Going mobile


More travellers are using electronic guides and travel apps instead of paper guide books.

All travellers know the feeling: the funky bar or café recommended in your fat new guidebook has closed, and the phone number of the best-sounding alternative has changed. 

Seriously, guidebooks are great but they have two big disadvantages: they cannot be updated quickly and they can be heavy. So it’s not surprising that more and more travellers are turning to electronically available alternatives and mobile travel apps. Options are multiplying and quality varies, but the mobile travel guide, instantly available through smart phones and tablets, is here to stay. 


Mobile apps have their own shortcomings: finding a WiFi signal in remote parts of world can be tricky – and what do you do if you are lost and your battery runs down? In their favour, apps downloaded to devices in advance do not require an internet connection.

One such guide that is gaining in popularity is offered by Singapore-based GuideGecko, covering destinations as varied as Berlin, Cape Town, Helsinki, Kuala Lumpur and the Pacific Coast, as well as Singapore itself. Guide Gecko iPhone apps are compiled and contributed by local “Travel Gurus” (including yours truly) and include GPS maps (without the need for Internet), pictures and an attractive, intuitive design.

The democratic, open-source nature of mobile guides can sometimes mean a shortage of editorial control and measured assessment, but it can also mean that information is more honest and opinionated. For instance, a large number of five-star ratings via the TripAdvisor app is a reliable indicator that a hotel or restaurant is doing something right.

Another downloadable, user-created option is offered by EveryTrail Guides for all kinds of devices. EveryTrails focuses on predominantly trekking and hiking options, such as Hiking the Grand Canyon and Hiking in the Rocky Mountains – a localised special-interest niche that may become more typical of mobile guides.

Established guidebook “brands” such as Lonely Planet and Rough Guide have released app version city and country guides, recognising the attraction of electronic searches as opposed to poring over the tiny text of a lengthy index. But judging from the bulging travel-department shelves of conventional bookstores, the demand for the comforting, all-paper, battery-free guidebook is undiminished.

Local view of Helsinki

The main sites of the Finnish capital are hardly secret, but how about a bit of offbeat local knowledge? The downloadable Helsinki City Guide app promises spots that are “special, economical and favoured by locals,” from shopping to night spots and free wifi hot spots.

Text by Tim Bird
Photo by iStockPhoto


Published February 17, 2012

Category: Local features