App vs map on a trip to Paris

Equipped with a smartphone, Emily Jupp aimed to navigate her way around the city. But did technology trounce the traditional guidebook?

Where are we?"

"Somewhere in Montmartre."

"I need a drink."

"We can have a drink once I get the map working. It's just taking a few minutes to boot up."

"While you stand there like a tech-addicted loon, I'm going to take action… Excusez-moi! Il y a un bar près d'ici?"

And so my self-inflicted challenge to navigate Paris using an iPhone begins, much to the chagrin of my travel companion. A multitude of apps, ebooks and integrated, virtual platform guides for travel, of the kind once imagined only in science fiction, is now available at the fingertips of the humble traveller. But do they work? And will they ever replace the guidebook? Travel-guide companies are investing heavily in their digital resources in order to make sure the tech-savvy traveller is catered for, but is this tech addiction just a foolhardy case of "have iPad, will travel"?

"It was a case of just realising that once these devices were available, people would want to use them," explains Amy Schuman, former associate director of marketing for Frommer's, the travel-guide publishers, whose digital and print offering has just been sold to Google for an undisclosed sum. Its ebooks, available on iPad, iPhone, Android and Kindle, do more than just replicate the print format. Frommer's is developing audio functions, so you can take in the scenery rather than just burying your head in an ebook. A disembodied voice will spontaneously tell you about a point of interest as you happen to be near it, so you don't have to follow a prescribed route.

"It lends itself better to an independent traveller. It's made for those surprising moments you get when you travel," Schuman says. The Frommer's ebooks have bright pictures and a bookmark function that's as easy to use as turning the corner of a page. Also, if you use them online, you can see the comments and highlights from other tourists. "If the bar you visit isn't serving cosmopolitans right now, but does a great alternative, travellers can make a note in real time so that others can make an informed decision about going there," Schuman says.

Brice Gosnell, the vice-president and publisher of the Americas division at Lonely Planet, is working on developing apps that work with the "travel cycle", which follows the key stages of taking a trip: inspiration, planning, the trip itself and "I'm back and I want to share my travel stories". Then the cycle goes back to the top again.

"When travellers are actually in the place, that's when they want that on-the-go information," Gosnell says. "At the destination, when they are at a point of interest, they like to look for other things around the area and do some sharing when they are there, so we're looking at leveraging those behaviours within the mobile space."

Other useful online gadgets include Frommer's free Travel Tools app, which has a currency converter, time translator, tip calculator and flashlight (handy when camping, walking down country lanes at night, or searching in your handbag down a dark side street in Paris for your Crazy Horse tickets), and Vocre, available for free with adverts, or £1.99 without, on iPad and iPhone. Vocre allows an almost free-flowing conversation with people who speak another language. It comes in handy late in the evening, when I need to ask for a cork ("un bouchon", which is also the word for a traffic jam).

But is this the end for guidebooks? The answer is not yet, partly because technology can let you down, as I discover in Paris. My 3G is intermittent at best, meaning that my map app won't show our location. The previous day, my phone helpfully showed me the 10 best places to go for brunch; now, it won't tell me whether I am getting closer or farther away from Les Bonnes Soeurs, a hot new brunch venue that serves chips with everything.

"I don't believe we're seeing a move en masse from print to digital yet, but in the future it's going to happen," Gosnell says. "Right now, books are still the easiest way to get travel content. When you want information quickly you can dip in and out of the guidebook, you really are jumping around a lot, and the ebook devices have some navigation limitations."

The other reason people aren't ditching the guides in favour of digital formats is travel guides are used in a different way to other books. "Where cannibalisation is happening on the ebook side is fiction. When do you read fiction? When you are sitting down and comfortable, not when you are on the move," Gosnell says.

The third aspect is safety.Brandishing a shiny new piece of tech isn't always advisable abroad. "At the destination, some people have safety concerns and prefer to take their guidebook out," Gosnell says. "The last hard travel destination I went to, I just took the guidebook because I couldn't get Wi-Fi – and because I would be a target."

Strangely, in Paris I find I look like less of a tourist playing with my iPhone than I do fiddling about with the guidebook. Schuman agrees: "When I am a traveller I like to blend in and there's something wonderful about being able to see the sites without flagging up to people you're a tourist." She believes that for the foreseeable future, guidebooks are here to stay. "There's sentimentality to having a guidebook," Schuman says. "It's like a souvenir."

"People say they like to keep those guidebooks on their shelves, because it's sort of like bragging" Gosnell agrees. "People visit them, and they say, "Oh my God! You've been to all these places!" and it sparks conversation."

Later, on the Eurostar home, my audio guide to Paris, a £3.99 app from a company called Pocket Guide, finally downloads on to my phone. The new wave of travel apps looks brilliant, but until I can get a piece of hardware that won't lose internet connection, suddenly run out of battery, cost me a small fortune in roaming fees, or just run really slowly, I'm keeping a tangible, bulky, dog-eared travel guide to hand, just in case.

Three more great travel apps


Collates boarding passes, cinema tickets, loyalty cards and more in one place on your Apple device. Free;

Google Translate

Translate text from 65 languages on the move, by speaking into your device (17 languages) or typing. Translation is played back audibly. Free;

Touchnote Postcards

Take a photo on your device, type in text and instantly turn it into a real postcard that is sent – in hard copy – to your chosen recipient. Free;

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales Manager (Fashion and Jewellery), Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Volunteer Digital Marketing Trustee needed

    Voluntary, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Are you keen on...

    Java Swing Developer - Hounslow - £33K to £45K

    £33000 - £45000 per annum + 8% Bonus, pension: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: ...

    Corporate Events Sales Manager, Marlow,Buckinghamshire

    £30K- £40K pa + Commision £10K + Benefits: Charter Selection: Rapidly expandin...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice