Where are all the travel guide apps for Android?

Nearly two years ago, I bought my first smartphone: the T-Mobile Android MyTouch*. I’m only occasionally jealous of my iPhone-carrying friends, as I find few travel guide apps for Android. Even after a move to Istanbul, I still use and rely upon it daily; Android‘s interface is fast and easy-to-use, and seamless use of Google applications like Gmail and Google Maps is part of the reason I bought it in the first place. Living in a foreign country means English-language books and magazines are expensive and hard-to-find, and like many travelers, I don’t want to carry bulky books around when I’m on the road. This leaves a perfect opportunity for mobile developers to provide real travel guide content and not just travel-booking apps, especially apps produced by reliable media sources with professional editorial. These days, every guidebook and travel magazine publisher is coming out with apps for the iPhone and now iPad, supplying users with content and directions on the go, but there are hardly any for Android.

So what’s available for mobile travelers from the top travel book and print sources? Better hope you’re running Apple OS…Guidebooks:

  • Fodor’s: Happy 75th Birthday Mr. Fodor, but we wish you had more than just five city guides for purchase (in London, New York, Paris, Rome, and San Francisco) and only for Apple.
  • Frommer’s: iPhone guides are available for ten major cities in the US, Europe and Asia, but nada for Android.
  • Lonely Planet: iPhone users are spoiled for choice: dozens of city guides, language phrasebooks, audio walking tours, and eBooks optimized for the iPad. Android users in 32 countries including the US are in luck: there’s a free Trippy app to organize itinerary items, as well as 25 “augmented reality” Compass city guides and 14 phrasebooks. NOTE: This article originally mentioned that the Compass guides were unavailable in the Android Market store, but they should work for most US users. I happen to be in a country where paid apps are not available and not shown in the Market.
  • LUXE City Guides: 20 cheeky city guides work for a variety of mobile phones, including iPhone and Blackberry, but none are compatible with my Android. Bonus: the apps come with free regular updates and maps that the paper guides don’t have.
  • Rick Steves: If you are headed to Europe, you can get audio guides for many big attractions and historic walks for iPhone, plus maps for the iPad. You can also download the audio files free for your computer, and props to Rick for mentioning that Android apps are at least in development.
  • Rough Guides: Here’s a new one: the Rough Guides app works for many phones but NOT the iPhone OR Android! It’s not as slick as some of the other guides (it’s a Java app) and you will use data to use it on the road, but it provides lots of info for many cities in Europe. You can also find a Rough Guides photo app on iTunes to view pictures from around the world with Google Maps and captions from Rough Guides.
  • Time Out: City travelers and residents might want to look at the apps from Time Out for 5 European cities and Buenos Aires, with Manchester and New York on the way. More cities are available for free on iTunes, search for Time Out on iTunes to see what’s available. iPhone only.
  • Wallpaper* City Guides: 10 of the design mag’s 80 city guides are for sale for iPhone for Europe, Tokyo, New York and Los Angeles.

Print media:

  • Conde Nast Traveler: It makes sense for magazines to embrace the iPad, and CNT has free Apple apps specifically for Italy, cruises, and their annual Gold List of hotels and resorts. Blackberry users can download an etiquette guide, but Android users are snubbed.
  • National Geographic: As befitting any explorer, Nat Geo has a world atlas, national parks maps, and games featuring their amazing photography, all for iPhone. A special interactive edition of National Geographic Traveler is for sale on the iPad; you can also read it on your computer. Androids can download a quiz game and various wallpapers; and all mobile users can access a mobile-friendly version of their website at natgeomobile.com.
  • Outside: Adventure travelers can purchase and read full issues on the iPad, but no subscription option yet.
  • Travel + Leisure: The other big travel glossy also has an iPad app for special issues. Four issues have been released so far with one available now on iTunes (romantic getaways) but future editions will follow to be read on the app. Just in time for spring break and summer, they’ve also released a Travel + Leisure Family app with advice and articles specifically geared towards travel and families. The apps are both free but you’ll need an iPad – these are designed for tablets, not phones. You can also read full issues of T+L and their foodie cousin Food & Wine on Barnes & Noble’s NOOK Color ereader; you can save per issue if you subscribe to the e-reader version.
  • USA Today Travel: Most major newspapers have mobile readers for all types of phones, but USA Today is the only one with their own travel-specific app. AutoPilot combines an array of cool travel booking capabilities and information with articles and blog post from the newspaper. Only iPhone users can enjoy free.

Two of our favorite magazines, Budget Travel and Afar, have no mobile apps yet but great online communities to tap into their extensive knowledge.

All in all, other than Lonely Planet’s Compass guides, a pretty weak showing for Android travelers. While iPhone has been around longer as a mobile platform that Android, they’ve lost the market share of users to the little green robot. As Android is available on a variety of phone manufacturers and providers, expect that number to continue to grow, along with the variety and depth of content for mobile and tablet users. Will the developers ever catch up or will travelers have to choose?

