Whether you're staying close to home this summer or are planning an exciting two week road trip, you can always use a little help getting around. These apps aim to keep you from getting lost, help you find banks, coffee shops, and other necessities, or keep you on track at the theme park.
Beat the Traffic (Free)
Beat the Traffic for iPad is an app designed to help you do exactly that -- beat the crazy rush hour traffic that so many of us to deal with every day. It may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you're on vacation, but it's even more useful for folks who aren't terribly familiar with where they're driving. Natives may know very well what areas or highways to avoid, and at what times, but those who are visiting may be in for an unpleasant surprise. Radio traffic reports may not be much of a help either -- if you're not familiar with the area, hearing that there's a "pile-up on the mixmaster" won't do much for you.
When you first start the Beat the Traffic iPad app, it will ask for permission to use your location. After that it will almost immediately show you a map of the general area, with local traffic information. Highways highlighted in green are generally free of accidents and delays, since the green color tells you traffic is moving at 50+ MPH. Orange signifies 25-50 MPH, while red ones are moving at 25 MOH or less.
Settings are available to activate the auto refresh feature, turn on the optional colorblind mode, to show roadwork and accidents, and to choose the severity level for what you want to see. When you see icons on the map, you can tap them for more information. Weather icons give you current conditions and forecast information courtesy of Custom Weather. Clocks highlight planned events -- if you're not going to that concert or sporting event yourself, you'll definitely want to avoid the area. Exclamation points mark accidents, and yellow traffic cones mark construction sites.
Considering how useful and helpful Beat the Traffic is, especially with the detailed traffic, construction, and event information and weather forecasts, it's easy to see that Beat the Traffic is a must-have for almost everyone. Whether you use it on your daily commute or use it to "drive like a native" when you're on the road for business or pleasure, you need this app. I'd gladly pay for it, considering how useful it is, but it's free in the App Store. There's also an iPhone version.
Street Map ($2.99, many other cities available)
The built-in Maps app on the iPad does a wonderful job, but it doesn't work if don't have a network connection. Wi-Fi is plentiful, but it isn't universally available, which is why it might be nice to have full map information available for the cities you're planning to visit. The "Street Map" series of iPad apps is available for many cities across the US. They provide full offline access to maps for a particular area, including searchable points of interest.
Unfortunately the current edition of this app isn't as polished and informative as I would like. The maps, at least for my city (Dallas), appear to be accurate, but they aren't very well detailed. All of the downtown buildings are shown, for example, but most of them aren't named. You can search for streets by name, and you can also set your own pushpins in order to remember particular locations.
You can search for local points of interest, but the information is somewhat spotty and poorly organized. If you're hungry, for example, you can search Street Maps for a place to eat, but you have to drill down to a specific type of restaurant, like fast food, and then choose a particular brand. Some of the restaurant names were misspelled in the database, such as Chick-Fil-A, and not all of the popular chains were included.
While it is supposedly possible to show all fast food establishments, the Dallas Street Maps app only showed me five spread out over a very large area. Considering the fact that there are four within a mile of my house, it's easy to see that there are some major gaps in this app. The Dallas Street Map works well enough as a straightforward paper map replacement, but it lacks any advanced features and the point of interest information is inadequate at best.
NYC Way (Free)
The NYC Way iPad app has been described as a "comprehensive database" and for good reason. When you first start the app, you will be presented with a home screen with 25 different icons, ranging from dining and nightlife to cabs and hotels, traffic cameras and parking info to transit maps and ATMs. A second page of icons covers dog parks, museums, post offices, shopping, pharmacies, gas stations, and much more. Just about anything you could possibly need or want while in NYC is at your fingertips.
