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Apps of the Week: Help with your commute

By Jason Kambitsis
Is your commute wearing you down? Smartphone apps promise to make your trip easier.
Is your commute wearing you down? Smartphone apps promise to make your trip easier.
  • This week, we look at five iPhone apps designed to make your daily commute easier
  • Transit Maps puts bus or subway route maps in your pocket
  • Aha provides real-time traffic info about your route and lets you chat with other drivers
  • Maps + Compass will map out your best route depending upon your mode of transit

(Wired) -- The ubiquitous iPhone has more than 100,000 apps that can do everything from tell you the weather in Nome, Alaska to give you headlines from The New York Times to order you a burrito from Chipotle.

Transit types are getting wise to the power of smartphones and offering a growing number of apps that can enhance your commute whether you're on two wheels, four wheels or public transit.

Trouble is, finding them can be harder than getting a seat on the crosstown express at rush hour. The iTunes app store has a travel category, but it's bogged down with hotel guides and translators. It's not terribly conducive to latte-sipping, iPhone-sporting urban commuters trying to get to work.

What we would love to see from Apple -- Steve Jobs, are you listening? -- is a category specifically for commuting. That would ensure further development and promotion of such apps.

Until then, here are five commuting iPhone apps you've gotta try.

Bike your Drive -- The outdoorsy types at REI have a free app specifically for bike commuters. It uses the iPhone's GPS to calculate how far you've gone, how many calories you've burned and how much gas (and money) you've saved by ditching the car. It also tells you how much carbon you've offset by hopping on two wheels instead of four.

The app is simple, with a self-explanatory interface and the option to submit multiple rides for comparison. Too bad the GPS doesn't recognize changes in altitude. For people with long climbs and quick downhills you will not get accurate numbers for the commute. Still, it's great for gauging ride times and distances over multiple days.

Transit Maps -- This sweet little app puts those big transit maps in your pocket so you can figure out where to catch that transfer or hit the stop closest to your destination. It's super-simple to use and has a clean interface. Simply download the map from your local transit agency and store it on your phone.

Yeah, Transit Maps is essentially a 3G .pdf viewer, but that doesn't make it any less handy to have in your pocket.

Aha -- If you've ever been stuck in traffic and wanted to know what was going on, Aha is for you. It provides real-time traffic info about your route so you know why there's a sea of brake lights stretching a mile ahead of you. It also can help find a clean bathroom, a decent cup of coffee or a diner if you're hungry.

But what's really cool about Aha is it lets you talk to other drivers on the network so you can share real-time info. Of course, you can also blow off steam playing karaoke with your fellow road warriors or sound off in a "shout room" about that moron who cut you off.

If there's no one else on the network, then Aha is little more than a slick way to find a coffee shop or the nearest In-N-Out Burger. But it has the potential to be a truly transformative traffic application.

Zipcar -- Being a Zipcar subscriber makes car sharing a snap, and if you're one of the 275,000 or so Zipsters out there you can choose a car, reserve it and even turn it on using an iPhone.

It's a whole lot easier than trying to navigate the Zipcar website on your phone. The interface is straightforward and the remote starting feature is a thing of beauty. This free app is a must-have for frequent Zipcar users.

Maps + Compass -- This one is standard on the iPhone, and it's useful whether you're crossing town or crossing the continent. Plug in your current location and your destination and tell it whether you're walking, driving or taking the bus.

The app will map out the best route depending upon how you're getting around and it will tell you how far you're going and how long it'll take. The superb bus feature tells you when the bus will arrive.

The interface is simple, but suffers from one key flaw: once you pick a route and get directions, you've got to start over if you change your mode of travel. That makes it tough to compare, say, walking with taking the bus to see which would be faster. It's cumbersome and counterintuitive when you're on the move. Depending on your 3G coverage it can also take along time to update.

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Copyright 2011