All posts by william wang

The world’s 10 best travel apps



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 particularly nerdy train-spotters looking to up their game.


An intuitive app offering weather reports for well over two million geographical locations, feeding in everything from cloud formations and atmospheric pressure to wind speed and humidity, all in enough detail to leave Michael Fish clammy-palmed with excitement. It’s also accurate to the point of clairvoyance, so if you’re travelling to Berlin and it predicts rain, pack your best umbrella.


Stripping away the glossy magnificence ladled on by just about every online travel agency out there, this is the place to find brutally honest reviews of hotels, restaurants, attractions and more. The user-base is notoriously hard to please, so be warned that you’ll most likely find exclamation mark strewn rants next to your favourite spots. Still, on the flip side, touch down in a strange city with nowhere to stay and you’ll only ever be a few prods away from the warts-and-all opinions of travellers just like you.

Wi-Fi Finder

With data roaming charges still laughably high, knowing where to find a decent wi-fi hotspot is essential if you’re to keep the twitterati up to date with details of your latest sojourn. No need to charge through the city waving your handset around like a fly-swatter, though – simply fire up this handy app and follow directions to your nearest source of wireless internet. Best of all, the offline mode means you can download maps before you go, thereby dodging a massive bill.


Anyone who’s ever accidentally downloaded a large email while on holiday will attest to the ridiculousness of data roaming charges, and though there’s no indication from the networks that they’re working on putting things right, there are measures you can take to avoid an end-of-month sting. Once installed, this app drastically reduces the amount of data required to perform everyday tasks, such as retrieving email and posting to Facebook. We’re not entirely sure how it manages such a feat – we just know that it works and we’re not about to complain.


Currently in a phase of invite-only beta (have a sniff around forums for a free invite) this is Google’s experimental take on a massive, crowd-sourced travel guide. As tech mash-ups go, it’s fairly straightforward: users leave recommendations for things to do in their city, which visitors can then add to a to-do list and check off as they go. Given the app’s youth, content is fairly sparse outside of the US at the moment, but should you find yourself on a business trip to Chicago with a couple of hours to kill, it’s a reliable

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 Wikipedia articles filling you in with everything you need to know. After a slow start, recent updates have seen the app’s recognition mechanic and database become really rather impressive, meaning that if it draws a blank, it’s probably just a nice-looking car park.


Though it shot to fame as a social networking tool, this location-based app has become a godsend for curious travellers. The way it works is simple – fire up the app when you arrive at any given place (everything from restaurants to churches are listed) and you’ll see a list of tips from those who’ve been before you (‘try the cheeseburger’, ‘arrive by 9am for a good pew’, etc.). Check in regularly enough and you’ll claim virtual mayorship of that particular venue, with some venues even offering perks (a free pint, discounts, and so on) when you claim the crown.

Time Out city guides

Our apologies for the somewhat self-important 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 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 indispensible digital marvels is absolutely free. What can we say – we’ve got big hearts.

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?’

Yo! upgrade shows app wasn’t a dumb idea, after all


The Yo! app that everyone laughed at last year because all it did was flash a Yo! at contacts has come out with an important upgrade. It’s a new location function, said Yo! CEO Or Arbel, and it “opens up a whole world of possibilities for both users and service-providers using the Yo API.”

Yo! attracted a lot of criticism from tech experts – along with a lot of laughs. The app, created by an Israeli team working in San Francisco, sends a “Yo!,” a word akin to “hey there” or “what’s happening,” to contacts. For this app, creators Arbel and Moshe Hogeg got a million dollars in funding. Top blogger Robert Scoble called it “the lamest app around,” apparently speaking for many in the tech community, and Israeli start-up expert Eran Laniado called it a gimmick — and a “goofy” one at that.

Yo! is unique for its single-purpose functionality, but that functionality is nothing new, said Laniado, managing director of Israeli business advisory firm BMN!, which works with dozens of veteran tech companies and start-ups in Israel. “It is similar to Facebook stripped off all of its functions except ‘Poke’,” a function that allows users to let their friends know they are there, without actually sending them a message.”

As such, said Laniado, Yo! was clearly a gimmick but with a little work, it could be much more. “Users lose interest in gimmicks quickly. But if this app decides to be a little more than that, and add, for example, more types of communication (emoticons, text), well — isn’t this what Facebook and WhatsApp are all about?”

The Yo! people took Laniado’s advice – or advice from someone who thinks like him – because the app is now more than it was. With its new update, Yo! becomes much more functional, Arbel insists. The location function is available as an API for iOS 8, the new operating system announced by Apple last month, so developers can create versions of the app for specific needs.

“Service providers can now offer their users one-tap location-based solutions to their customers’ needs,” the company said. “Want to know if it’s going to rain where you are? ‘Yo’ a weather service! Want a cab to pick you up? ‘Yo’ a taxi service! It’s that simple – and the applications are limitless.”

