If you’ve ever tried to find a parking spot in Manhattan, you know just how time-consuming it can be. Instead of rearranging your morning — or, if you’re visiting, your entire itinerary — around the search, you can now rely on Primo Spot, an app that provides you with a 3-D map of nearby parking spots and garages.
What started as an iPhone phenomenon — download an application to perform a special function — has turned into a digital revolution. Today, every traveler knows that carrying an app-loaded phone can transform everything from planning a trip to navigating a new city. In fact, many of us depend on apps so much that we can hardly choose a restaurant without one — near or far from home.
Now, with more than 200,000 titles, the iPhone leads the pack. But its competitors are quickly gaining ground: at press time, Google’s Android Market had about 60,000 programs. BlackBerry is close behind with more than 10,000 — and counting. And then there’s the iPad: not a smart phone but a versatile (and glamorous) e-reader poised to take apps even more mainstream.
Though the first travel-focused smart-phone programs were mainly gateways to existing websites or stand-alone guidebooks, today it’s all about location, location, location. Most new titles — from restaurant finders and shopping tools to turn-by-turn navigation programs — use the average smart phone’s built-in GPS to help find nearby points of interest.
One standout is Navigon ($25): it features text-to-speech directions, real-tie traffic updates, and interesting spots along your route. Another is Trapster (free), which helps you avoid traffic tickets; it’s not quite a radar detector, but the GPS-enabled system gives you warnings abut speed traps, cameras at intersections, and common police waiting areas — all laid out on a map. There’s also the unfortunately named Sit or Squat (free) for nearby restrooms.
There are also plenty of non-GPS-enabled apps that improve the travel experience — whether you’re just starting to plan your trip or are already on the road. The mobile version of the website TripIt (free), by far the most useful travel planning and management service online, accesses flight, hotel, restaurant, and any other information you’ve entered into the “My Trips” section of the site.
And of course Travel + Leisure is in the app game with our free Weekend Getaway app on the iPhone and our free Packing Checklist app for the BlackBerry (available in Verizon’s VCast store).
Whichever apps you choose to help you in your travels, one thing is clear: The world around you has never been more annotated — or accessible.