A much better Google Maps for travellers, and mobile printing that’s actually mobile. Free city tours in your pocket, and translating Chinese and Japanese on the fly – without the Internet.
Guess it’s Travel Tech News time again…
For the First Time in Years, Google Maps Doesn’t Suck for Global Travellers!
Google released a big update to its mobile maps product last week, pushing out a new version for iOS and Android that has a bunch of changes. The mainstream tech press has been focusing on the integration with the Uber (non)taxi service in certain cities, which is certainly useful – but for us, it’s the offline service that really makes this update interesting.
We’ve complained loudly in the past about Google crippling the caching features of the app, making a valuable part of the product more and more useless for international travellers.
This update improves things dramatically – saving a map for offline use is as simple as swiping up from the bottom to bring up the ‘info sheet’ for any location, then choosing “Save map to use offline”. As long as you’re logged into your Google account, that’s it – the map will be available offline when you need it, and even syncs across different devices.
It works in most countries, although be sure to check for your intended destination before deciding to rely on it.
There were a few other features that came along with the update as well, including turn-by-turn navigation in parts of the US, Japan and Canada, improved public transport features and better filters when searching for restaurants and bars.
This is the first version of Google Maps that we’ve been excited about for a long while. It’s about time.
Truly Mobile Printing Is Coming Your Way
A recent Kickstarter campaign raised over half a million dollars to solve a long-standing problem for travellers: printing when you’re on the move. Previous mobile printers have been any combination of expensive, bulky, unreliable and outright irritating, so it was an area crying out for innovation.
The ZUtA Mini Mobile Robotic Printer (yeah, it needs a new name) seems set to change all that. Little more than a printhead on wheels with some smart software, the printer will be easily small enough to throw into a daypack and carry around. Just place it on a piece of paper on a flat surface, and let it do its thing.
A4 pages will print at a fast-enough 40 seconds per page, with a rechargeable battery giving an hour of run time. The ink cartridge should last for around 1000 pages, and is a standard Hewlett-Packard model that should be easy enough to replace.
The printer obviously isn’t designed for churning out hundreds of pages at a time, but it doesn’t need to be. We can see plenty of other uses – boarding passes at the airport, spec sheets and checklists for field workers, last-minute changes to presentations and speeches and more.
It can print on any paper size, from any device, and at around $200, shouldn’t break the bank once it hits the retail market early next year.
Kamino Offers Free, Crowd-Sourced Walking Tours
Looking for a free city walking tour that doesn’t involve traipsing around with a dozen other people all morning? If you’ve got an iPhone, check out Kamino instead.
The company crowdsources so-called ‘urban hikes’ from a team of contributors, giving a range of tour types in 50+ cities around the world. If you’re after a kid-friendly stroll in Copenhagen, a boozy pub crawl in London or a shopping trip through Montreal, the app and associated website have got you covered.
There are a good number of trips already in the system, although we noticed limited options in a couple of categories.
Given the price, there’s no harm in downloading the app and trying it out next time you’re looking to explore a new city. If it continues to grow, Kamino could end up a viable alternative to the umbrella-waving antics of bored tour guides everywhere.
Chinese and Japanese Translation, Offline and in Real-Time? Sure, Why Not.
Translating Chinese and Japanese characters on the go has long been a challenge for travellers, and doing it without an Internet connection has seemed pretty much impossible. The Waygo app aims to change that, offering real-time translation of menus, signs and other printed material just by pointing a smartphone at them.
While it’s not without its limitations, there’s little else on the market that compares – especially for multiple languages. At this point the app will translate Japanese and Chinese (both simplified and traditional) into English, with more language pairs promised.
The seductive power of seeing translations hovering over an otherwise-incomprehensible menu may well help users overcome any teething problems, and there’s a very limited demo version available before you need to hand over your credit card.