Paris: There is an App for that

Posted by Patrice Neff Thu, 27 May 2010

I spent the past weekend in Paris and tried to go paperless with the iPhone. At the same time I wanted to keep data roaming deactivated. So before the trip I researched some offline applications to make the best out of this vacation. And was very surprised by the selection of very good apps that do not need permanent Internet access.

I’ll quickly introduce the apps I used.

OffMaps

OffMaps is an iPhone map application using the OpenStreetMap data. That data is now surprisingly complete for many European cities and even includes many POIs such as restaurants, bars, public baths and many more.

OffMaps compiles that POI data into easy to use guides that also allow for offline search. Also you can download the full map of a guide or any area you choose to use it offline.

For the guides you need to pay extra. You can either buy single guides or – as I did – just buy the flat rate so you have great local information wherever you go.

The only information I missed was restaurant recommendations instead of only the locations. And routing does not work offline.

Memonic

Memonic is the online tool to take notes and save web site clippings I co-founded. Before the trip I saved the hotel reservation and some travel tips to Memonic.

The Memonic iPhone application downloads the whole collection for offline use. So in Paris I had access to all my Items without trouble.

Métro

All our traveling in Paris was either on foot or by public transport. Métro is a generic public transport app with data for many cities. Among others of course Paris. Once the data is downloaded you can get routes offline. I didn’t get to like the user interface during my few days of working with it but it always gave me correct answers very quickly.

Lonely Planet Paris City Guide

When the “Eyjafjallajökull”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eyjafjallajökull came upon us, Loney Planet decided to make some of their city guides available for free for some days. So I downloaded their Paris guide and used it in Paris.

In summary I didn’t like it at all. For starts, the information was too short, contained almost no links between different places and many copy-editing errors such as completely duplicated paragraphs made it into the product. But the real killer was lack of access. The app relies too much on search and doesn’t offer a good browsing access to find interesting places.

It does contain some restaurant recommendations and I did try one of those and liked it. But I ended up relying more on OffMaps even for that task.

Stanza

Stanza is an E-Book reader for the iPhone. It provided me with reading material for the train rides.

Built-ins

I also relied heavily on built-in applications. Calendar for storing itinerary information, Contacts for knowing where to send postcards to, Notes for some on-the-road information and the Clock for waking up in the morning.

iphonomist

Posted by Patrice Neff Tue, 17 Feb 2009

I really love The Economist. It’s a must-read for me every week. Many weeks it’s the only news I read. But lately I’ve been wanting to read it in the train on my iPhone, especially as the online version is up one night before I got my print edition. But the online version of The Economist is just too fat. Tons of Javascript and ads which make it a slow experience. The Tabulate bookmarklet helped a little to ease the pain. But not much.

So finally I got fed up and started writing a small screen scraper. Something I’m pretty familiar with already… The result is the iphonomist.

I’m not guaranteeing availability or freshness. I’ll probably automate the generation but for now I need to start it manually. And should I get any letter from any lawyer I’ll not put up a fight. Oh and should a proper official mobile version become available I’ll just redirect my site there. So with all these caveats in mind: have fun.

Google's iPhone back button hack

Posted by Patrice Neff Thu, 27 Nov 2008

Google provides an iPhone application for Google search. What I found interesting is how they make sure the back button works consistently.

If you’re not familiar with the application, that’s a normal workflow:

  1. Enter a search term.
  2. Along the way you get search results for partial queries and proposed auto-completed queries.
  3. Click any item in the search result.
  4. iPhone’s Safari is now launched with the target page. At this point you leave Google’s application. Because of the application model on the iPhone this also means that the Google application gets closed completely.

Now for the hack that Google implemented. The back-button works in Safari. It does the following actions:

  1. The first time you click the back button you go to a search result page on google.com. This time in Safari.
  2. The second time the Google application gets launched again and the query is executed again in the application.

I was very interested to find out how they do it. And if you watch closely you see that upon launching Safari, Google opens a web site on some IP address. I assume that in that URL they embed a request ID. Google can then count how often the page with that ID has been opened and do different actions based on that:

  1. First time: Redirect the user to the entry he was looking at.
  2. Second time: Redirect the user to the result list.
  3. Third time: Open the Google application. I’m guessing they do this using a registered application protocol.

As they redirect from that temporary page, the back button will always go back to that same URL.

I found that a pretty clever hack. I’m just left wondering why they open this temporary page on an IP address instead of some google.com subpage.