Will This App Make Sleeping on Airplanes Easier?

Have trouble sleeping on an airplane? There may be an app for that. AIRSLEEP is an iOS app that combines nature sounds, ambient music and “slow wave” audio to hypnotize you into sleep. The combination is supposed to cancel out cabin noise and match your brain’s low-level “delta waves” as you fall asleep. The app itself is free and comes with some basic sounds including rain, beach waves and desert wind, but you pay to expand your “sleep library” with additional sounds such as “monk chant,” holiday sleep sounds (think snow falling and the crackling of a fireplace) and a “control freak” customizable program.

Does it work? There are only a few reviews on iTunes so far, and they are a mixed bag.

The “slow waves” seem to create a good bit of reverse feedback in addition to the ambient sounds to cover up background noise, and the sounds are definitely soothing. When you open the program, you agree to a standard disclaimer that you will not use while operating heavy machinery and such, but also not under the influence of alcohol, which many of us use to help sleep. If you are someone who has used a sleep sound machine with success at home, this might be the app for you. If the wind chimes make you feel like you’re locked in a candle shop, you might be better off with noise-canceling headphones.

Try it yourself at www.air-sleep.com. Sweet dreams!

Going To The Museum? There’s An App For That!

museum
British Museum

Museums have a lot to compete with these days. With so much information available for free online, many people who are less than enthusiastic about going to museums may think there’s nothing new to be learned by peering into glass cases full of ancient artifacts.

But museums are fighting back. Museum apps are available for most major and many lesser-known museums. Generally they give a walk-through of the galleries and what’s on display, such as MoMA’s app, while others offer closeup views of famous artworks you can’t get in real life, like the Louvre’s app that helps you push through the crowds around the Mona Lisa.

Often museums create special apps for major shows, such as the British Museum’s app for their exhibition Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum. This app has interactive maps and timelines, detailed studies of more than 250 objects and heaps of information about the excavations.

As an incurable museum junkie raising a Mini Me museum junkie, I’m of two minds about museum apps. On the one hand, they’re great for enhancing a visit with all those flashy gadgets that kids love so much. It’s yet another way of beating museum fatigue while actually learning something.

On the other hand, it’s a grand distraction. A good museum can spark the imagination without needing extra technology. Take the Pitt-Rivers Museum in Oxford, my vote for the coolest museum in the world. The display cases are jam-packed with everything from Melanesian war clubs to witches trapped inside bottles. The lights are turned low and the guards hand out flashlights so you can peer inside the cases and spot hidden treasures amid the jumble. Beneath the cases are drawers that pull out to reveal Indonesian cut-out puppets and scarab beetles from Ancient Egypt. My son and I love creeping around this place, pretending to be explorers and always discovering something we never noticed before even though we’ve been there countless times.

This is the kind of museum that kids pester their parents to visit. Does the Pitt-Rivers have an app? Maybe it does. I didn’t check because it doesn’t need one. Take note, museum directors: be cool and they will come.

An App For Apps Makes Travel Easier, Maybe Too Easy

Apps
Joe Lanman/Flickr

In the world of travel apps, we’ve seen geo-based, crowd-sourced and sharing technology that has opened up a lot of possibilities for travelers. We can automatically create a travel log with one, find a hotel on the fly with another and map our way through unknown lands with ease. The result? A home screen full of apps that demand to be sorted, modified and updated to be useful. But now, in a new generation that leverages a bit of artificial intelligence, app developers have a plan to make that easier. Gaining a mind of its own, your smartphone can do much more than we ask of it.

Tempo is a calendar app that uses learning algorithms to figure out what information you’re looking for, if not anticipate your needs. It’s a first generation of artificial intelligence applied to smartphones that considers all information sources available to present relevant information.

“After you grant Tempo access to your email and calendars, the app searches for all the tidbits of schedule-related information you have stored in your accounts, gathering it together and presenting it cleanly inside individual calendar events,” notes a Wired article.Going to a meeting across town? Given authorization, Tempo will take that calendar note to “meet client for lunch” and add access to recent email, relevant documents for the meeting, provide parking information at the location, information about the restaurant and check you in on Facebook or Foursquare, automatically.

Right now, we would need to open multiple apps to make that happen. In the future, we may just be along for the ride.

Geoguessr: The Internet’s Newest Educational Time Waster

Geoguessr
Where does this look like to you? I guessed central Mexico based on the Spanish signs and the mixture of dry soil and lush plants. Actually it’s Brazil. The next view I looked at showed the characteristic onion domes of a Russian Orthodox Church. I guessed Russia and was correct.

This is an addictive new online game called Geoguessr. It gives you random Google Street View images and you have to click on a world map to guess where they are. You’re awarded points based on how close you are.

It’s surprisingly addictive. My young son, already a fan of Google Maps and MarineTraffic.com, is becoming obsessed with it. So am I. The best way to wrack up points is to explore a little. Start heading down a foreign street, studying traffic signs, plants, and passersby. They’ll all give you clues as to where you are.

It’s also really difficult. I’ve mistaken Korean writing for Chinese, the Australian Outback for Nevada and New Zealand for Hawaii. No matter how well traveled you are, this game will trip you up and make you want to play again. So if your boss has stepped out of the office for a drink, click on Geoguessr and spend some time learning a bit about how the world looks.

‘Snap Your Stay,’ A New Way To Review Your Hotel Experience

hotel tonight appWe’ve talked in the past about last-minute booking application HotelTonight, which allows travelers to book discounted, same-night hotel stays in major cities across the country. It’s a well thought out application and we generally find that the prices are pretty competitive as well.

The application is back with its newest redesigned version, offering a Price Guarantee functionality that ensures the rates are the same or better than competitors. If you find a lower price elsewhere, HotelTonight offers a booking credit equal to the difference in fare.

But we’re most excited about the “Snap Your Stay” feature, which allows users to upload a series of live photos of the hotel bed, bathroom, view, lobby and exterior, plus one cool feature of their choice to the app. Guests get $5 future booking credit ($10 if their photos are good enough to be featured) as incentive. The app isn’t the first to showcase live photos to assist in a travel review – TripAdvisor has a similar functionality, but it is the first to do so in a consistent manner (meaning travelers will see all pertinent parts of their stay) as well as in such a way that incentivizes travelers to share.

We’d love to see a live view of the hotel, and hopefully this new feature can help us make our booking decisions even easier.

What do you think? Are you more likely to book a hotel if current photos are live in the app, or are you most concerned with price?