Fingertip attractions

As publishers of travel guides are flocking to the app and e-book markets, with Lonely Planet most recently targeting the iPad with its Discover series, Angus Montgomery looks at what can be achieved in these formats

Instead of stuffing their suitcases with paperbacks, many holidaymakers this year will take the option of downloading an app or e-book to their smartphone.

The rapid development of digital travel guides is throwing up new opportunities and challenges for publishers as they move their offerings into the digital arena, face new competitors and aim to carry their editorial designs on to new platforms.

Lonely Planet launched its Discover e-book series on the iPad earlier this month, with launch titles looking at Great Britain, Italy, Spain, France and the Republic of Ireland. Lonely Planet has found popularity with its apps recently. Tom Hall, the publisher’s travel editor, says that when the volcanic ash cloud caused flights to be suspended across Europe earlier this year, the company made all its digital city guides free, for stranded travellers to take advantage of. There were four million downloads over four days.

Hall says Lonely Planet is aiming to develop its digital offer beyond simply reformating the printed product. He says, ’We’ve always been working towards getting the reader the content they want, in the format they want, and at the right price. For many years that had involved taking the printed content into a new format.’ Now, however, Hall says, ’You can improve the reading experience by tagging favourite content or pinpointing areas on a map, for example.’

Hall adds that Lonely Planet’s digital editions, which are designed by an in-house team in Melbourne, Australia, can develop in different ways from the original print products. He cites the 1000 Ultimate Experiences app, which is formatted as a pack of cards that the reader can shuffle through – a step forward from the printed product’s traditional book format.

Traditional Lonely Planet rivals Rough Guides and DK Eyewitness Travel have also been keen to develop the opportunities presented by apps. Peter Buckley, who is digital publisher for both Rough Guides and DK, says, ’We have the opportunity to really shape and define the way travel information is discovered, used and enjoyed by our readers… With regard to travel publishing, the really key thing has to be the fact that we can now tailor content and experiences by the location of the end user. This single premise offers so many opportunities to experiment.’

Buckley says both Rough Guides and DK Eyewitness Travel are developing ’exciting’ apps, which will be released before the end of the year.

ough Guides and DK use some external developers, but Buckley says design tends to be led internally. He adds that although the majority of the designs that end up online or within apps ’originate from traditional 2D workflows’, there is a need to respect the design language of the platform the product is being developed for. Buckley says, ’People need to know that a button is a button and a search box is a search box.

o there is a balance to be struck between the branding of book designs and the design language of the platform you are porting to.

’It goes without saying that we want our digital products to be clear and usable, but additionally it is important that they are playful to use and hopefully surprising. The wow factor is incredibly important when designing for a burgeoning medium such as apps.’

Wallpaper City Guides launched as an iPhone app in January this year. Rachael Moloney, editor of the Wallpaper City Guides series, says, ’We’re aiming at a niche audience – the savvy traveller looking for a concise checklist of design-focused destinations, be it new architecture or a stunning restaurant. Other printed travel guides tend to appeal to the more general tourist.’ Remarking on the increased competition in the digital sphere, Moloney says, ’Recent digital innovations like Google Goggles will obviously offer consumers a vast amount of information, and fast, but our series is about the edit. We’re not attempting to offer an all-encompassing guide to a destination, but our individual pick of Wallpaper-worthy venues.’

The Wallpaper City Guide app is produced by publisher Phaidon Press, based on design templates created by Wallpaper’s team. Moloney says, ’The app was created to be as close a match to the printed edition as possible, because the design is so successful. The app offers exactly the same balance of visual and textual content as the book.’

Like Wallpaper, both Lonely Planet and Rough Guides still maintain the importance of the printed books. Lonely Planet’s Tom Hall points out, ’With a book you’ll never run out of battery and you’ll never have to pay roaming costs. Also, nothing starts a conversation quicker in a hostel than opening a Lonely Planet book.’

Buckley says of books, ’As a medium it does what it does so well and presents a sense of permanence and solidity that is hard to get from digital formats. I also think that there are many interesting avenues of convergence yet to be investigated and discovered, especially where augmented reality and page-recognition technologies are spawning jaw-dropping print/digital mash-ups.’

Other travelling app options

  • Google Goggles. For the Android system, this allows the user to photograph objects such as landmarks. Google will then recognise the object and search the Web for references to it
  • Apple has reportedly registered patents for two travel apps/ one for travel reservations and one for hotel bookings

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