was actually encouraging us to explore social networking tools. Having read some hype, I thought I was in a no-lose environment that would allow me to explore this App and see what the fuss was all about. It has a sexy interface and was billed as a personal valet or concierge. Okay, you had me at “What can I help you with?” I love nothing so much as being served. If you are familiar with AroundMe App, you’ll be in familiar territory, but Siri has a smoother interface and more granular control of what you seek. I particularly love that it provides your options for everything from food to local events within four taps of your screen. And did I mention that it offers voice prompts too.
4. Foursquare. Wow. @cherylsmith999 first told me about this. It took me a couple days around the house to even decide whether I liked it, but on the road, it absolutely rocked. And it showed me some opportunities for integration into my business. This was probably my “MVP” as I began to take great delight in tagging every venue, eatery, and airport I visited during the trip. Its ability to integrate User Generated Content (UGC) and provide tips about places you’re visiting can save you money, share insider/local knowledge to make your visit optimal, and more, made it the most fun App. So why wasn’t it first in my ranking?
For all the power and on-demand content available, I couldn’t easily figure out how to connect with my other friends, find an archive of my own visits, or easily ensure all my “Pings,” “Shout Outs,” and “Check Ins” were actually being documented. But this App – once I either figure it out or it gets some bugs fixed – has real power potential.
3. Word Warp. I like to spell and I have lots of five minute gaps in which nothing productive can be accomplished. I like to compete, and if you can play with the sound on, it has phenomenal gonging sounds in the last five seconds. The game is simple, and so is the need to own it.
2. TweetDeck. I took my Twitterdiction to a new level at this conference because so many of the phenomenal speakers use it, and because I was at the front of the audience in terms of knowledge and use of Twitter. This is how I came to know and follow those amazing social media power users, and the way I keep my Facebook community updated. I like the dark screen version rather than the light version, and I track Following, Mentions, Direct Messages, and my favorite Twitter list, Good-For-A-Laugh, there.
1. Sirius/XM Radio for iPhone SKYDOCK. I am simply astounded how much this improves the XM experience in my car. And since the airport was two hours from home for this trip, XM made the difference between a mind-numbing trip and a frisky dance down the highway to Raleigh-Durham International Airport. Yes, you need the cigarette-lighter-powered dock to use the App, but as a subscriber since about 2002, I am already committed. This App and dock BLOW AWAY the sound compared to my former units, Tao MyFi, Pioneer Inno, and Delphi SkyFi3. It clears up several cords from the armrest/cupholder area of my car and returns my cupholders to their original purpose.
And now, two bonus apps I discovered late on my trip and since I have returned:
12. Dragon Dictation. A colleague uses the traditional Dragon software and recorder, and has found it invaluable for recording minutes and notes from meetings while traveling. I never felt its price tag merited the investment personally, but when I found a FREE App for my iPhone it became a quick friend for me. I might actually document all the stuff I think about while traveling now. You need to speak clearly, and moderate your pace. When I did, it was a homerun, with zero errors in a 20-30 word message. Once recorded, it turns your voice into typed text, which you can then email or MMS to yourself or others. I haven’t fully explored it, but I know it will serve me well. This App, leveraging the iPhone’s built-in voice recording technology, represents a $200 savings over the stand-alone software/recorder package.
11. NBC Olympic Cheer. Having used Siri to find a great sports bar, Foursquare to document where I was and look for tips on enjoying the venue better, and Facebook and Tweetdeck to stay connected to my peeps online, I enjoyed the Super Bowl as much as a solo act can. But with football season over, only the upcoming Olympics brightens my sports radar screen. So enjoy the sheer fun of using your iPhone to provide annoying ongoing commentary and sound effects for your enjoyment.
Rousing closer: AT&T you don’t deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as Apple. But since you are their exclusive partner in the United States, let me simply say this: get off your lazy duffs and get the stinking 3G network up and running in MY market: Lynchburg, Virginia. Thanks.