*Android has not endorsed this or paid me anything to write about them. But to show I’m not biased – Apple, feel free to send me a sample phone and I’ll test out the apps!

Photo courtesy Flickr user closari. Special thanks to Sean O’Neill, who blogs on Budget Travel and the new BBC Travel blog.

Travel editor Q&A: Sean O’Neill

Until last week, Sean O’Neill served as senior editor of Budget Travel magazine online. For over three years he served at the helm of the online publication of the only US travel magazine focused exclusively on budget travel.

As editor of the Budget Travel blog, Sean executed a perfect balance, providing readers with up-to-the-minute news, very helpful travel tips, and timely sorts of planning information, all geared toward a budget-friendly audience. His work on the blog and other endeavors at Budget Travel has always been helpful, thoughtful, and well-targeted.

Sean departs New York for London at the end of August. Gotham’s loss is The Smoke’s gain.

Q: Describe your profession.

A: For more than three years, I was senior editor of Budget Travel magazine’s website.

Q: What excited you about Budget Travel when you came on board?

A: I liked the magazine so much that I would memorize passages from it. My friends thought I was weird. (I was.) But, hey, I really liked the magazine because it was unpretentious and freewheeling. When the editor inaugurated the Road Trip section (a monthly series of first-person tales about U.S. drives) in 2004 with a trip through the desert Southwest, he wrote about a stop he and a friend made to roll down the side of a sand dune. Can you imagine the editors of any of the other travel magazines getting sand on their expensive clothes? I can’t.

Plus, founding editor and genius Arthur Frommer had the savvy to use reader material extensively long before “user-generated content” became a catchphrase. That tradition continues today. The October 2010 issue will be entirely derived from reader opinions, a trick that editors can only pull off when they have thousands of readers interacting with them constantly. Naturally, readers are similarly engaged with budgettravel.com, and it’s fun to interact with them. Our blog has drawn more than 25,000 comments to date, and the blogosphere has made it one of the top ten most linked-to travel blogs according to Technorati. (Gadling is #1, natch.)

Q: Which of your accomplishments at BT are you proudest of?

A: I’m most proud to be part of a team that has wholly transformed the site. A few years ago, the site was essentially a bulletin board in cyberspace for pinning up print articles. The company formed a team that attempted to apply the magazine’s signature brand–realistic vacation advice told in a conversational style–via the Internet. The team has come a long way toward that goal. An upcoming switch to a new content managing system will allow the site to be as smartly designed as the magazine has become in the past year or so.Q: What are some challenges to putting together a successful online publication in conjunction with an established print magazine brand?

A: The simplest problem is that some editors struggle to cope with how readers are in a different mindset when they’re reading a magazine than when they’re reading online. Metaphorically speaking, you tend to read a magazine leaning back, and you tend to read an electronic device leaning forward. In other words, you’re in “daydream mode” when you’re reading an article about, for example, a farmstay on St. Croix. Meanwhile, you’re more likely to be actively socializing (via Facebook or IM) or actively booking a trip while you’re using a laptop or smartphone, as well as multi-tasking, while you scan one of our blog posts. It can take a while for any editor to learn how to mentally jump back-and-forth during a workday between the needs of the various audiences.

Q: Give us a sense of the contours of the future of online travel journalism, as you see them.

A: First, this year will mark the birth of ‘zine culture in travel media. We’re looking at the democratization of travel publishing. Thanks to print-on-demand services like MagCloud and e-readers like the Kindle and the iPad, any small group of dedicated people can deliver content to a global audience without needing to worry about print, postage, or shipping costs. That’s a huge shift. Look at what a group of clever kids at Longshot magazine are doing in the general interest category, producing a print-on-demand magazine in under 48 hours at low cost. Increasingly, text and imagery that you lay out in a print publishing tool like InDesign can be imported intact into an iPad app as well as into a Web content management system based on Drupal’s operating system. What that means is that any tiny team of people can now publish the same material in a consistent aesthetic across multiple formats–all on a start-up cost of $5,000 or so. Despite all of the talk of the “death of print,” paper-magazine culture may undergo a renaissance if a small army of upstart magazines try to appeal to niche segments of travelers.

Now for a more controversial prediction. I believe many Americans will soon start paying for content online the same way they pay for cable TV channels. I am confident that there are underserved audiences of travelers out there who are increasingly starved for high quality travel stories and advice and are willing to fork over, say, $25 or the equivalent of a one-way checked bag fee. I believe a start-up company will eventually be founded to deliver that set of subscription products to those hard-core travelers, and I intend to work for that start-up. (Interested VCs can contact me via Twitter. Haha.)

Q: Where do you love to travel the most?

A: Rome is my favorite city. Next year, I’m making my seventh trip in seven years to Rome.

Q: Tell us about a secret destination, restaurant, neighborhood, bar, or hidden plaza somewhere.

