I downloaded a few apps that helped a lot while in Italy, and the trip would have been a lot more problematic without my phone. Some apps and examples:
- An app I loved was Ulmon Rome (by Ulmon GmbH), a simple off-line map of Rome that is FAR more detailed than Apple Maps and Google Maps. My only complaint was that the metro stations aren’t clearly marked on the map, but everything else including bus stops was. Neither Apple or Google mas have a lot of sights, and so orienting yourself is tough. Ulmon also always shows you what direction you’re facing on the map, and sometimes it's even correct. It has built in travel guide info, but I never used it.
- TrueMaps HD Roma wasn’t as good as Ulmon, but it had the nice feature of tapping on a street and having the street and name clearly highlighted. Handy in a place where streets change names every few blocks.
- The best app I ran into for helping ride busses (and I tried 3, including "Rome Next Bus" by Yeh Tsung Ming, and "Rome Bus" by Movenda) was ProBus Rome (which got its start as an Android app -- by Christian Alferano). The best feature was you could pick any bus number and get a quick map of the route with every stop shown – then follow along with the bouncing blue ball as you rode, helping you to not miss a bus stop and end up past where you wanted to go. However, the route planning was merely OK, telling you to walk to specifically numbered stops to make connections without telling you where they were ("walk 100 m to stop 75367"). Worse, the estimated times for bus arrivals random at best, and hopelessly wrong sometimes (like Sundays).
- I had a free, off-line Italian-English dictionary called “It-E Dictionary” (by StillPig) that was helpful. It didn’t do well on phrases but was good for individual words.
- I downloaded the IT Italy app to get a cab, but never used it. Works all over Italy, and is in English. I never had to use it because I learned that the best way to get a cab in Rome is by going to a cab rank, and I found this official website that listed them all.
- I should mention an app from a taxi group called 3570.IT, since Italy has been notorious for cab rip offs. The 3570.IT group (named after their website) feature a bunch of guaranteed services and good quality cabs. I probably would have used these dudes had I not had a cab rank so close.
- I checked in on-line with KLM’s app and had boarding passes on my phone.
- The Vatican has an app that offers “guided tours” of its major sights. I didn’t know about it until we got there, and didn’t use it, but it’s free.
Non-app reasons to have my phone:
When riding TrenItalia trains, you can book on line, and they e-mail you the confirmation. Once on the train, sit in the correct seat and when the conductor comes to check your ticket, you just show him the e-mail and the PNR code on the phone’s screen. Very handy for those of us without ready access to a printer. In addition, most trains you would want to take require reservations because they are so busy, so booking ahead on-line enables planning and allows you to buy tickets in advance, though you can get to the station and take your chances on buying a ticket.
Apps I got that were a waste of time:
- Free Wi-Fi In Rome will tell you where all the free wi-fi spots are. Except that you have to register with your Italian cell phone number to use the app. And free Wi-Fi sites are everywhere, and clearly marked, so the app’s kinda useless.
- I downloaded Orari Penisola Sorrentino (by Steffano Fattorusso), an app that had the schedules for the Circumvesuviana trains between Naples, Pompei, Ercolano & Sorrento. Except the app only works while connected (and there’s actually no TIM service at all in Sorrento), and the train scheds are in every pamphlet given away by the towns, plus posted in the train stations.
- Talking Italian Phrasebook (by CoolGorilla) was a hoot of an app. It has a bunch of phrases in it that were useful, and they were spoken out loud by a female voice. But the app was sponsored by Fiat, and so the phrases included such useful gems as "I love your new Fiat 500", "Can you take me for a drive in your Fiat 500?" and "I love the way your new Fiat 500 corners". Still, the phrase "I think you're undressing me with your eyes" which was in the app did come up from time to time.
I am noticing that the world is moving to more information available on-line. There’s a lot of weakness in that system, most notably places where phones don’t work (like, say, in train tunnels) but I’m now convinced that a portable data device like an iPhone or iPad is essential to get around.