Much like the rise of affordable personal computers defined the 1990’s technologically, the smart phone seems set to shape the 2010’s. Though Words with Friends at the bus stop or mobile Facebook at the office may be the kind of activities more commonly seen on user’s screens, the ease with which software developers can create and release mobile applications or “apps” has resulted in thousands of opportunities to improve connectivity, make life easier, and yes, have some frivolous fun. Most of these applications only cost a few dollars while some can be free, often with the financial support of “in app” advertising. It can be difficult sometimes, though, to sort through the enormous quantity of apps on the market, and sometimes an app that you have paid for may not necessarily be as good as one that can be downloaded for free. Here, we examine some of the more intriguing completely free smart phone apps useful for those who like to be active and get around using their own two feet.
Platforms: Android, Blackberry, iPhone, Windows 7 Phone
There are a variety of apps designed to track exercise, but Endomondo is one of the most comprehensive apps that is currently offered on all four major mobile platforms. Endomondo supports a wide variety of physical activities that include walking, running, cycling for transport, cycling for sport, mountain biking and hiking. The app tracks the duration and distance traveled via a smartphone’s GPS receiver during the walk or bike ride, and also estimates calories burned. Adding an additional element of health monitoring, your heart rate can be tracked with the purchase of an external heart monitor that connects directly to the phone. Following the activity, a map is displayed showing the route traveled and is superimposed on the Google Maps interface. Additionally, your average speed, maximum speed, altitude and elevation are also calculated. Workouts can be customized to set a specific goal, follow a specific route or compete against a friend. Friends can be added via phone contacts or Facebook, adding a social media component to Endomondo. The interface is sleek, easy to use and runs very efficiently. A pro version of the app is available for $3.99 that adds additional features, including graphs, interval programs, time and calorie goals and an audio coach to help you outperform your previous times.
For a more cycling-specific tracker, Roadbike is one of the best free cycling apps on the market. Roadbike has modes for cycling, race cycling and handbiking, while tracking time, distance, speed, calories and ascents/descents. While using the app, the screen displays a live map which utilizes the Google Maps interface. Open source mapping utilities such as OpenStreetMap and OpenCycleMap are also integrated into the application which identifies many bicycle-specific routes and related infrastructure. All of your rides can be saved in the applications history to provide users with relevant statistics and a user feedback page for each ride. Through the user feedback, users can rate the ride based on their experience as well as the surface type and weather. Roadbike also features voice feedback, which audibly calls out to the user their distance and time traveled after each mile. In addition to the basic free functions offered, more functionality becomes available for a cost, including expanded voice feedback ($2.99) and heart rate monitoring ($0.99) for use with a compatible heart monitor. While there are a significant number of features that cost extra to use, the basic free version is a powerful and convenient app.
UpNext 3d Cities
Platforms: iPhone, in development for Android
UpNext, creator of one of the more impressive 3rd party iPhone maps apps called UpNext Maps, has also developed one of the best methods for exploring some of America’s most walkable major cities. In UpNext’s most advanced app, 3d Cities, an interactive map is displayed on your smartphone that can zoom down to building and street level. All buildings are rendered three-dimensionally, and by simply tapping on a particular building, all businesses within it are displayed. Bookmarks and favorites can be saved for easy retrieval, and some transit lines are mapped. Maps of individual cities must be downloaded to the device, which means the app can eat up a fair amount of hard drive space, but this allows the maps to run smoothly on your device and even allows you to view it without a data connection. Bookmarks, favorites, reviews and business directories all require a data connection to use, however. Currently, 3d Cities is available for the cities of New York, Philadelphia, Austin, Washington, D.C., Portland, Boston, San Francisco and Chicago.
Since launching in 2007, the website WalkScore.com has become an enormously popular tool for measuring the walkability of a location. The website assigns a numerical score (from 0-100) based on the number of businesses, parks, theaters, schools and other destinations that are within walking distance of an address input by the user. The website also includes a housing finder tool that searches for rentable properties based on factors such as walking, cycling and public transit. Seeing the opportunity to capitalize on the mobile market, WalkScore has since released an iPhone app that calculates a walkability score based on the user’s current location or like the website, an address entered manually. The application then maps the surrounding area using icons to highlight different types of businesses nearby. It also provides a list of those businesses along with their corresponding distances and walking directions. The app is simple and straightforward with no frills, but effectively accomplishes its mission, which is to translate the WalkScore website into a simple, user-friendly app. Due to the popularity of WalkScore, the creators have recently developed a BikeScore website, and hopefully this feature can be integrated into the app in the future.
Platforms: iPhone, Blackberry, Android
Bike share has been sweeping North America with the potential to solve the “last mile” transportation quandary while substantially growing the prevalence of cycling as an everyday mode of transportation in cities. Spotcycle adds to the convenience of bike share systems by providing a map of all bike stations in a city and the app updates live through the wireless network, and reports the number of bicycles and empty docks available in the system. This eliminates the guess work in finding the nearest station and hoping that a bicycle is available or an empty space if looking to turn one in. As most bike share systems have rates that increase substantially with longer periods of use, the app has a timer that can be utilized to remind the cyclist to find a station and switch out their bike. Additionally, some cities display locations of bike paths and other bicycle related infrastructure. The app currently supports most major bike share networks in the United States and Canada and some overseas, including large systems such as Boston, London, Melbourne, Minneapolis, Montreal, Toronto and Washington, DC. Spotcycle is an intuitive program that utilizes a well-designed graphical interface that provides a great deal of information without looking cluttered or confusing.
As evidenced by these five smart phone applications, mobile devices can bring a number of benefits to pedestrians and bicyclists. They can help to better track and visualize the exercise benefits that come with using a bicycle or your own two feet for transportation, and can be utilized to make bicycling and walking more efficient. Navigating a city by bike or foot is easier than ever with the ability to instantly get directions, find businesses, utilize bike share or make connections to public transit right at your fingertips. Smart phones could prove to be unexpected allies to bicycling and walking advocates if the ease and convenience of applications like these can encourage others to give bicycling and walking a try. Below are some additional free and pay bicycle and pedestrian related applications:
The Bike Computer
Cycle Watch Lite
MapMyRIDE GPS Cycling
Bicycle Gear Head
Bicycle Gear Calculator
Bike Repair HD
Cycle Tracker Pro
Cyclemeter GPS Bike Computer
Cyctastic GPS Cycle Computer