All great travel apps have one thing in common: they solve a problem you didn’t even realise you had. That said, with app stores bulging at the virtual seams with software claiming to make your life easier, simply being useful is no longer enough for app developers aspiring to greatness.
Whether they’re cutting down journey times, pointing you in the direction of local food or showing you how to ask after a toilet in Swahili, each and every one of our travel apps has earned its place in this list by virtue of being innovative, quirky or – in a few cases – downright space-age. So browse well, take your pick and get globe-trotting – because with a few of these in your pocket, you may never look at the world in the same way again.
FlightTrack Follow the path of thousands of international flights on slick, zoomable maps, with detailed information on departure gates, delays and (heaven forbid) cancellations. Great for those anticipating the arrival of loved ones, or nerdy plane-spotters looking to up their game. Available on iPhone (Dhs17), iPad (Dhs17), Android (Dhs17) and Windows Phone (Dhs23).
WeatherPro An intuitive app offering weather reports for more than two million global geographical locations, feeding in everything from cloud formations and atmospheric pressure to wind speed and humidity, all in enough detail to leave weather reporters clammy-palmed with excitement. It’s also accurate to the point of clairvoyance, so if you’re travelling to Beirut and it predicts rain, pack your best umbrella. Available on iPhone (Dhs15), Android (Dhs12) and Windows Phone (Dhs13). JetLag Genie There are many theories concerning the best methods for beating jetlag, very few of which are backed up by any serious scientific clout. Still, it’s generally agreed that altering your sleeping habits before a trip is beneficial, and this app will help you do just that. Input your travel dates, destination and usual sleeping times and it’ll come back with personalised alarm clocks to soften the blow when you wake up on Tuesday afternoon convinced it’s still Monday morning. Available on iPhone (Dhs12).
Packing Pro Anyone who says there’s no exact science to packing has obviously never tried to cram a pair of Jimmy Choo stilettos into the same suitcase as a giant inflatable beach ball. Thank your lucky stars, then, for this. Tell it where you’re going, for how long and who with and it’ll spit out a suggested list of what you might need, split into essentials (passport, currency), clothes, gadgets and more, with separate lists for each family member. Available on iPhone (Dhs12).
Sunscreen Until the bashful lobster look finds its way into the style zeitgeist, this is a crucial piece of kit for those venturing to sunny climes. Having detected the UVI rating of your current location, this nifty little app sets a countdown timer to alert you when you’re due your next slathering of sunblock. All you have to do is input your skin type and the SPF of your lotion, then kick back and soak up some worry-free rays. Available on iPhone (free).
Tipulator Leave 10 per cent on the table after a meal in Tokyo and your generosity will cause offence; do the same in New York and you’ll be called a skinflint. Thankfully, wherever you go, there’s this – a nifty tip calculator to help the mathematically challenged split bills and tips while neatly sidestepping social embarrassment. Available on iPhone (Dhs4).
Air Sharing In the cut-throat world of business, time is money, making a seven-hour trans-Atlantic flight a lot of wonga indeed. Thankfully, just because your laptop’s packed away doesn’t mean you can’t keep your eyes on the prize. Essentially, this (admittedly pricey) app turns your iPhone into a wireless hard drive, allowing you to quickly and easily load it up with documents at the airport, then browse and amend on the move throughout your trip. Available on iPhone (Dhs41) and iPad (Dhs41).
TravelSafe Pro A potentially life-saving database of emergency service numbers for just about every country you’d ever care to visit, plus plenty for those that you wouldn’t. There’s also embassy details should passports go missing and – for the truly paranoid – the option to pin certain services to your home screen as widgets, for one-touch access to police, ambulances and fire engines. Available on Android (Dhs6).
WorldMate The closest thing most of us will ever have to a personal assistant, albeit a lot cheaper. All you have to do is forward your various confirmation emails for flights/hotels/hire cars/restaurant bookings to email@example.com and the app instantly generates an itemised itinerary covering your entire trip. Better still, upgrade to the premium version and the app will keep you in the loop in real time, generating alerts to let you know when flights are delayed or gates change. Available on iPhone (free) and Android (free).
