From its mind-boggling array of useful apps to a camera that now ranks as most popular on the photo sharing site Flickr, the iPhone has been a game changer for travelers.
Some travel-related features in the just-unveiled iPhone 5 are more incremental than revolutionary, including slightly longer battery life. But, with a faster processor and access to to speedier wireless networks, it does promise to make getting from Point A to B (or Z) and back again easier — and more fun.
–Better camera. While avid iPhoneographers (yours truly included) may have been hoping for more bells and whistles, the iPhone 5 features a larger, 4-inch screen and better video, including three microphones with improved noise-canceling effects and the ability to snap photos while you’re recording. Apple claims the 8-megapixel camera will perform better in low-light conditions (perfect for dim Roman trattorias), and as PopPhoto.com points out, a new sapphire crystal front element will “protect the lens and hopefully fend off fingerprints and other pocket grime that tends to muck up pictures.”
Another spiffy feature: “A new Panorama mode stitches together multiple photos in real-time as you sweep your phone back and forth,” says Digital Photography Review. “Using image stabilization and removing extraneous artifacts from the picture, Panorama mode produces pictures at a full 28 megapixels. Once you’ve taken photos, a new feature called Shared Photo Streams lets you share a stream of photos with family and friends through just a few finger taps.” (While multiple third-party apps already let you take panoramic photos, the process can be clunky and time-consuming.)
–Improved mapping. Available through Apple’s new iOS 6 software (expected by the end of the month, and which owners of older Apple devices will also be able download for free), the iPhone 5′ Maps product will replace the Google version that’s been standard since the first iPhone. While a “Flyover” feature transforms cities into interactive, 3-D images, other applications are more practical: “Using the existing Google Maps product on iPhones to navigate in the car has always been a trick only slightly less dangerous than texting while driving,” notes Jason Clampett of Skift.com. “New turn-by-turn directions seek to improve this experience, firstly by using voice to tell you when and where to turn and secondly by changing the display to a 3D-style rendering that follows the movement of your vehicle (or feet, for walkers).”
–Passport as digital wallet: This new program, also part of iOS 6 and available to users of earlier iPhone models, “will put all your digital coupons, tickets and loyalty cards in one place, and potentially, be a way one day to use the iPhone as a digital wallet,” writes USA TODAY’s Jefferson Graham.
Amtrak, Cedar Fair theme parks, Starwood Hotels, and American, Delta, United and Virgin airlines are among the early partners; “in terms of travel, the program will store your boarding pass and will bring up the pass up when you walk into the airport, (and) is designed to have appropriate gate information displayed on the phone,” says PeterGreenberg.com. And, notes Apple’s website, “If your gate changes after you’ve checked in for your flight, Passbook will even alert you to make sure you’re not relaxing in the wrong terminal.”
–More ways to communicate: “On the road, the phone is better designed to improve Facebook, FaceTime and Siri communications. You no longer need Wi-Fi to speak over FaceTime; it will work over cellular networks and allow video chat wherever travelers may be,” notes PeterGreenberg.com. And speaking of Siri, the voice-activated “personal assistant” will now be able to find and book restaurants through OpenTable.com.
The iPhone 5, available for pre-order on Sept. 14, will be shipped on Sept. 21. The 16-gigabyte model costs $199 with a carrier contract, while the 32-GB and 64-GB models are priced at $299 and $399, respectively.