On a recent trip to Marrakech, the team behind smart travel app Triposo stayed in an old town without any real streets or street signs, and the few existing signs were in Arabic. Even finding a place to have a beer became a challenge.
Lots of us have been there—not Marrakech, any foreign environment, even one in our native country: You touch down and can't connect to the Internet, and even a simple task such as locating the nearest bus station becomes a problem.
"Sometimes we completely forget what it's like to arrive in a destination where you don't have anything. You don't even know where the train station is. You don't have Internet. You don't have anything," Richard Osinga tells Fast Company. The experience is integral to the Triposo team's development process. "We try never to forget that feeling."
Created by former Googlers in 2011, Triposo and has been downloaded 3 million times to date and the team just released new versions of its iOS and Android apps that focus on building a travel planning experience that syncs seamlessly between your smartphone and your iPad.
Triposo uses a compendium of open sources to create its downloadable travel guide apps for a host of cities around the world. Wikitravel and Wikipedia provide sightseeing information like prices, business hours, and trivia tidbits; OpenStreetMaps provides the backbone of Triposo's maps which, like the rest of the app's content, are available offline.
The app also suggests smart recommendations for what you might want to do or see based on factors like your location and the weather that day. And a more robust journaling function in the new version of the app lets you keep track of what you've done with support for photos, notes, and offline support for your check-ins.
Of course, these days if you're really hankering for an Internet connection while hoofing it abroad, there is usually a (pricey) way to get one. But Osinga noticed that travelers he knows find roaming to be a hassle, which is why he says Triposo, which raised $3.5 million in July, makes offline access one of its highest priorities. Others, including large competitors such as TripAdvisor and LonelyPlanet, have also released their own offline city guides in the past year or so.
But the Triposo team takes it one step further by packing up every three to four months to fly out to a new destination to, yes, code, but also to figure out firsthand what the pitfalls of traveling without Internet access are really like. Hence the Marrakech adventure.
"Sometimes you find the shortcomings of your app when you really use it as a traveler," Osinga says.
Triposo hasn't figured out how to solve for the language barrier problem yet, and Osinga says perhaps it's impossible. It's just one of the problems the team is trying to build solutions for, to the point where a future version of Triposo will like an "alive" travel guide that will truly feel like a companion, Osinga says.
"You can’t solve every problem, but you have to be aware of what it feels like to be lost," he says "We want our app to be your best friend."
[Image: Flickr user JD Hancock]