One of the best features of the NYC Way app is the Map Stack, available at the top left corner of the page. Tap that icon to access it, and you will be shown a small map with your current location marked. Icons along the bottom of the screen allow you to add your own points of interest, so whether you're looking for a cup of coffee or the nearest restroom, you can see all of the nearest options quickly and easily. Tap on an icon to get the exact address and phone number, and tap again for more info, which takes you to the detailed information page for that business. From there you can add it to a trip,
If you live in or plan to visit New York City, you need to download the free NYC Way iPad app right now. It contains a wealth of information that is well organized and easy to access. The ads at the bottom of the page are minimal, unobtrusive, and even quite helpful at times. Each time I tapped on an ad I was taken to a different restaurant listing within NYC Way, and several of them sounded like places I would want to visit.
While NYC Way is the only one available for the iPad, several other cities have gotten the "Way" treatment, with iPhone apps available for Boston, Chicago, DC, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco, and London, England. Most of them are free, but Boston and DC are currently 99 cents and Las Vegas is $1.99.
UpNext 3D Cities (Free)
The UpNext 3D Cities iPad app literally gives you a birds-eye view of the city, with fully zoomable maps showing every building. Tap on a building to get the building directory, or if you're looking for something in particular, enter your text in the search box in the top right corner of the screen. The application will "fly" to the closest location and highlight the building for you.
If you're in the mood for something different, tap the icons in the top left corner to search for bars and nightclubs, restaurants, shopping, and recreational opportunities from massages to museums. You can filter by type, rating, and price. An experimental feature will filter your results by whether or not the target locations are open for business.
UpNext 3D Cities for iPad has social networking features you can use with Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare. Additional cities are available for free download from within the app; the current choices are Austin, Boston, San Francisco, and Washington DC. Even if you're not planning to visit one of those cities anytime soon, UpNext 3D Cities may still be worth the download -- the app is just cool enough to provide a virtual vacation. If you are planning a visit, UpNext 3D Cities will help you find what you're looking for and ensure that you know exactly where you're going.
Transit Maps (Free)
If you use public transit, then you probably need a schedule -- and perhaps several of them. That can be annoying, because they get dog-eared and tattered, go out of date, tend to build up in the bottom of your bag, or go missing when you really need them. This app is the solution, and it's a brilliant one.
In essence the Transit Maps iPad app is a map viewer, but it can display any large format PDF, GIF, JPG, or PNG file. It offers infinite pinch and zoom control, so you can zoom out to view an entire city's transit map or zoom in to the smallest level of detail offered by the file. The clarity is absolutely amazing,
Adding your own files is simple. Just enter the URL of the site and use the integrated web browser to find the information you're looking for. When you navigate to a page with a compatible file download link, tap on that link and the map will automatically be downloaded into the app. To make it even easier, several major US and international city transit sites are listed in the app, with direct links to system maps where available.
It simply couldn't be any easier, and Transit Maps for iPad works extremely well. It is truly a hidden gem, and a must have for anyone who wants to view maps or other large graphic images on the iPad. Even if you don't use public transit, the free maps available from transit agencies offer a general overview of the area, including major points of interest such as schools, hospitals, and shopping malls. They may offer you enough to get around an unfamiliar town, so it's not a bad idea to load up whatever you can find before you hit the road. Best of all, it's free.
Walt Disney World Maps ($2.99)
If your summer travels involve Disney World, you'll likely need a guide. Paper maps can certainly be useful, but they aren't interactive, and they can't keep you up to date on how long the lines are at the most popular attractions. The Walt Disney World Maps iPad app can do that for you, along with highlighting restaurants and restroom locations.
Tap on any attraction's name to get more details, including wait times and whether Fastpasses are offered. You can help improve the experience for others with the app by uploading your actual wait times, and you can also see recent wait times for each attraction. You can also search for an attraction by name, if you don't know where to look for it on the map. Similar information is offered for the other Disney parks in the area, including Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios.
Where to Go ($2.99)
If you've already read our roundup of dining apps, this one may look familiar to you. Like Where to Eat, the Where to Go iPad app is designed to help you find local points of interest such as stores, restaurants, government offices, medical services, and much more.
Unfortunately the app crashes consistently every time I ask it to perform a search, dumping me unceremoniously back at the iPad's home screen. If it worked, it would be well worth the purchase price, but I simply can't recommend the app in its current state.
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