Over the last few months I’ve come across a few travel-related apps in my journeys in the NY/NJ startup world. Now that I’m planning une voyage a Paris en Septembre, I decided to use these mobile tools for my research. I’ve gotten mixed results, and I’m not sure anything will ever replace a good travel book, but there is one app, called MyCityWay, which I think is tres formidable.
The gold standard for travel books, as far as I’m concerned, are the the Blue Guides (Somerset Books, London) series. These are deeply researched, beautifully written texts that focus on the culture and history of mostly European destinations. The experience of reading their Paris volume compares favorably to listening to a knowledgeable and completely unflappable British travel expert. The Blue Guides are the original immersive travel app.
Blue Guides are not everyone’s cup of espresso, but if you supplement them with say, Rick Steves, or Lonely Planet, you’ll have both cultural and historical background, along with the usual top 5 things to see, places to eat, etc.
Back to the app world. I first saw the MyCityWay team at the Launch of BMW’s iVenture coworking space in lower Manhattan. MyCityWay has received more than a few Euros in investment from Bavarian Motor Works to fund a city-specific mobile app for each of 70 locales.
Anyway, I can recall their co-founder, Puneet Mehta, describing his startup as “urban-tastic” and “metrolicious”. After perusing their Paris Way iPhone app, I kind of agree–it is actually metrolicious.
What makes this app so scrumptious? MyCityWay has acquired the geo-cordinates of essential locations for travelers, the kind of information you normally would need to pull out of more than a few separate guides. The My Paris app includes lists of Metro and RER stations, post offices, WiFi hot spots, bank ATMs, restrooms (!), cafes, and restaurants. This is great stuff, and with a GPS-enabled device, MyCityWay will guide you to your destination.
It’s a smart strategy. MyCityWay can’t possibly compete with long time publishers purely on content, so they need to play their digital hand well. Other travel app competitors that I’ve sampled have skimped on the basics. So for example I’ve not seen geo-tagged locations used in WanderFly, or in another app I just became aware of called GuidePal.
To be fair, WanderFly is more of a travel-idea generator. Swedish-based GuidePal as well as NYC-based MakOm (still in alpha) are probably more typical of what’s cooking. GuidePal is short on the nitty-gritty, instead they compensate with lively restaurant reviews that appear to have been written by actual locals. MakOm is supposed to launch later this year, and will also publish content from freelancers and other native bloggers.
MyCityWay chose this approach in its content section, which is called Paris By Locals. Through an arrangement with Spotted by Locals, their My Paris app delivers quirkily authentic restaurant reviews, cultural backgrounders, and shopping tips. It’s not the timeless info you’ll find in the Paris Blue Guide–where you can learn the cafes frequented by Balzac and Zola– but their comments on the latest gallery or restaurant are more real-time and ultimately more practical.
So I will be bringing an iPad with MyCityWay on my Paris vacation, and probably leave behind a few of the below-average guides I’ve accumulated. One gripe: their My Paris app is inexplicably missing a streetmap. GuidePal’s Paris app, by the way does have a useable city map.
No app has yet matched the Blue Guides, so their Paris edition will be making the trip as well.