A: Do you define “secret” as a spot that doesn’t show up on Google maps? If so, then I can recommend a cute spot that qualifies in the northwest Washington, D.C., neighborhood of Dupont Circle by S Street NW and 22nd Street. It has a micro version of Rome’s Spanish Steps, large enough only for a handful of people to sit on. It’s a quiet, shady spot that’s frankly excellent for making out.

Q: Where are you off to next and what will you be doing there?

A: I’m off to London, where I’ll be a contributing editor for Budget Travel. I’ll also write for other publications and take advantage of how well London is served by many low-cost airlines.

Visit 14 unusual animals around the world

Because howler monkeys and koala bears are just so passe, Budget Travel has come up with a list of 14 crazy-looking and odd animals that you can visit in their natural habitats.

There’s the hooked-nose proboscis monkey of Borneo, the google-eyed tarsier from the Philippines, and the Tasmanian echidna, which has a pouch like a marsupial, quills like a porcupine and the long sticky tongue of an anteater.

Some definitely got the cheated in the beauty department, like the female gelada baboon (found in Ethiopia), whose chest turns bright red as her hormone levels rise, and the Victoria crowned pigeon (from New Guinea) that looks like it’s having a permanent bad hair day.

But some of them are so odd they’re actually cute. The hairless naked mole rat (found in East Africa) is almost completely blind and, with its chubby body and big buck teeth, totally adorable. The aye-aye, a caffeinated-looking lemur with independently rotating ears, is found in Madagascar – and is it just me, or does it kind of look like Dobby from Harry Potter?

If you can’t make it to see the animals in their homelands, you can still view many of them at zoos around the world. See the whole list of unusual animals here.

Retro cocktails and old-school ambiance at speakeasies around the U.S.

One of my favorite bars in Chicago, the Violet Hour, can be a bit difficult for first-timers to find. There’s no sign, no address, no windows, and upon first glance, no bar there at all. But if you look more closely at the boarded up storefront, you’ll see there is a door. And once inside it, you’ll be transported to another world – one where cell phones are not allowed, where plush curtains absorb the sound of patrons engaged in quiet conversation and candles provide the only light, where it’s “sitting room only” and capacity is strictly controlled, and where inventive cocktails are expertly handcrafted using ingredients like egg whites, rosewater, and homemade bitters.

The Violet Hour is a speakeasy style lounge. The old-timey uniforms of the staff and the novelty of the mystery location provide a gimmick that gets people in the door (once they find it anyway), but what keeps them coming back are the quality cocktails, quiet, relaxed atmosphere and extremely talented staff. Costing $12 each and taking around 10 minutes to make, the cocktails aren’t for those looking for a quick buzz. But for intimate evenings with friends, a romantic date, or just a darn good drink, the Violet Hour is worth searching for.

Along with the Violet Hour, Budget Travel also recommends several other speakeasy lounges around the United States. From Los Angeles to New York and Cleveland to New Orleans, these hip haunts serve up retro cocktails in glamorous throwback settings. You can “party like it’s 1929”, without that pesky Prohibition law.

Budget Travels’ top 10 budget destinations and a Gadling twist

As you may have noticed, Gadling’s been busy this month with budget destinations. Each one we’ve found deal worthy from personal experience. Budget Travel magazine has picked top 10 budget destinations for 2009. The variety is such that anyone should be able to find a deal to his or her liking whether it’s a particular city you’re after, or a whole country. Instead of presenting them in a rated fashion, the magazine lists them according to what makes them list worthy.

Each of the suggestions offers details that range from what to do to where to stay and describes exactly each place was chosen to highlight.

Throughout the past few years, we’ve had personal experiences with these destinations ourselves. Here are the destinations with a Gadling blogger’s angle. Some bloggers are alumni and others are current.

Closer to Home

Tumbling Currencies

  • Budapest, Hungary–Erik’s first visit to Budapest was after college where he found the architecture and the women sublime.
  • Reykjavik, Iceland–The economy has helped make it a bargain. Although Brook Silva-Braga didn’t talk about Iceland’s economy in this post of his, he did give a close-up look at a pretty wild and fun camping experience.
  • Mexico– If you’re going to be driving in Mexico, Kelsey gave the tips on how to survive the experience. She and her husband drove the length of Mexico from north to south

Major Events and Anniversaries

  • Berlin–Iva headed to Berlin in June 2008 and offers her first impressions. The anniversary is the 20th year after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
  • Vancouver, B.C.–Ember Swift who spent some time at Gadling blogging about her travels in a band, spent time in Vancouver riding the SkyTrain. The upcoming Olympics have the city going through some additions that will add to the traveler’s experiences.

Before They Become Overrun

  • Cambodia–For a perfect way to see Cambodia, Erik suggests a boat trip from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, one of the most interesting trips he has had.
  • Panama–Kent’s version of Panama is from the unusual perspective of the cockpit. He was there during the riots in Panama City earlier in 2008.

Perhaps you’ve have your own ideas of budget destinations, and we have more on the way.