Versions of these apps are already available on the Yo Index site. With YoYouTube, for example, users can get a Yo! notification when channels they subscribe to are updated. YoMyPackage tells you where a FedEx or US Post Office package is at the moment when you send a Yo! and your package tracking number. Send out a Yo! with the StarbucksMap app and it will respond with the location of the nearest coffee shop in the chain. There’s even one that will return the latest updates about the Kardashian clan, that favorite of gossip magazines and TV shows, if you shoot it a Yo!

And this is just the beginning, said Arbel. “I can’t wait to see where our users take this. I’m sure our platform and API will give Yo users real solutions – without having to compromise on simplicity.”

IFTTT to add a new channel for the Revolv smart home hub

Adding to it’s steadily-growing list of connected home devices, the popular web-based automation service If This Then That (IFTTT) is reportedly on the cusp of releasing a new channel for the Revolv smart home hub — a move that will greatly expand the possibilities of both Revolv and IFTTT.

For the uninitiated, IFTTT allows you to connect physical devices (things like lights, your phone, or even your car) to digital services like email, social media, and various other webapps. It also lets you connect physical devices to other physical devices via the Internet, so you can do nifty things like automatically turn on a lamp when your WeMo motion detector senses movement, or have your connected air conditioner flip on when you open a door.

Revolv performs a similar function. The hub boasts seven different radios under its hood and can therefore understand practically every major home automation protocol in the biz. This makes it possible for users to link otherwise incompatible smart devices together (a Z-Wave light bulb and a Bluetooth door lock, for example) and control them all from one centralized location.

Therefore, while IFTTT’s new Revolv channel is technically just for one device, it will presumably act as a gateway for hundreds of different gizmos that aren’t directly supported by IFTTT. In other words, although IFTTT doesn’t have a dedicated Sonos channel, you’ll be able to use the Revolv channel to link your Sonos speakers to, say, your Facebook account or favorite RSS feed. This new channel will essentially fling the doors of possibility wide open for both platforms.

Revolv tells us the IFTTT integration is set to go live before the end of the month.

Apple unveils iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, Apple Watch


Apple introduced two new iPhones, its long-awaited Apple Watch and a mobile payment system as part of a marketing blitz aimed at drumming up consumer excitement. Now the question is whether the new gear will live up to the hype.

Speaking from the Flint Performing Arts Center in Apple’s hometown of Cupertino, Calif., Apple marketing chief Philip Schiller kept the audience waiting beyond the event’s scheduled 1 p.m. ET start, a fitting delay for a company that has kept its fans waiting for a new product.

First up was the company’s new larger, thinner iPhone 6, which features an aluminum body and glass front that curves around the sides. (See CNET for complete coverage of Apple’s product launch.)

The base model comes with a 4.7-inch screen and the other, dubbed the iPhone 6 Plus, has a 5.5 inch-screen. The iPhone 6 screen has over 1 million pixels, while the iPhone 6 Plus has over 2 million pixels, Schiller said, emphasizing what he called the the devices’ “stunning display.”

Gesturing toward giant photos of a lizard and a butterfly projected on-stage, Schiller also highlighted the new iPhone’s enhanced camera, which he said includes image-stabilization functionality.

The new phones will be available Sept. 19; pre-orders begin Sept. 12. With a two-year contract, the iPhone 6 will cost $199 for a model with 16 gigabytes of memory, $299 for the 64GB phone and $399 for 128GB. The iPhone 6 Plus is priced at $299 (16GB), $399 (64GB) and $499 (128GB).

“They’re definitely targeting the more professional user and the ‘phablet’ user,” observed CNET Editor-at-Large Tim Stevens.

The technology giant has much riding on the popular reception to its new iPhone, sales of which drive most of the company’s profits and which account for more than half of its revenue. But Apple’s new offerings may be even more important, as the company seeks to entice customers with an expanded lineup of products and services designed to keep them within its technological ecosystem.

To that end, Apple CEO Tim Cook introduced the company’s new mobile payments tool, called Apple Pay, which aims to let users make purchases from their iPhone or Apple Watch. He noted that Americans make roughly 200 million payments per day, but called the process “antiquated.” With Apple Pay, consumers can pay for goods without sharing credit card, address and other personal information with a merchant, Cook said.

Apple Pay uses short-distance wireless technology called near-field communication, or NFC, to enable users to make purchases — a system already built in to many Android phones. Apple has teamed with financial industry heavyweights including American Express (AXP), Mastercard (MA) and Visa (V) and says Apple Pay will work at more than 220,000 retailers nationwide. Apple has been working with companies like McDonald’s, Disney, Target, Subway, and Whole Foods to integrate its service as well.

Then, finally putting an end to months of rumors and speculation, Cook presented Apple’s new wearable device, the Apple Watch, describing it as the “next chapter” in the company’s history and a “breakthrough.”

The watch, which is available with six interchangeable bands, comes in stainless steel, aluminum or 18K gold and is priced at $349. Users navigate by tapping and swiping the face, as well as through a crown on the right side of the watch that brings up apps. Apple Watch, which works with the iPhone 5, 5c and 5s, as well as the iPhone 6, will be available early next year.

“Apple Watch is the most personal device we’ve ever created,” Cook said. “It will redefine what people expect from a watch.”

