Thursday, October 29, 2009

Google Maps App for Android 2.0

For years, millions of people have used Google Maps to get directions online. The difficulty with online maps is you still get distracted trying to read a map and look for street names. An accident ready to happen, some say. Google has apparently taken note of this and yesterday announced that it's releasing the Google Maps app for Android 2.0.

For starters, the app is free. While many people pay for GPS service from various companies, some running as high as $100 per year and upwards of $200 per stand-alone device, the free app available for phones that have OS Android 2.0. The app provides 3-D views, turn by turn voice guided directions, and automatic rerouting.

Some more features of the Google Maps App include:

*The most recent map and business data - your phone automatically gets the most up-to-date information on maps and business information. No need to upgrade.

*Search in plain English - Even if you don't know where you're going, you can type virtually anything (ie: business name, landmark, etc) into the search and you'll get a map.

*Search by voice - Typing on your phone while driving is dangerous, and in most states, even illegal, so the Google Maps App allows you to simply say where you want to go.

*Traffic view - colored indicator lights, red, yellow, green, let you know about current traffic conditions.

*Search along route - If you need to find a business, gas station, etc, you can enter that information and the App will search along your route so you won't be taken too far off your path.

*Satellite view - The navigation app uses the same satellite imagery that Google Maps uses on your computer, turn on the satellite layer for a high-resolution, 3D view of your route.

*Street View - When you turn on street view you can easily spot your next turn or see where you are in relation to your destination.

The Google Maps App is a great alternative to a bulky stand-alone GPS device. The first phone to have Android 2.0 will be the Droid, from Verizon. And as of right now, the app is only available in the U.S.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

What's Your Favorite Travel App?

What's Your Favorite Travel App?
It seems like there's an iPhone app for everything these days and traveling is no different. And as with anything else, everyone has a favorite to suggest. Josh Clark, the author of "Best iPhone Apps: The Guide for Discriminating Downloaders" recommends TripIt and the Lonely Planet City Guides. Actor and talk show host Jimmy Fallon has spoken favorably of Bionic Eye. The New York Times recently asked its readers what their favorite apps for traveling were and got answers such as World Surfer and Flight Update. But just because those apps work for some people, does that mean they work for others? Does that make them the best? While ultimately, app preference is up to the individual, the kings of travel at National Geographic recently put together a list of the top 20 apps. Here is a look at what they decided were definitely must-have:

At the top of their list was Next Flight. For a mere $2.99, you can track flights from over 4,200 airports and over 1,000 different airlines. Coming in at number two is UrbanSpoon, which they called "the best guide to local restaurants yet," and best of all, it's free. HearPlanet cost a little more at $5.99, but it alerts you to nearby attractions and plays their Wikipedia pages out loud. Need to access your personal HTML webpages, PDFs, text, and other files at any given time? For $4.99, Air Sharing allows you to do just that. Number five is Tweetie, not necessarily a travel app, but it is top-rated for using Twitter on-the-go and costs only $2.99.

For just $0.99, IAmHere lets your friends know exactly where you are on Google Maps. World Customs (also only $0.99) provides you with international dos and don'ts. Wi-Fi Finder does exactly what the name says in over 135 countries and it does it for free. Rounding out the top ten on Nat Geo's list are The Weather Channel, which is free and also pretty self-explanatory, and Google Earth, another free way to figure out where you are and where you want to get to.

As for the rest of the top 20, they are: 11. Packing, 12. Room, 13. FlightTrack Pro, 14. Lonely Planet Phrasebook, 15. Skype, 16. Write Room, 17. Amazon Kindle, 18. Cheap Gas, 19. Babelingo, and 20. Where. For more detailed info on each app, visit

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Airlines and Social Media

Airlines and Social Media
Just about everyone with an internet connection uses some sort of social media to their advantage these days. From businesses looking to boost their image or give customers another way to keep up with what's going on to individuals looking to make new friends with similar interests or keep up with old ones who no longer live close by, social media has become a part of our daily lives. Even my 84-year-old grandfather has a Facebook page. But what about the airline industry? Why haven't they grasped on to social media to use it to their advantage, yet? Some say airlines just don't know how to do it. But a new report by Steven Frischling and Addison Schonland of Innovation Analysis Group attempts to tackle the problem.

The 62-page report titled "The Airline Industry & Social Media - A must-have strategic guide for airline marketing and sales," attempts to tell airline execs what social media like Twitter and Facebook can do for them and shows them how they can go about establishing a presence. While Schonland takes up for the airlines, saying that social media was never designed for business purposes and insists that social media is still relatively new, they do believe the airlines are falling behind when it comes to new trends.

Some airlines have already taken the first steps. Southwest Airlines has a Twitter team that is actively acting on customer complaints each day. It is believed the Twitter account has led directly to a reduction in the number of complaints filed with the U.S. Department of Transportation because of the quick way Southwest is able to intervene.

But the report believes more can be done and it outlines the good, the bad and the ugly, as well as providing tips and a general plan for airlines. For example, the report says an airline must not look at social media as a quick source of revenue, but instead as a way to build relationships with its customers. "Airlines are jumping in and out of Twitter because they can't figure out, 'How do we jump in and make money?' But they can't just "jump in to say, 'We're here!' They need to interact fully," Frischling said in an interview with ATW Online.

