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Trips at your fingertips

Updated: 2013-04-29 07:55
By Eric Jou ( China Daily)

Trips at your fingertips

Apps are popular with tourists and help them to adjust quickly to life in the city they are visiting. Kuang Linhua / China Daily

Finding your way around China's capital - and most cities - is easy to do on the go, thanks to many smartphone apps for travelers, Eric Jou reports.

Three years ago Ge Jingwei came to Beijing from Dalian. When she visited Beijing she researched the subway, read maps and checked information online from home base. Fast forward, after two years in England, Ge is back in Beijing. But this time she's armed with a smartphone, a device that provides all the information she wants directly in the palm of her hand. She can get it on the go.

Traveling and relocating to a new city is always a challenge, particularly one as big and complicated as Beijing. Over the last few years, smartphone technology has taken off: it's nearly ubiquitous across the city. Smartphone applications are changing the way people travel and communicate, said Frank Yu, CEO of Kwester and a Beijing-based tech industry veteran.

"As a foreigner who doesn't speak Chinese, the travel and language apps are important for me to live," said Yu. "The taxi apps allows me to get to places and the dictionary allows me communicate."

Yu says that he checks his phone for all the necessary information whenever he is out and about the capital. Ge, who works in marketing, says the same, adding that she checks up on where to eat, how to find a taxi and what the weather and air quality is like in Beijing.

Of the countless apps that can be found at iOS and Android app stores, a few stand out for getting around Beijing, and many other Chinese cities. China Daily has gathered a small list of apps that can help any newcomer or old China hand discover and enjoy traveling in the capital.

This list includes weather and environmental status resources, chat applications, translation tools, city and transportation guides.

Language/Translation Tools

The first and arguably one of the most important apps is the language app. Waygo is perhaps our favorite language app at the moment on the iOS platform. Using augmented reality Waygo does instant translations. Originally, version one provided translations for menu items at a restaurant; the new version features a full-on dictionary.

HanPing's English-Chinese dictionary is the pick for Android. While not as technologically powerful as Waygo is, HanPing offers a solid electronic dictionary on the go.

A more Beijing-centric translation tool that many foreign expats swear by is the Beijing Taxi Guide. Unlike Waygo and HanPing, the Beijing Taxi app goes beyond translation tool: It's more a transportation tool. Input a location in English and the app translates it to Chinese to allow communication with taxi drivers.

Both Waygo and HanPing are available as free downloads with optional paid upgrades. Beijing Taxi Guide is available for both platforms for free.


Once the language barrier is crossed, next is the environmental barrier. Often the weather dictates travel plans, but in Beijing air quality also plays a major role. Sometimes when the air is too smoggy, it's best to avoid heading outside.

The domestically created China Air Pollution Index does a wonderful job of aggregating all the feeds about Beijing's air quality in one simple application. One of the neatest features of the CAPI app is the ability to choose the source of the air-quality readings and what scale to use. Users can get info streams from, say, the US embassy or the Beijing Environmental Protection Monitoring Center. They're also able to get readings of the PM 2.5 index.

China Air Pollution Index is free on both the iOS and Android app stores in both Chinese and English. It also offers information on 149 Chinese cities such as Guangzhou, Shanghai and Hong Kong.

Chat Applications / Social Networking

Every smartphone offers online service, GPS navigation and picture-taking. Smartphone photography and the dawn of social networks have created a new photo-sharing culture.

People take photos and share them on social networks such as Facebook and Instagram, and it's almost instantaneous. Applications such as WeChat and iMoMo are hybrid blends of chat networks and social networks.

Users can use WeChat and iMoMo to share photos and information immediately with friends and contacts directly from their phones. On top of the messaging and social network elements tied to WeChat and iMoMo, there is the opportunity to meet strangers with these applications. Users can see who is around them and then strike up random conversations.

WeChat and iMoMo are both available for free on both iOS and Android, in both Chinese and English.

Transportation Guides

The last set of applications is transportation guides, which unlike the others mentioned are dedicated to one city. Since this guide is about Beijing, these are Beijing-focused applications.

Metroman, a subway map and guide application, works wonders on the iOS platform. It has an internal timetable showing users when the next subway train will arrive. On top of that, it offers paid maps such as the Taipei subway system.

Unfortunately for Android users, Metroman is iOS only. The closest applications to something like Metroman is the static map application called Beijing Subway Map. In fact there are a series of subway map apps. They basically show where each subway stop is in both English and Chinese.

For those who wish to take a taxi, there are applications such as DiDiDache that offers users ways to hail taxis. DiDiDache allows users to flag down any nearby taxicab. Users just whip out their phones, turn on the GPS, and say their location; the information is fed to the taxi company, which then relays it to the drivers on the road. Sadly, DiDiDache is only available in Chinese.

Contact the writer at ericjou@chinadaily.com.cn.

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