12 Mar iPhone European Vacation
Along with the research and planning I did before (long before) I left, I also spent some time exploring the world of iPhone apps. I have an iPhone 4, the main advantage being an electronic compass which tells you what direction the iPhone is pointing in.
This is a huge boon when utilised within a map application, as you can not only tell where you are in the world, via the GPS, but you also know in what direction you need to go to get to your destination.
I would be visiting four cities in three European countires, so I was looking for app’s that could inform me about each city, that could tell me where I was, and that could help me communicate. Obviously, not all these criteria would be met by any one app, so it was a case of bringing a number of app’s topether to meet my requirements.
There was another consideration I needed to keep in mind, and that was the ability to access the information within the app without the need for internet access. I would have Data Roaming turned off for the duration of my journey, as the cost is exhorbitant. With my carrier, O2, the first 4 mb of data costs €4.99 per mb, then after that it’s free up to 50 mb … and why wouldn’t it be free? To get to the free part of the tariff, you’ve already paid them €19.96, for 4 miserable mb! Multiply that €19.96 by the 15 days I would be away, and you get a data roaming bill of almost €300. Now that would not be a happy welcome back to Ireland after my travels.
So, any app I intended to use “in the field” would need to be self-contained, without needing to get it’s nourishment from the Internet. The list of app’s I eventually settled on are below:
- Lonely Planet: Venice
- Guidepal: Venice
- iTranslate (Italian, French)
- Google Places
- Google Earth
- British Airways
- RATP Lite (French Metro map)
Despite it’s position at the bottom of the list, OffMaps2 was the total star of the show. It’s a mapping application that allows you to access maps without access to the Internet, which the built-in Google Maps does not. You can pay for each map separately, or like I did, go for the flat-rate €4.99 option and download as many as you want. I grabbed maps for Paris, Milan, Venice and Edinburgh. The region you pick is quite specific, due to size restrictions, but the area covered by each is sufficient for most uses. As well as map data, you can also choose to download Wikipaedia articles for later offline use, to go with each map you’ve downloaded. Aside from the Wiki articles, there are also built-in guides for many locations on each map, and of course a location search function.
OffMaps2 had another huge advantage over Google Maps, even the website version, in that it had extensive information on transport options, such as Metro and bus stops, etc.That turned out to be extremely useful in Paris when I could use the maps on the back of the bus stops in conjunction with OffMaps2 to locate where I needed to go.
It wasn’t as useful in Venice, due to a couple of factors. Firstly, because of the narrow alleyways and tall buildings in Venice, you had to wait until you reached a square with clear sky before you get a GPS fix on your location. This wasn’t a fault of OffMaps, but it did mean quite often wandering for quite a while in the wrong direction before getting a chance to find out where the hell you are. The other issue was down to OffMaps, and it was the fact that alleys were marked as red dotted lines, making it very hard to work out what route you needed to take to get to your destination. Due to the geography of Venice, you often need to take very convulated routes to get anywhere. The direct route is generally non-existent, as some 16th century nobleman built their house right up against the Grand Canal, meaning you can’t follow the line of the canal (which would make things so much simpler) The Grand Canal is the largest feature on the map, so not being just able to follow it is a pain in the ass.
Back to the app’s, and for all the challenges that Venice posed, OffMaps2 is still my pick of the trip. I barely touched the Lonely Planet or Guidepal app’s, though Guidepal does have a flashy “Augmented reality” feature with questionable accuracy. Activating the “Nearby” function puts the camera feed on the phone screen, with markers for nearby features floating in space as you move the camera around you. It didn’t seem to be able to find that much any time I tried it, and you look like an idiot using it.To be fair to Guidepal and Lonely Planet, they did provide some reading material whilst in the “reading room” (toilet 🙂 )
iTranslate is, as the name suggests, a translating application. It not only lets you translate between a large number of languages, it will also pronounce them in the chosen language. Alas, it needs the Internet to do the translation, so I wasn’t going to be using it as my proxy in conversations through another language. Still, you can load it up with phrases and save them for later use, so it can be used as a somewhat limited phrasebook.
RATP lite is an app from the French Transport company that operates the Metro, and is essentially a big picture with the Metro lines drawn on. Completely useless and incomprehensible and not really a map application at all. It doesn’t tell you where you currently are, nor what direction you’re facing. The maps on the back of the bus stops were considerably more useful.
Google Earth and Places I downloaded for novelty value, and they both require Internet access to do anything. Booking.com and the British Airways app’s were for use in the hotels (with WiFi) to check my hotel and flight details. Kind of pointless, because in the hotel I could use my netbook altogether, but I downloaded them for completeness sake.
To wrap up, OffMaps2 is a great app, with a very reasonable price tag, and it gave me the freedom during my travels to just wander for as long as I wanted, safe in the knowledge I would always be able to find my way back home (or at least to the hotel)