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Find your way with landmarks instead of directions, and easy access to Wi-fi in hundreds of airports. There’s cheaper in-air messaging, and the first signs of New York’s new speedy public Wi-fi.
All in the first Travel Tech News of 2016. Happy New Year, everyone!
Finally, Using Airport Wi-fi Gets Less Annoying
If you’ve ever got frustrated entering vast amounts of personal information just to use airport Wi-fi for a few minutes, you’re not alone. The free new FLIO app (iOS and Android) aims to take some of the pain out of various airport experiences, including getting online.
In 350+ airports, it’ll automatically connect you to the official Wi-fi network if it exists. More usefully, in nearly 100 of those airports, it’ll actually sign you in as well.
The app bypasses all that form-filling frustration in places like London Heathrow, Berlin, Dubai, Hong Kong and elsewhere. The company suggests it’s adding new airport networks at the rate of 2-5 per week, so it’s growing pretty quickly.
The app has other benefits, too. As well as “discounts you’ll actually use” at restaurants, bars and duty-free, it’ll give you current security wait times in 30+ airports. There’s also information about everything from gates to phone charging points, bathrooms to playgrounds.
Turn Left at McDonalds with Walc
Google Maps is great for travellers, but it’s not perfect, especially when walking around in a foreign city. Being told to head east for 400 yards, or take a right onto a certain road when there’s no street sign in sight, can make navigation a challenge.
The little blue location dot isn’t always accurate, especially when in large indoor spaces like subway stations. I’ve often found myself more than a little lost as a result.
The new Walc app (recently out of beta on iOS and Android) takes a different approach to pedestrian navigation, using landmarks instead of traditional directions to help users find their way. “Walk five minutes then turn right at Starbucks” is much more like how humans give directions to each other than “Walk 1200 feet and turn right onto Smith Street”, after all.
While it’s still a little rough around the edges, the app worked well in my testing. I appreciated the addition of “Pocket Mode” in the latest version, which continues to give directions when your phone’s safely tucked away.
Without offline navigation, Walc isn’t going to replace apps like HERE Maps or Google Maps entirely for travellers. When I’ve got mobile data while wandering around somewhere new, though, it’s a great alternative.
Messaging in the Sky Just Got Cheaper (For Some People)
While mindlessly browsing the web or humble-bragging on Facebook is a great way to pass the time on long plane journeys, prices for in-flight Internet can get frustratingly high. If all you want to do is send a few quick messages, it’s hard to justify dropping twenty bucks or more to do it.
Recognizing there might be a market for a cheaper, more limited option, Gogo recently introduced its messaging pass. As the name suggests, you’re only able to use a few messaging services (specifically Viber, WhatsApp and Skype). The cost, though, is a very reasonable $3.
For less than the price of a fancy coffee, you can finally get around to replying to last week’s message from your mum, tell your Airbnb host you’ll be late, or find out where your friend will be illegally parked at the airport while waiting to pick you up.
Gogo is the largest provider of in-flight Internet, but it isn’t the only game in town. Double-check it’s powering the Wi-fi on your next flight before relying on this new option.
Big Public Wi-fi Rollout in the Big Apple
It’s been talked about for over a year, but the conversion of New York’s phone boxes to free public Wi-fi kiosks is now underway. A few of the upgraded hubs are in place already, with around 500 due by mid-year.
Ultimately, all 7500+ phone booths in the city will be replaced by these gigabit Wi-fi devices. They’ll include USB charging ports, free calling, and touch-screen web browsing for those who don’t have their own devices. There’ll also (of course) be a pair of large advertising screens to pay for it all.
Before long, tourists and locals alike will have free, high-speed Wi-fi available throughout the five boroughs. Bring it on.