Saturday, May 14, 2011

My favorite iPhone apps while travelling around the world.

My iPhone4 is indeed my must have device in every business or leisure trip I happen to do around the world. It is not only my phone (which I don't use much as a phone) - its my map, my source of info when I am abroad, it is my source of cheap communication especially when I am in wifi areas through the use of several ip based services. Last but not least it is my camera to capture my moments.

I am a bit amazed that there still lots of people (friends of mine) that do not utilize the power of the App Store in terms of exploring some handy and useful applications available. As a traveller (not so frequent as I would like to be) I would like to elaborate on some of the must have apps during being abroad either for leisure or business!

Communication - Getting in touch with family/friends/colleagues.

Kik Messenger : It is text messenger (similar to BlackBerry Talk or the WhatsUp messenger available in Android and iPhone). The beauty of Kik is that is free and especially when you are within a wifi area you may send as many messages to your contacts and images as you want. The integration of Kik on the iphone is really excellent and the received messages are similar to the SMS functionality and user experience. The nice thing is that Kik is also available on other platforms like the Android or WindowsPhone so in case your friends/ wife/ colleague happen to have a different phone from you - you can still communicate with them. The app is very simple to use and very reliable. They use a well known ip pased technology for messaging and the overall infrastructure is web based!

Viber is at the moment available for the iPhone and there is a beta for Android. It is a voice over IP application similar to skype but with no video. Eventually this is what I really like - no video just voice and messages. Lately they added similar functionality for messaging (like Kik) so they offer quite a complete solution. Within wifi areas viber performs very well (of course you are always limited to the quality of you internet connection but that applies for everything). I have tested it on 3G mode as well and it is again a matter of how stable and reliable your 3g connection is. Eventually the quality of voice and communication when your line performs well is really great- it just like on the real phone. Sometimes when I am @ home I prefer receiving calls on Viber since my actual phone (cell) reception is really bad on my area and I can not speak for more than 10 seconds. The power of Vo-Ip I would say. The integration and user experience on the iPhone is really smooth (for me is really important) and accepting calls with Viber is like accepting your regular phone calls.

Exploring - Local venues/ restaurants or your finding your way around.

Foursquare: It started as a game with my best friends / girlfriend using Foursquare. Joking about who is a mayor or commenting on each others 'check ins'. Eventually if you pass this stage of playing with foursquare you will discover that especially when being abroad is a good source of finding your way around and getting tips and infos for places nearby. I know lots of people have privacy issues and I can really understand their concerns it is really a matter of choice. It is the same choice we do when we create a facebook account and upload pictures or adding statuses. During my last trip I used Foursquare to navigate and find places like restaurants or must visit site seeing venues, check on the fly for tips or comments regarding places I was visiting for example if the X restaurant is good or finding information like opening hours or wifi reception around the city. Foursquare is a really handy application especially when you are on a tourist mode. You may minimize at a certain extent your surprise or sudden surprises when visiting new places just by reading tips and comments! I am really very serious on adding tips as well since I am helping this knowledge base to expand and of course offer more complete information to any future visitor. So it is a bit crowd sourcing as well!

Heat Tracker by Foursquare: So what this little evil application does is to provide geolocated statistics regarding the check in / trends of Foursquare people and map them in a google maps fashion. So when lots of people for example check in on the national museum HeatTracker will update it's list of hot places nearby and put a mark on your map indicating that several people are there. The statistics are not 100% real time but more or less accurate, meaning that are not update every second but in a few minutes. The application is handy for people that really like busy places when travelling abroad and what to know if there is any busy restaurant or bar nearby. It is really cool as a concept, then again there are some people concerned with the privacy - I can not comment on that - it is a gain a matter of choice. In order to use Heat Tracker you don't have to be a Foursquare user. At the same time even in Foursquare you can not make your check ins public so they wont be gathered (I assume) on the statistics of heat tracker.

Maps, Lonely planet and others: Before starting a trip it is really useful to login to the AppStore and search available applications related to the places you are going to visit. My fist stop would be the LonelyPlanet travel guides. For a quite reasonable amount of money (cheaper than the paper guides you will find in the airport) you can download to your device a whole bunch of information about the place you about to pay a visit. Most of the major cities of the world are being covered by the service. I have tried some of them. There are cases that the information is REALLY good and some other it is considered ok. The best thing though is the fact that lonely planet has an off-line map of the city you are visiting so you can spot off-line - you way around or find related places (if they exist in the app's index) using your current GPS location.

During my last trip to Prague I found several other free alternatives. Some of them were really handy and easy to read or use. So I am encouraging each one of you willing to have a guide on his phone to experiment a bit with the offerings on the App Store and download the guider/app that he/she finds really attractive. The era of paper based guides its over - and you will be amazed how many FREE stuff exist in the AppStore. You will also find several applications related to local information about the city such as city transport guides, museum guides etc - these are really nice to have!

Shrinking your data cost - when roaming.

Data plan roaming sucks.
We all know that when travelling abroad roaming charges are a real pain for you and your wallet. It is very unfortunate IMHO that in the year 2011 to be charged ridiculous amount of money for using the same infrastructure and the same data plan. We all have to pay attention on our phone settings when travelling abroad and disable by default roaming and data communication. There are cases though that your data plan may be handy - maybe because you really want to use one of the apps above and you are not within a wifi area. I have personally did it several times an of course paid the price in my monthly bill. Lately in the EU in order to protect the users/customers they have applied a limit of 60 euros to roaming data charges. So if have been constantly using your data plan your provide calculates on the fly you charges and when they reach the above limit an SMS is being sent notifying you that you data plan is being blocked unless you wish to continue by sending an acknowledgement.

Onavo: I discovered Onavo from a twit of NikosD and I have to thank him because the app is really handy. So what Onavo does is that when you are enabling your data plan (either you are abroad or in your country) on the background will try to compress some of the data going in and out from your application and that results to small data plan charges since the amount of data is a bit less. The application by default automatically detects and compresses data for some well known apps like google maps, email activity,web browsing, foursquare, GPS through the cell, Facebook, Twitter but not ALL. I think they have quite a broad coverage of the well know apps. For the apps not supported no shrinking occurs.I have used Onavo in my last trio and I managed to reduce the amount of data to something like 30-40% which is very nice. It is a really a handy app and eventually you save some money. The reporting mechanism provided gives you an accurate activity map of your use and charges!

I would love to 'hear' your comments or suggestions related to travelling around with your iphone and using related apps. Happy and safe trips around the world!

Links on this post:
  1.  Kik Messenger
  2.  Viber
  3.  Foursquare
  4. Heat Tracker by Foursquare
  5. Lonely planet 
  6. AppStore 
  7. Onavo


  1. [TripIt][1] is amazing to keep track of your travel itineraries.


  2. The bad thing about triit s that doesnt integrate automatically lots of the booking made online , and one have to manually submit them. Otherwise its great!