Travel is changing even as travel has slowed.
But actually that is typical for economic downturns — recessions are times when the pressure to innovate becomes most critical. Some of our greatest technological strides were made during the Great Depression, so the current flurry of new applications for smartphones and other mobile devices is not at all that surprising. Still, the speed of the change is breathtaking.
Travelers are looking for ways to optimize their trips, which is one reason time- and money-saving travel apps are surging. But, by the same token, as BusinessWeek noted in a recent cover story, "Inside the App Economy," there is a lot of money to be made in the world of "bite-size software programs people load onto their mobile phones or tap into on the Web."
As you might have surmised, mobile apps is a chaotic field. Some of the best apps are only available on certain platforms. With so many platforms to choose from — iPhone, Palm, BlackBerry, Pocket PC, Symbian, Android, and so on — your choice of your favorite apps will be circumscribed by the smartphone(s) you are using. BlackBerry and iPhone are the marquee names, so apps designed for those operating systems grab the headlines.
In fact, Apple's App Store recently hit 100,000 apps, making it the largest applications store in the world. On the other hand, with so many apps flooding the iPhone market, only 20 percent are being used.
Let's look at some of my fav travel-related apps for work and play:
• Dopplr for iPhone. Lets you share your travel plans with your private network of friends and business partners; aggregates all of that data in a "Social Atlas." Will soon offers versions for BlackBerry, Android, Nokia.
• TeleNav for BlackBerry. Transforms a GPS-enabled BlackBerry into a navigational gude for drivers.
• Yelp for iPhone. A snarky, user-driven business directory that points you to local shops, gas stations, and eateries that are open when you need them.
• FlightCaster for iPhone or BlackBerry. This one is great. This one, as The New York Times says, "seeks to give passengers a leg up by actually predicting delays." In other words, it uses fancy algorithms to tell you if your flight will be delayed or cancelled long before the airlines will. What more can you ask for?
• FlightStats for Android. Tracks individual flights and shows flight status.
• Zagat to Go for iPhone. It's hard to beat Zagat for insightful reviews of eateries, nightspots, hotels, and shops.
• Worldmate for BlackBerry. No more Post-It Notes! Organizes and stores itineraries, meaning all of the reservation and other numbers, addresses, and details you need for your hotel, car rental, meetings, flights, etc.
• Room for iPhone. If you're really forgetful like me, this app will display your hotel room number on your phone, along with helpful info like which tower it's in (if it's a big hotel) and which elevator to take.
• Flashlight for iPhone. This one converts your phone into a flashlight. Cool.
• Sit or Squat for iPhone. Okay, I couldn't resist this app, not just because of its, ahem, unusual moniker, but because it's actually among the top dozen iPhone apps. Plus it's practical: It directs you to lavatories in unfamiliar locales around the world. Invaluable, if you ask me.
This is only a small sampling of the wave of new travel apps flooding the Web. Next time we'll explore some additional apps, including some that exemplify how apps that encourage user-generated content are reshaping the total travel experience faster than you can say "Cool Your Jets."
Airline Futurist • Miami • www.us.amadeus.com