I do an almost scary amount of travel for business every year. Last year (2007) I spent more than 137 nights in hotels and logged well over 100,000 airline miles. One of the things that makes this amount of travel much easier is carrying a Windows Mobile device with a few must have applications.
First, the device. I have carried several over the years, starting with a Palm, then moving to an HP iPaq 5555/Windows Mobile 2003, then an HP iPaq hx2495/Windows Mobile 5, and now I’m carrying the AT&T Tilt/Windows Mobile 6 device. I have found all of these devices extremely useful, but the AT&T Tilt is my first truly integrated device with PDA, phone, data, Internet, and GPS all supported.
I absolutely love this device and I find more and more uses for it on every trip. The capabilities that I use extensively:
- Phone – Quality as good as any phone I have ever used
- Quad-band GSM – I travel internationally and need a phone that will work everywhere
- Voice dialing – much safer than hunting and pecking while driving
- 3G data – I’m hooked on being always connected
- Bluetooth – It is really convenient to go hands free a lot of the time (cars, airports, etc.)
- GPS – I have become a Google maps for mobile junkie!
- Slide out keyboard – Often it is more economical for me to text while overseas
The capabilities that I wanted, but find that I rarely if ever use:
- WiFi – With an unlimited data plan it is just easier to use 3G
- Camera – The camera is OK, but after a digital SLR this just doesn’t pass the quality test
- Microsoft Exchange integration – Too many IT road blocks
In any case, enough with the hardware, the point of this post is to highlight some applications that make travel much, much easier.
First on my list is an application that I have been using ever since my days with a green/gray screen Palm device. This application is called Metro.
This is an absolute must have piece of mobile software for anyone who travels and uses public transportation. With support for almost every major city in the world Metro allows you to plan subway, trolley, light rail, and even some bus journeys with ease.
First load the correct city. Then enter your current location and the location you are trying to reach. Then Metro will plot your journey telling you what line to take, where to make transfers and which lines to transfer to and how long the journey should take. Metro will even calculate the journey two ways, shortest time or fewest connections/transfers.
I have used Metro extensively on the London Underground system and it makes quick work of finding the optimal routes and directing me to my destinations. I have also used it in the major cities of Germany, in Brussels, in various cities in the U.K. and in many major cities in the United States.
The best part, Metro is a free download thanks to the generosity of its authors, Patrice Bernard & Frank Van Caenegem (with donations happily accepted, of course). You can find more information at the Metro site, or download the software at: http://nanika.net/metro/ .
Google Maps Mobile
Having used Google Maps extensively on the desktop I had high hopes for the mobile version and Google Maps didn’t let me down. In fact, I have become a bit of a Google Maps Mobile junkie. I use this application daily. With its ability to plot near real time traffic data it is a life saver for folks like myself that have long commutes. The only issues I have found with using Google Maps Mobile are that 1) If your device doesn’t have GPS capabilities then the power of this application is significantly diminished, and 2) Google Maps Mobile is an absolute bandwidth hog! If you don’t have an unlimited data plan then be careful. This is also the reason that I don’t use this application when I am outside of the USA, combine the high cost of roaming data charges with massive data use and Google Maps Mobile could become expensive very quickly.
Being an admitted GPS junkie I was going into Google Maps Mobile withdrawals when I travelled internationally. I just couldn’t bear to deal with the massive roaming charges it would rack up. Then I found GPS Tuner and it is now a major must have application for me when I am travelling abroad. Where most GPS/mapping software uses pre-defined map data GPS Tuner uses any map saved as jpg image. This means that you have total control over the area covered and you don’t even need a live data connection. Before you leave on your trip you can use your favorite mapping software and then take a handful of screen captures and pre-load them onto your mobile device for GPS Tuner to use. Of course, the GPS savvy out there should be questioning just how this could possibly work. It is actually quite simple. You launch GPS Tuner, load the graphic image for the area you are in, and then teach GPS Tuner two reference GPS coordinates. Just turn on your GPS capability and click on the map the exact location where you are currently standing. Then walk 200 feet in any direction and teach GPS Tuner this new location by clicking on the map. After these two simple data points this software just works! I think the time that this software amazed me was in Brussels. I hadn’t planned on staying in Brussels, but due to changes in my business schedule I found myself in Brussels over a Saturday. I didn’t have the opportunity to preload any map images, but while walking downtown I came across a map posted on a bus station. I used the camera on my mobile to snap a shot of the map on the bus station enclosure, then loaded this snap into GPS Tuner and it worked great. GPS Tuner has become my standby whenever I can’t use Google Maps Mobile. GPS Tuner can be found at www.gpstuner.com and a copy retails for about $30 US.
This doesn’t really qualify as a piece of software as it is actually a web site designed to support mobile browsers, but it can be a life saver. The site address is http://mobile.flightstats.com/go/Mobile/flightStatusByFlight.do. This site allows you to enter your airline and flight number and get real time flight data, often before the data has even been announced by the airline. Recently I was in Chicago on a layover and it seemed like the airline staff was awfully slow in updating the status board. It just didn’t feel right so I fired up my mobile device and went to this site and found that my flight had been canceled. I immediately left the gate area and went straight to the airline customer care center to book an alternate flight. Just as I was arriving at the customer care center the airline made the announcement over the PA system that the flight had been canceled. A few minutes later there was a line of over a hundred people behind me. The FlightStatus site gave me enough of a jump that I beat the crowd and was able to get an alternate flight while I’m sure a lot of other folks ended up stuck in Chicago over night.
Well, that is my short list of must have mobile apps for those who travel.