National Geographic Magazine For iPad Brings Innovative Everest Coverage

National Geographic Magazine on the iPadThere is no doubt that the iPad is changing our perceptions of traditional media in profound ways. Apple’s innovative tablet has put news, information and entertainment quite literally at our fingertips. As a result, organizations that have been in the publishing and broadcasting business for a long time are now adapting to take advantage of this still relatively new technology. One of those organizations is National Geographic, which has just added a new feature to the digital version of its magazine that could very well be a glimpse into the future of interactive journalism.

Nat Geo was one of the first magazines to appear in digital form on the iPad and since its inception the electronic version has always offered unique features that set it apart from its print counterpart. Some of those features include embedded audio and video, interactive maps and enhanced photo galleries. But the latest digital issue of the magazine, which was released on Monday, introduced a new element know as “Field Test,” which will provide real time updates from various expeditions as they unfold. The first of those expeditions is an Everest climb that is underway now.

Seeing the Field Test in action is quite a revelation on the direction that digital magazines could be headed in the future. In addition to a series of traditional articles about the climbers and their attempt to summit Everest along the seldom-visited West Ridge, this interactive section includes daily expedition dispatches, a photo album that is automatically updated with new images as they are released and an indicator of current weather conditions in Base Camp. There is even a map of the route that shows the team’s location as they proceed up the mountain.

The entire package is very impressive and is definitely a unique way to keep a “magazine” current even after its release. The Field Test is a bit slow to update at times, but when it does complete its sync it provides fresh content that readers will enjoy coming back to on a regular basis, particularly if the expedition happens to be one of special interest to them. Apparently this technology isn’t just being used for the Everest expedition and it will become a monthly staple of the iPad version of National Geographic. Find out more by clicking here. [iTunes Link]

[Photo courtesy National Geographic]

Where are all the travel guide apps for Android?

travel guide apps for AndroidNearly 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.

Warsaw, Poland: an up-and-coming European museum destination

European museum destination
As an EU member with a good exchange rate and low prices, Poland is becoming a popular tourist destination in Eastern Europe. Most of the love goes to Krakow, with its original architecture and “new Prague” charm, but capital city Warsaw has plenty to offer as a European museum destination. While much of the old town was leveled in World War II, the restorations have been painstakingly done and the tumultuous history makes for a great basis for museum exhibitions.

Like Berlin, Warsaw has embraced its past and given the visitor plenty to learn from and new investments mean state-of-the-art attractions and exhibitions.

Given all of the places to see, Warsaw could easily fill a week (or two) on a Europe trip. Here’s a look at some of Warsaw’s best museums.
Only-in-Warsaw

Warsaw (Up)Rising Museum – Warsaw’s proudest museum is a hi-tech interactive experience detailing the events of the two-month rebellion of the Polish people against the German forces as well as what preceded and followed. It borders on being overly comprehensive, the hundreds of artifacts can overwhelm, as can the crowds who line up daily. Be sure to follow museum signs as you walk through, as the chronological exhibit doesn’t necessarily follow the logical path.

Gestapo Headquarters and Pawiak Prison – Two of the city’s most unassuming buildings were once the most feared. Not as flashy as the Rising Museum but equally effective, the former Gestapo HQ contains a few stark cells that once held prisoners to be interrogated and often tortured before being taken to the prison, along with very professionally-done interactive displays telling the experiences of the poor souls held there. Most of the prison in the former Jewish ghetto has been destroyed, but dozens of artifacts and exhibits explain the prisoners’ conditions and attempt to describe the horrors that happened there.


Fryderyk Chopin Museum – Another hi-tech, multimedia extravaganza, this brand new space dedicated to Poland’s most famous composer goes beyond the usual exhibition with a fully customizable experience. Sample sounds from a rare score, read letters to the important women in Chopin’s life, and see a recreation of his Paris drawing room.

Palace of Culture and Science – Not so much a museum as a gift Warsaw can’t hide away, the tallest building in Poland was a gift from Joseph Stalin and it’s hard to go anywhere in the city without seeing the Soviet beast. Though the building is enormous, not much of it is open to the public. It’s worth a trip to the terrace for panoramic city views (see above photo) or spend an afternoon making sense of the bizarrely curated Museum of Technology.

