As I made my way around Vancouver, B.C., last week on a business trip and admired the futuristic high-rises and sweeping vistas of ocean and mountains I felt curious--and lost. I wanted to know what the buildings and landmarks were and why they were so striking.
My questions could easily have been answered with the HearPlanet Premium iPhone app. The new version of the "talking tour guide" mobile program, released publicly on Thursday, includes an integrated, interactive map and human voices, in addition to the computer-generated audio.
The HearPlanet Premium app, available for download from the App Store for $5.99, provides text and spoken descriptions for nearly 250,000 points of interest in locations around the world. A free version also is available.
The interface is fairly intuitive, allowing you to type in options to search on "what" and "where." The default is set to the location of the phone and offers a list of items in the vicinity, with thumbnail images and locations on a map.
You can click on the map view to see the items displayed as pushpins and use a pinch-together or pull-apart technique to zoom in and pan out, as well as move the map around with your finger. It's easy to navigate through various content items by toggling between them either in the list view or on the map.
In addition to the computerized audio, HearPlanet has created its own audio descriptions with human readers and has partners that provide additional content. The readings provided by San Francisco Sightseeing Tours, for instance, really lend that feel of hearing it from a tour guide. You can also click a link to visit the content partner's Web site or even to book a reservation on a real-world tour.
You have the ability to read or listen to the descriptions while simultaneously using the map. HearPlanet also allows you to save on power by shutting off the screen with the power button while still playing the audio.
I found the descriptions very informative, detailed, and comprehensive. For instance, I learned that Grouse Mountain, where I went while I was in Vancouver, is a small but well-known ski area overlooking Vancouver to the north. I only needed to type in "Grouse Mountain" when I did my search, and picked the Vancouver mountain (as opposed to the Grouse Mountain located in California).
The map took a little while to display for Grouse Mountain, but was quick when I searched for "Vancouver." That listing offered a variety of options for descriptions. I chose to listen to the information under "architecture and cityscape" and learned that the skyscrapers are positioned in such a way as to preserve mountain views for other buildings because of city guidelines that require that.
I did another test for points of interest in my location in downtown San Francisco south of Market and learned that the monstrosity of a high-rise that arose to obscure my view of the Transamerica Pyramid Building while I was on vacation in August 2007 was expected to take 22 months to complete. Unfortunately, that fact is correct--looking out my window I can vouch that it is done.