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I'll pay a lot for the ultimate tourist's mobile device


Fast internet access at home has spoiled me. Like Manfred Macx in Tourist I feel like I've lost my glasses when I'm a tourist. I get annoyed that I can't quickly and easily get at all the information that's out there.

I would gladly rent the ultimate tourist mobile device. A large GPS equipped PDA (and also a cell phone for tourists roaming from other countries or from CDMA vs. GSM) that has everything. Every database that can be had on geo-data for the region I'm walking. It has mobile data service of course but also just pre-caches the region I'm in.

Not just the maps and the lists of tourist-related items like restaurants. I want reviews of those restaurants and ratings and even the menus, so I can easily ask "Where's a the best place in the $15/plate range near here" and similar questions. I don't just want every hotel in a town (not just the ones in the popular databases) I want their recently updated price offers. And with the data connection, I want something like Wotif for the hotels tied into the computer reservation networks.

I don't just want to know where the museum is, I want all of its literature. I want its internal map, with all of the placards translated into my language. Indeed, I want just about everything I need to read in a geolocation translated into my language.

And I want opinions on everything, from travel writers, tourists and locals. I want every single major travel book on the area loaded and ready and searchable. (Because I will be searching I want this to be bigger than a typical PDA/phone and have a moderately usable keyboard, or a really big touchscreen keyboard.)

I want it to have a decent camera, both in case I forget to bring mine with me, but for something grander. I want to be able to photograph any sign, any menu, and have it upload the photo to a system that OCRs the text and translates it for me. This is no longer science fiction -- decent camera based OCR is available, and while translation software still has its hiccups it's starting to get decent. In fact, as this gets better, the need for a database of signs at locations becomes less. Of course it should also be able to let locals type messages for me on it which it translates.

It should be trainable to my voice as well, so I can enter text with speech recognition instead of typing. Both for using the device, and saying things that are translated for locals, either to the screen or output from today's quality text to speech systems. This will get better as the translation software gets better. In some cases, the processing may be done in the cloud to save battery on my device. But as I've noted the normal portability requirements on this device are not the same as for my everyday PDA. I don't mind if this is big and a bit heavy, sized more like a Kindle than an iPhone.

It should be able to take me on walking and driving tours, of course.

And finally, at additional cost, it should connect me to a person, via voice or IM, who can help me. That can be a travel agent to book me a room of course, but it can also be a local expert -- somebody who perhaps even works sometimes as a tourist guide. Earlier I wrote of the ability to call a local expert where people with local expertise would register, and when they were online, they could receive calls, billed by the minute. Your device would know where you were, and might well connect you with somebody living one street over who speaks your language and can tell you things you want to know about the area.

Now some of the things I have described are expensive, though as such a device became popular the economies of scale kick in for popular tourist areas. But I'm imagining tourists paying $20 to $30 a day for such a device. Rented 2/3 of the year, that's $5,000 to $7,000 of revenue in a single year -- enough to pay for the things I describe -- every travel guide, every database, high volume data service and more. And I want the real thing, not the advertising-biased false information found in typical tourist guides or the "I'm afraid to be critical of anything" information generated by local tourist bureaus.

Why would I pay so much? Travel costs for a party of tourists are an order of magnitude higher than this. I think it would be a rare day that such a device didn't save you more than this by finding you better food at a better price, savings on hotels and more. And it would save you time. If you are paying $200 to $400/day to travel, including your airfare, your hours are precious. You want to spend them seeing the best things for your taste -- not wondering where things are. Saving you an hour of futzing pays for the device.

With scale, it could come down under $10/day, making it crazy not to get it. In fact, locals would start to want some of these databases.

Of course, UI is paramount. You must not have to spend the time you save trying to figure out the UI of the device. That is non-trivial, but doable for a budget like this.


You want a Nokia E61i. Comes with quad band gsm, wcdma, wifi .. oh, and a very functional set of apps (symbian after all).

But none are close to the device I describe, nor are any likely to be, because it's a different goal. For my everyday phone/PDA I want something small for my pocket that I fill with my choice of apps and data. While a tourist I want something that guides me, helps me get the knowledge of a native in a foreign place. So it will be bigger, so it can have a bigger screen, a better keyboard etc. (I should not say never, because there are technologies that might put big screens in small devices like retinal projection, and really good speech recognition may eliminate that keyboard need.)

But either way, the E61 is years away from being what I want here. The hardware's really a small part. This is more a software and database project, and a recognition that since the tourist is willing to pay a lot, you don't have to pick and choose on the data -- you can have it all.

And there is quite a lot of software - third party or bundled with the phone, that do a lot of what you want it to do. Quite a lot of it tied to bluetooth, and with local stores and businesses using bluetooth to download data about local attractions to your phone (maps, calendars etc). GPS software too.

If you've seen anything close to what I want, tell me about it. Vindigo was the best stab it at I saw, but all the systems I have seen have bad interfaces and aren't even 10% this comprehensive.

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