Want more history? There are also museums dedicated to the Polish People’s Movement and Polish Independence, plus the many churches and monuments of the restored Old City and Krakowskie Przedmiescie street. Warsaw’s Jewish culture is also well-documented at the new Jewish Museum and Wola district historical museum.

Well-done in Warsaw


Center for Contemporary Art at Ujazdowski Castle – A few blocks away from the Gestapo Headquarters, the building has a history as a royal residence, medical hospital, and now modern art museum. Some of the most innovative artists in Poland and Europe are showcased here: November saw a show focused on Internet-shaped culture such as a scrolling display of Twitter results for the phrase “Best day ever.”


Warsaw Zoo – In addition to being a nicely-maintained habitat for animals, this zoo has a fascinating and heroic past. Diane Ackerman’s book The Zookeeper’s Wife tells the story of the zoo director who aided in war efforts and saved many Jewish Poles from the Nazis by hiding them in the animal cages.


Royal Castle and Wilanow Palace – Just outside the Old City, the Royal Castle was also rebuilt from scratch and houses a slew of antiques and artwork, as well as excellent temporary exhibitions such as Leonardo da Vinci’s “Lady with an Ermine” and other treasures from other museums. If you visit in good weather, it’s worth a day out of town to visit the grand Wilanow Palace and gardens, the Polish Versailles.

Not exhausted yet? Small museums also specialize in collections of cars, trains, military weaponry, horse-riding, caricatures, and Polish physicist Marie Curie. See the In Your Pocket Warsaw guide for more info.


Arcade Fire video uses Google Maps to personalize ‘We Used to Wait’

Arcade Fire VideoArcade Fire has taken the music video genre to a brand new level with their latest achievement: an interactive video/film by Chris Milk, entitled The Wilderness Downtown featuring “We Used to Wait.” This Arcade Fire video also features something you might not have expectd: the street where you grew up.

Milk, Arcade Fire and Google have teamed up to create something far more personal than say, Elf Yourself. By prompting you to enter the address of the house where you grew up, they are able to generate a music video which takes place on your street and features shots of your own house (if it’s still standing there — mine’s had a third garage added, I noticed).

We love this. We think it could do without all the random windows popping up, but understand the utility of that, as well. The song is perfect for a stroll down Memory Lane and the concept uses Google Maps in a way we had never imagined. For fun, why not enter in the address of a hotel where you’ve stayed and watch the video as it takes place somewhere across the world?

To experience this awesome internet collaboration, which debuted at the end of the summer but seems somehow more poignant around the holidays, visit TheWildernessDowntown.com. The site is best viewed with Google Chrome.

[Photo via TheWildernessDowntown.com.]

New beluga encounter at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium

The beluga whale habitat is one of my favorite attractions at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium. Not only are the oddly-shaped whales incredibly graceful underwater, but with their wide-set eyes, bulging foreheads, and mouths that always seem to be smiling, they’re also just really cute.

Now beluga-loving visitors to the Shedd don’t have to content themselves with just seeing the animals from above or through the glass in the underwater viewing rooms. Those willing to pony up $200 (per person) can strap on a pair of waders and get in the water with the whales, watch as they work with their trainers, and even interact with them.

The experience is called the “Beluga Encounter“, and aside from a few Benjamins, the only requirements are that participants be at least 10 years old and 5 feet tall. Children 10-15 years old must be accompanied in the water by an adult. The sessions take place in the Grainger Beluga Encounter Habitat, a 90,000 gallon, 16-foot deep tank in the Oceanarium, which was built as part of last year’s $50 million renovation.

The Beluga Encounter takes about 2 hours total, 30 minutes of which are actually spent standing in 3-foot deep water at the corner of the tank. During that time, three to six guests get to touch, pet, and kiss the whales and can reach into their mouths and scratch their tongues, which the whales are said to enjoy.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the whales react well to their visitors, affectionately nuzzling them or playfully bumping heads. To keep the whales from being stressed or overwhelmed, the program is only offered once on Tuesdays and twice on Fridays and Saturdays, and the belugas involved rotate among the oldest seven at the Aquarium.