Goby and TripAdvisor: Two Great Mobile Apps for Your Upcoming Travels

5/28/10Follow @wroush

It’s almost Memorial Day weekend, when thoughts turn to vacation and summer road trips, so I thought I’d write briefly today about two cool travel-related mobile apps, both hailing from the Boston area.

But first, I want to take a moment to remind you that June is Innovation Month in New England. Similar to the Mass Mobile Month initiative that Xconomy led back in March, Innovation Month is a grassroots social-media campaign designed to draw attention to the unusual abundance of technology-and-entrepreneurship events planned around New England in June. Scott Kirsner of the Boston Globe is the unofficial coordinator of the effort, which is now in its second year. He blogged yesterday about how people in the startup ecosystem around Boston can get involved in promoting Innovation Month activities.

Our own Xconomy Summit on Innovation, Technology, and Entrepreneurship (XSITE) on June 17 is just one of about two dozen events already listed at the New England Innovation Month website. I’m also looking forward to the Ad Club’s Branded in Boston event on June 24, where I’ll be making an appearance.

If, for some reason, you run out of technology events to attend next month, there are a bunch of great mobile apps these days that can help you find other fun things to do and fun places to go—not just in June, but throughout the year. I want to write about two of them today: the brand new TripAdvisor app for the iPhone, and the nifty Goby app, which is available for both the iPhone and the iPad.

Both apps are free. Newton, MA-based TripAdvisor, which I profiled in February, launched its iPhone app just this week, to take the place of a previous, more limited app called Local Picks. Boston-based Goby, which I profiled shortly after its launch last September, released its iPhone app in March, and came out with an iPad version shortly thereafter.

TripAdvisor iPhone app screenshotThe TripAdvisor app, like the TripAdvisor website, is great for figuring out how you’re going to get to a place, and where you should stay or eat once you get there. The Goby app is a bit different.Once you’re in a place, it’s a fantastic resource for exploring what fun things there are to do there.

For TripAdvisor’s iPhone offering, the company’s programmers have done the seemingly impossible: they’ve shrunk down the massive information resources of the TripAdvisor website and made them easily navigable on the small screen. This program, which is essentially a self-contained, “appified” version of what you’ll see if you surf to the TripAdvisor site in the iPhone’s browser, includes listings and customer ratings and reviews for popular hotels, restaurants, and attractions in thousands of cities around the world. (In fact, the app is available in 13 languages.)

With all this information at hand on your phone, there’s much less excuse for reserving a table at a bad restaurant or a room at a subpar hotel. But if you do wind up having a bad experience, the TripAdvisor app includes a simple interface for entering ratings and writing reviews. Which makes a lot of sense on a mobile device. After all, why not contribute your commentary while your feelings are still fresh (or raw, as the case may be)?

The only thing that doesn’t work quite as well on the mobile app as it does on the Web is TripAdvisor’s flight search engine. The same flight data is all there. But it’s just a lot easier to wade through the Web-based search engine, refine your search, and compare your options when you’re using a laptop or desktop browser. As someone accustomed to navigating big matrices of airfare results like those developed by Cambridge, MA-based ITA Software, I can’t really see myself buying an airline ticket based on the limited view that the TripAdvisor app offers. This is one situation where the larger screen of the iPad would really help.

Goby’s app, which is a “universal” app designed for both the iPhone and the iPad, works and looks great on the larger device. Goby’s tagline is “Create Your Own Adventure,” and the app is set up to help you do that quickly.

The top row of buttons on the app’s home screen are for finding “cool stuff to do near me” either “today,” “this weekend,” or in the “next 7 days.” Once you’ve chosen a time frame, you’re asked to choose a category of activity, such as “things to do,” “food & drink,” “events,” and “places to stay,” along with featured categories like “spring fun” (soon to be replaced by “summer fun,” I’m guessing). Each category has lots of subcategories, but eventually you’re led to a map showing an array of possible destinations, each of which is detailed in an information box to the right of the map.

The screen shot below shows the Goby lineup of “offbeat attractions” in the “things to do” category for Boston. The closest one to Xconomy’s headquarters is the former Charles Street Jail. The jail was converted a few years ago into the Liberty Hotel—where you can have drinks in a bar called “The Clink.” (Just for kicks, I did an “offbeat attractions” search for Roswell, NM; I was directed to four old ghost towns, but no alien landing strips.)

From the “Details” box for each suggested destination in the Goby app, you can read background material drawn from Wikipedia and other sources, get directions, view photos uploaded by other Goby users, and search for other nearby destinations. It’s all arranged in a nicely intuitive way that helps you survey lots of options fast. And the app includes a built-in Web browser so that you can surf to Yelp or other review sites without having to leave the app.

Goby iPad app screen shotOf course, the TripAdvisor and Goby apps are just two of the more than 10,000 travel-related apps available for the iPhone and the iPad, but they make a nice combination.Together, they’ll help you get just about anywhere, then have a satisfying stay and exciting new experiences while you’re there.

One of my future columns will dig into some of the cool travel apps and online travel services coming out of Seattle, the second city in Xconomy’s national network. The Seattle travel app scene includes names like Urbanspoon, Yapta, Inside Trip, Off & Away, Raveable, Second Porch, Concur, Farecast (part of Microsoft’s Bing), and Expedia (which owns TripAdvisor). My Seattle colleague Greg Huang has covered these companies quite a bit, so for now I’ll refer you to this recent story on Inside Trip. Bon voyage.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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