Ian Fogg, senior director for research firm IHS, said Apple wants to validate wearable gadgets in the same way the iPhone in 2007 established a mass market for smartphones.

“However, moving into a new category is a bold, expensive and risky effort,” he added in a client note. “This Apple Watch is a first-generation device, and whether it is successful or not Apple will aim to iterate and make it a must-have companion for every iPhone owner.”

Although Apple has posted solid financial results this year, investors and even some of the company’s famously rabid fans have seemed underwhelmed by recent product launches. The last iPhones and iPads, while commercially successful, have been deemed only incremental advances — pleasing refinements that remain well short of the big leaps forward Apple has made in the course of growing into the most valuable company in the world.

That’s of particular concern for a company that, under co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs, was vaunted for its design prowess and ability to discern consumer tastes even before those were fully formed. Apple is also eager to reclaim market share taken in recent years by Samsung and other makers of mobile phones based on Google’s  Android platform.

For Cook, the Apple Watch could prove either a canny move into a lucrative new product segment, or a dead end. The gadget — which fans referred to as the Apple iWatch as rumors intensified in recent months that a device was imminent — is the first developed entirely under Cook’s leadership since he succeeded Jobs as CEO in 2011. For both Apple and other companies making smartwatches, it also represents a key test of consumer interest in a technology that to date has failed to dazzle customers.

A critical challenge for Apple, experts say: Building a device that — like the iPod, iPhone and iPad before it — compellingly fills a need users may not know they have. No surprise, then, that Cook touted HealthKit, a software development tool that integrates health and fitness apps through the Apple Watch while giving consumers control over what health data they choose to share.

Although the company could benefit from expanding into new product segments, in the short-term it remains highly dependent on rolling out devices that push the design envelope and capture the public’s imagination. Indeed, until today Apple hadn’t released a brand new product since launching the iPad four year ago.

In the interim, Apple’s competitors have stormed into a range of areas ripe for innovation, with Google working to develop driverless cars and Facebook pushing the envelope on virtual reality. That has raised concerns that, without Jobs, Apple risks losing the vision that powered its rise.

Perhaps more than any tech provider, Apple is under the gun to innovate. And to be sure it is trying mightily to do that. Along with expanding into the wearable computing segment, Apple is developing Internet-enabled tools people can use to control lights, thermostats and other parts of their home. For enterprises, meanwhile, the company wants to let employers harness the power of “Big Data” from their Apple devices.

“A lot of other companies don’t need to be as bold on a frequent basis as Apple,” Soumen Ganguly, a director at consulting firm Altman Vilandrie & Co., told CNET ahead of Apple’s latest commercial launch. “But people have come to expect it from Apple. They’re only as good as their last great product, and we’re four years away from that.”

A sense that Apple may be losing its bite hasn’t kept investors from bidding up its shares, it’s worth noting — the company’s stock has risen nearly 26 percent this year. The shares edged up $1.65, topping $100, shortly after the presentation began.

If there are questions about Apple’s creative mojo, it is clear from Tuesday’s event that its marketing instincts remain intact. Winding up the event, Cook brought out the band U2 to play a tune and pitch the group’s new album, which the executive said will be available for free download for all iTunes users.

Ice Bucket Challenge stirs controversy in China


The “Ice Bucket Challenge” ─ meant to raise funds for research into a cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis ─ has come to China, only to raise controversy.

Lei Jun, founder of fast-growing smartphone maker Beijing Xiaomi Technology, said Monday on his Weibo microblogging account that he had accepted a “nomination” for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, becoming one of the first Chinese nationals to have a bucket of ice water poured onto his head to raise awareness of the disease.

The challenge involves a participant choosing between dousing themselves with ice water and making a small donation to the ALS Association or else opting out of the water and making a larger donation instead.

Lei announced Sunday that he would perform the challenge the next day and invited the public to offer suggestions of whom he should nominate to be the next three participants.

But Lei’s move was apparently preempted by Peter Yijia Liu, founder of handset maker Oneplus Tech, who said he had initiated his own ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, uploading a video on Weibo of him pouring a bucket of ice water onto his head. Liu nominated three other participants from the Internet industry, including Zhou Hongyi, chairman of 360 Technology.

But both Lei and Liu came in for criticism on social media, as some commentators accused the pair of indulging in a marketing exercise rather than trying to help find a cure for ALS.

Some said Liu’s dumping water on his head was merely “for his own amusement.”

Likewise, Victor Koo ─ founder of the YouTube-like website ─ performed a toned-down version of the challenge by pouring two cups of water on his head at the opening ceremony of a local video festival. This too drew criticism, with some calling the move a meaningless gesture as Koo mentioned ALS in subsequent posting on Weibo but failed to explain what it was.

A report Tuesday in the Beijing Times newspaper offered some mild criticism of the stunts. It quoted yet another industry executive ─ iiMedia Research Group Chief Executive Zhang Yi ─ as saying: “Charity is a long-term and continuous thing. Just keep your mind on it. There is no need to hype it up.”