Ever since the release of the App Store, a market has clearly existed for “what’s around me” applications. One of the very first was Where To?, an application that proved to be incredibly popular on the original iPhone. We’ve come a long way since then, and this category of apps has plenty to offer!
Today I’m going to be taking a look at a popular free choice at present – AroundMe. AroundMe quickly identifies your position and allows you to choose the nearest anything in your nearby vicinity. It’s a nifty app, and we’ll take a closer look after the break!
The Basic Premise
It’s always handy to know what’s going on around you. Whether you’re about to run out of petrol, or would like to find a good place to eat, modern technology has removed any doubt from your nearby surroundings — even if you’re visiting a city you’ve never been to before!
AroundMe can either search based on your current location (calculated using Wi-Fi triangulation on non-3G iPads), or for a specific location that you specify on the map. The application then presents a simple list of categories to search for, including:
- Petrol/Gas Stations
- Various Entertainment
- And so on…!
After selecting your category of choice, the list will update with a selection of matches and you’ll see a number of familiar red pins dropped on the map to the right. If you’d like to see a greater number of results, just tap “Show More” toward the lower left of the results.
Selecting one of the pins or results on the left will show a larger information panel with details of the place in question. Everything is built on top of the Google Maps API, so the experience is a very familiar one. In fact, it’s almost identical to using the Maps application itself.
You can also search for your own keywords — maybe a particular brand name, or something that isn’t included in the default list of searches. These are saved for future use, which is a welcome touch.
Augmented Reality? Why Not!
AroundMe also offers a different mode for viewing your results in an augmented interface, overlaying the location of various place on top of the view from your iPad’s camera (if you have an iPad 2). It’s a fun touch, but I can’t really see myself using it while wandering around an unfamiliar city. Maybe you’d feel differently?
You have a handful of different settings to play with. First up, you can upgrade the application to an ad-free version, and also select whether you’re happy to have usage statistics sent back to the developer. Interestingly, it’s turned on by default.
A few FAQs explain how the app works, though they seem predominantly geared toward the iPhone version rather than the iPad.
AroundMe On Your iPhone
Here’s where a find myself with a little bit of a conundrum. Although it’s nice to have AroundMe on the iPad, it simply doesn’t feel like the right device for the application. When I’m looking for a place to eat in a big city, the first logical device to reach for is my 3G enabled iPhone with a pocket-sized screen, and GPS (so I can follow a path to the result I choose). The iPad doesn’t really make sense in this situation.
Thankfully, AroundMe is a universal app that works on both your iPad and iPhone with a very similar feature set. You may find that it’s slightly more useful to have loaded up on your iPhone:
I’m a big fan of the simplicity of the Maps application on iOS, and am fairly familiar with how it works. For instance, I know that if — after finding my current location — I type in “restaurant”, it will find all the places around my current location that offer food. The same applies for “coffee”, “mcdonalds”, or anything else you could conceivably think of.
This makes AroundMe feel a little bit redundant. Don’t get me wrong — I appreciate the inclusion of augmented reality, a quick button to phone the business, and the nifty shortcuts — but it doesn’t offer a new solution to a problem. It feels more akin to a handy Google Maps “skin”, rather than a complete app in its own right.
That said, AroundMe is completely free, so there’s no harm in giving it a try. Personally I would feel reluctant about upgrading to the ad-free version when I know that such a similar experience is available for free through Maps.