Google Goggles Stumbled across an important-looking building? Want to know more, but fear striking up conversation with the locals? Fire up this bad boy, direct your phone’s camera lens at the source of your befuddlement and – as long as what you’re pointing at is famous enough – it’ll return relevant online articles filling you in with everything you need to know. Recent updates have ensured the app’s recognition software and database are now rather impressive. Available on iPhone (free) and Android (free).
Time Out city guides Our apologies for the trumpet-blowing, but we just couldn’t let you go without a little cheeky reminder about our own fleet of painstakingly researched, expertly written travel apps. There are portable editions for more than 20 of the world’s biggest cities, each stuffed with comprehensive insights into the finest restaurants, bars, shows and exhibitions on earth. Best of all, each and every one of these indispensable digital marvels is absolutely free. What can we say – we’ve got big hearts. Available on iPhone (free) and Android (free).
Word Lens Now this is real sci-fi stuff – an app that instantly translates foreign text via your phone’s camera. Though the download itself costs nothing and comes bundled with a couple of demo settings, you’ll need to shell out Dhs41 (via in-app purchase) for one of the language packs, with English and French currently on offer. A tad pricey, but worth it purely for the amazed expressions of awe you’ll draw from bystanders. Available on iPhone (free) and iPad (free).
Better Translator Pro The best-rated translation app on Android, and for good reason. More than 50 languages are supported in text-to-text mode, while an impressive 11 work with the app’s voice recognition function. As for accuracy, it’s plugged in to both Google and Bing’s translation services, meaning results are very rarely nonsensical. Don’t expect to be bantering the night away with the natives or anything, but it ought to at least mean the end of ineptly miming ‘ou est la gare?’ Available on Android (Dhs11).
Touchnote Remember postcards? Those rectangular, papery things you used to use to scrawl down tales of your far-flung travels back before the world went digital? This app-print-service allows you to hark back to the analogue era by creating and sending physical cards bearing your own travel snaps and text to anywhere in the world, for a thoroughly reasonable Dhs8.70 a pop. Available on iPhone (free), iPad (free) and Android (free).
Lost in Translation There are plenty of translation apps knocking around for Windows handsets, but this well-put-together freebie is – until voice recognition comes along, at least – the only one you’re likely to need. There are 36 languages currently supported, plus a useful function that allows you to quickly and easily forward translations as texts or emails. Invaluable. Available on Windows Phone (free).
PhotoSynth While your phone’s on-board camera may be just the job for immortalising otherwise hazy memories from a night on the town, it simply wasn’t designed to do justice to the likes of the Grand Canyon or Mount Fuji. Thankfully, with this ingenious app bolted on, awe-inspiring panoramic shots can be created in an instant – just choose your scene, press the magic button and the app will handle the rest. Naturally, it’s fully integrated with Facebook, so get snapping and watch those ‘likes’ rack up as you post your holiday snaps upon your wall. Available on iPhone (free).
Trip Journal If you’re the sort that never gets round to organising your holiday photos and souvenirs into something tangible to be whipped out at dinner parties, download this one on the double. But this is more than just a virtual travel scrapbook – as long as you’ve got the GPS on your phone switched on, it’ll also create maps of your various explorations, geo-tagged with pictures, videos and notes. A great memory-jogger for years to come – 21st-century traveloguing at its finest. Available on iPhone (Dhs12) and Android (Dhs17).
iMovie Some 18 months since its iOS release, Apple’s movie-studio-in-your-pocket is still the best option for itchy-footed techies looking to shoot and send tantalising snippets of paradise back home. Especially impressive is the pared-down editing suite, where soundtracks and shot transitions can be dragged and dropped to create moving postcards with serious production values. Available on iPhone (Dhs17) and iPad (Dhs17).