Another problem is that the airline executives are not sure whose hands to place the Twitter account in - does it belong in marketing? Customer Service? Communications? Some airlines even leave the work for summer interns. The report says it should span across all of those departments and then some. And on top of that, whomever is in charge of the account should be well-versed in language that is commonly used with that form of social media. With Twitter, for example, knowing how to @, RT and use a hashtag is a must if the airline expects to be fully engaged with its customers.

The report notes that one U.S. Airline joined Twitter in August and sent out one tweet five days later. It ignore 231 complaints made about the airline on Twitter and 186 direct questions. All lost opportunities that could potentially escalate into bigger problems, or even eventually provide the airline with more business from satisfied customers.

Some airlines have caught on to the "interaction" part of using Twitter. JetBlue, Virgin America, and again, Southwest all interact with their followers.

And using Twitter vs. email helps the airlines get right to the point. Customers often delete or ignore graphic/text-heavy emails and miss out on certain opportunities.

The report also notes that social media is ever-changing and what was hot two years ago isn't necessarily hot today. Could Twitter be right behind? Possibly, but it's hot right now and the airlines, just like other businesses, need to take advantage of it and be prepared for the next new thing.

Friday, October 16, 2009

OpenStreetMap: The Wikipedia of Maps

Open Source: The Wikipedia of Maps

When Steve Coast, the founder of OpenStreetMaps, was playing with a GPS unit in 2004, he decided he wanted to modify the map, but knew doing so would be a copyright infringement. That's when it occurred to him; who better to create maps of neighborhoods than the people who lived in them? He thought of Wikipedia, an open-source encyclopedia-like website that allows readers to make changes and additions to entries and decided to take this concept to the world of maps. He began presenting the idea at various tech conferences and just a couple of years after launching his website,, he had over 10,000 users. By 2009, they had 160,000 unique users. Coast, who is British, said the concept initially picked up in Europe (Germany is almost 100% mapped) but he has only been pushing the idea in the United States over the last year and a half and has been searching for a city in which to hold his first American OpenStreetMaps mapathon.

What exactly is a mapathon? It's an event, that lasts a few days, in which several people work on mapping one particular area. This weekend (October 16-18), the first mapathon is being held in Atlanta. Several schools, colleges and local businesses will be participating. Coast said he chose Atlanta because of the interest from city government, local businesses and individuals. According to a press release, the Atlanta OpenStreetMap will be used for a wide range of applications that "include local businesses wishing to streamline location-based operations, students wishing to carry out geographical surveys/ projects, and civic groups participating in urban development projects." Attendees of the mapthon will travel the streets with GPS units marking streets, cycleways, footpaths, and points of interests such as landmarks, attractions, hotels, and restaurants. This weekend's event will focus on the area inside I-285 and future events will be held to focus on areas outside of Atlanta's interstate perimeter. The goal is to see to it that Atlanta is the most detailed and accurately represented city on the website. If the event is successful, with any luck, more cities will follow.

OpenStreetMaps is a nonprofit organization and is free to registered users. Any user can add to or edit the electronic maps, which can be downloaded to many GPS units.

Monday, October 12, 2009

TomTom Debuts TomTom Start in Europe

TomTom, the world's leading provider of navigation solutions, has announced the debut of TomTom Start today. TomTom Start is said to be an entry-level car navigation solution that is easy to use and is specifically designed for drivers who are new to car navigation or who don't often travel very far.

The light-weight device has a compact 3.5" screen and a semi-fixed EasyPort mount that allows it to fit into your pocket, a small bag or glove compartment. The menu is easy to understand and uses a two button interface - "plan route" and "browse map." It also gives users access to the safety camera database's several "points of interest." Users can also download the TomTom Home desktop software to gain access to even more content including start-up screens and a range of fun voices.

"With the introduction of TomTom Start, we have taken another step in democratising navigation by making it easy to use, accessible and affordable, but without compromising on providing drivers with the fastest route. Available in six stylish colours, the TomTom Start is equipped with the unique innovative solutions IQ Routes and Map Share technology,” Corrine Vigreux, Managing Director of TomTom said in a press release.

According to the press release, IQ Routes technology provides TomTom users with the fastest route, any time of day, with accurate travel times. It helps users plan their routes with a database of over 800 billion speed profiles worldwide. Map Share technology is unique to the TomTom brand and it allows users to make their own map changes so that other users may benefit from the corrections made each day.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Lexus LF-Ch Concept in Production in 2010

Lexus LF-Ch Concept in Production in 2010

At last month's 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show, the Lexus LF-Ch Concept made it's debut on the world stage. This is the first Lexus full hybrid for the European premium compact segment, which is expected to be the largest share of the European premium car market by 2010. It has advanced interior design with an asymmetric dashboard, Remote Touch controls, Blacked-out B-pillars, and concealed rear door handles. It also features Lexus' unique L-finesse exterior styling with powerful surfacing and hand-sculpted details.

The inside features a set of concave passenger compartments, aluminum and wood trim, ambient lighting in the headliner and iPhone docks for rear seat passengers, but Lexus isn't releasing details on the powertrain. They did, however, say that the system is a full hybrid and can be driven in fully electric EV mode - an option not available to mild hybrid drivers. It should also feature the the same engine that powers the HS 250h along with six-speed automatic transmission and steering wheel mounted paddle shifters.

According to a press release from Lexus, the car "reflects a growing demand for cars that are smaller and more fuel and CO2 efficient, but with no compromise in levels of refinement and driving pleasure."