Tourist guides are an area where smartphone apps ought to do really well. Books provide a lot of information, but can be difficult to navigate, and for larger cities can be quite large to carry around. Nowadays a lot of people will already be using their smartphone to get a map of the city (made all the more useful by GPS), so it makes sense to enhance this with information about where to go and what to see.
Unfortunately, people seem to be unwilling to pay for this kind of content. A good printed guide might sell for $20 or more, but an app trying to charge that kind of money would probably be dismissed as unbelievably expensive. As a result, the market is packed with free apps that either have little content, or are only interested in promoting the interests of the companies that sponsor them.
TripAdvisor’s city guide apps manage to avoid a lot of this problem, providing extremely useful free guides by making use of the company’s vast database of user-generated content. I tried out the New York City guide on a recent trip, and I was impressed. The reviews and ratings from the TripAdvisor site are combined with a small amount of editorial input to produce suggested itineraries that guide you round the city. The app is well designed and laid out, with links between the site information pages and useful details like transport links and nearest ATMs. One important benefit is that it’s all usable offline, which is a must-have feature for people who don’t have data access when travelling abroad.
The reliance on user-generated content has its downsides. Reviews by non-expert users vary in quality and you have to use your judgement about which to trust. Restaurants in particular are not well categorised, so you’ll find the high-end establishments jumbled in with more everyday fare, making it hard to know what you’re going to get.
The app is free, so if you’re travelling to New York City (or any of the other cities for which TripAdvisor produces an app) then you should definitely give this a try. It’s the best city guidebook app I know of.