I'll give you a clue as to my typical travel itinerary by leading with this app:
Phone Ranger App (www.phonerangerapp.com/
- Phone Ranger
- Google Search
- Google Chrome
That looks simple enough... so why is there a thesis as a footer? Well, where I travel, we're as interested in whether the destinations will have lions as we are in whether it will have a pizza joint, and cellphone signal is a luxury, not a given. So, given that I really don't want to reformat 100 listings on my site right now, I thought I'd give you guys some insights into tech in Africa (we have a thriving tech scene, btw - dunno how much of our news makes it across the pond?)
So... I need apps that are both useful without data, and capable of 'checking in' on connections that are both slow and have a high incidence of dropped packets. Don't believe anything South African providers say about mobile network quality :-)
My no. 1 'travel' app as someone who works in Southern African tourism is a way to share my photos with the world.
I'm a big fan of Instagram (@nightjartravel) but have emotional hangups about the fact that when there's no signal, the app says 'failed - retry?' instead of 'no connection - retry'. It sounds ridiculous, but given how often I have connections genuinely failing on me, having it printed on your screen is annoying - especially when the actual functionality is "image cached, retry when you have data". Flickr's wifi autosync is pretty cool, but I don't like that the "lazy workflow" ends up with the original and edited photos syncing to my account when I have wifi, and me having to remember to go and sort 'em.
My no. 2 priority is finding new things to see / do and places to stay. Southern Africa tends to not be as geographically compact as Europe of the urban areas of the US (having roadtripped across the Mid West, I know the States has just as much 'geography' as us down here!), so you're not often in a position where an app that offers "pitch up and we'll tell you what to do!" services is useful. The reality down here is that you will almost certainly not 'pitch up' without having preplanned for activity x or y, because the distances involved are just large enough that you can't easily change plans once you've arrived (not saying things are lightyears apart, but you wouldn't rock up in Joburg's Arts on Main district and then walk over to Monte Casino's Bird Gardens on a whim - just too far to be pleasant). So from my perspective, and it's like that for a lot of tech users down here, I need an app that makes pre-planning easy - and given that most of that still happens on laptops down here (we have a ballooning smartphone / tablet market but it is still far from the preferred device), I have yet to find an app that offers better functionality than just going to the source content website. We actually keep oscillating between building an app for our own online guidebook or not for exactly that reason (startup: tight budget so it's Got to be worth it) - we're still not convinced it will offer more value than the site itself for a target market that still prefers to work on a laptop. So, what do I use??
Well, good old Tripadvisor still has the largest database - but it comes with a major limitation in my region: data quality. We simply do not have a large enough technosavvy population with enough income for leisure travel to be able to properly populate a crowdsourced app. Thus, Tripadvisor is great for sussing out the big things - anything with more than say 30 or 50 reviews, but the data quality on the smaller / more niche stuff is poor. This being a structural issue with our demography rather than a tech-related issue, the competing providers aren't in a better situation. As primitive as this sounds, your best bet is to sit with Google (call me old fashioned but I do like the Google search app on my iPad, but I suppose the site works just as well :-P ) And suddenly loop back to (1) 'social networks' are really useful for discovering new things to explore, given that the alternative (dedicated tourism apps) dont have enough data - I pick up a lot of good leads on Instagram! It does help that S.A. in particula has a very active Instagram community, and we're all about the hashtag.
As for note taking - packing lists, itineraries, blogs while I'm on the road, I love Evernote. I suppose there are other apps that offer the same functionality, but I was happy with Evernote from the start so haven't really explored the scene - I like that the syncing is cross-platform and you can pick up where you left off, and i like that I can forward emails with itinerary notifications, and I like that I can web clip all of the things. Really though, I just like that the stuff magically appears on my other devices.
Finally, I used Strut like a man obsessed - held the no.1 spot in South Africa until I bust my iPhone :-) This was not useful For travelling in any way, but very rewarding after Having travelled, being able to see my little lines scribbled like graffiti all over the country!