Double-Click: A new iPad app lets you leave your guidebooks at home

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By Nancy Trejos
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 6, 2010; 9:57 AM

Imagine vacationing in a city you've never been to and leaving your guidebooks behind.

Now you can, with Lonely Planet's launch of its "Discover" e-book series for Apple's new iPad. The electronic guidebooks, priced for a limited time at $14.99, are available for five European destinations: Great Britain, Italy, Spain, France and Ireland.

Lonely Planet was one of the first companies to begin delivering travel-related content on the much-hyped touch-pad gadgets. The first effort was a digital version of its "1,000 Ultimate Experiences" guidebook, reimagined as a deck of 1,000 photo- and video-filled cards for readers to flip through. That application initially got mixed reviews, partly because of the $19.99 price tag (later dropped to $3.99).

With the "Discover" e-book series, the company is promising more: an interactive tool with maps and more than 3,000 hyperlinks. "Our quest is to continue to reinvent the travel guide," said John Boris, Lonely Planet's executive vice president.

"Reinvent" might be a bit of a stretch: The content isn't any different from that of the traditional "Discover" guidebook series. In fact, it will appear on your iPad in linear fashion, with a cover, a table of contents, chapters and even a glossary. We recently got to test the France guide, available now on the iBookstore in the iBooks app.

What we liked: Clicking on a hyperlink took us directly to a map or the Web site of a hotel, restaurant or other attraction. On Page 582, for instance, in the chapter titled "France's Top Itineraries," we clicked on the hyperlink for Chateau de Chenonceau and it took us to www.chenonceau.com. We also liked that we could bookmark pages, take notes and do Google or Wikipedia searches for more information. The color photos were clear and beautiful. (The photo of the Roman amphitheater in Nimes and the Cathedrale Notre-Dame in Rouen made me want to hop on a plane.)

What we didn't like: The maps were a missed opportunity. Sure, they had embedded points of interest, and we could enlarge them, but there was no simple way to get directions. A Lonely Planet spokeswoman told us we could easily access Google maps, but we're hoping that at some point we'll be able to connect the e-book to a GPS device, something the iBooks app doesn't currently allow. We were also confused by the fact that certain words were highlighted in the same color as the hyperlinks. And some of the hyperlinks took us to other sections of the book that weren't terribly useful. For instance, while reading about the Avenue des Champs-Elysees, we clicked on the word "boulevard." That led us to page 225 and a description of "Opera & Grands Boulevards," not even in the same area. We also found the search engine for the actual e-book to be a bit slow, and unlike Google, it didn't auto-correct when we misspelled Montmartre. Finally, we yearned for some videos.

Bottom line: After years of sheepishly pulling out a guidebook in a foreign city, we like the idea of acting like a tourist without looking like one. But the "Discover" e-book isn't much more than a book that fits into a machine. Here's hoping for more interactivity once the technology advances.


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