Mobile Apps to Find The Haps

Looking for a good time?

No, seriously – are you looking for an easy way to find out what’s going on in your neighborhood or downtown and then head there to get out, see some live music, maybe have a drink, or find a place to go with friends?

Well, sure – if you want, I’ll come too. But really – I find that a lot of us geeks have a wealth of knowledge about the Web and how to use various sites and Web services to get what we want and find things we’re looking for, but when it comes to actually braving the wild outdoors, especially at night where there might be other people involved, we tend to shy away and say things like “I don’t know anywhere to go,” or “Nothing happens around here.” Nothing could be further from the truth! (Unless you live way out in the middle of nowhere, in which case “nothing” may be possible and you should brew up some of your own fun. That fun may or may not include a bacon rocket. I leave that entirely up to you.)

The trick here is to know how to find something to do, using tricks you already know. You probably already have a smartphone of some flavor, whether it’s an iPhone, an Android phone, a Blackberry, or heaven forbid a Windows Mobile phone. (although Windows Phone 7 is looking pretty sweet.)

So let’s take a look at some mobile apps and sites you can get to from your phone while you’re out with friends and they say something like “hey, what’s good to eat around here,” or “where should we go after the movie?” Not only will you have the opportunity to whip out your phone and pull up the answer, thus impressing all of your friends with your grasp of technology, you’ll be able to (hopefully) lead them somewhere that doesn’t totally suck because you heard Ray Ban outlet someone two cubes down mention that they got totally wasted there one weekend.

One of my favorite sites for finding things to do is actually probably the least well-known of the roundup here:

  • Goby is a Web service that can help you find interesting things to do no matter where you live. Whether you’re already out and about and looking for something to do, or you’re planning a trip, or you’re about to have company, Goby allows you to select the type of activity you’re interested in, from taking in a local brew tour or visiting a couple of nearby wineries to live music spots in the vicinity and quiet coffeeshops that might be perfect for a first date (hint, hint.) with the looker you’ve been trying to convince to join your guild for the past couple of weeks.

    You can specify the time and place you’re looking for something to do, so if there’s a wine festival or a chili cookoff coming to your town in the near future, you can catch it and plan for it, instead of just being restricted to bars and restaurants in your area, like a number of other services. If you’re looking for something to do right now, just pick something you like from the list of types of activities, where you want to find something like that to do, and search for it. You’ll be surprised how much is probably going on under the radar in your own backyard.

  • Yelp is probably one of the best well known services for finding things to do and whether they’re worth your time to do, and it would be a shame to exclude it from this list. It also helps that Yelp has mobile apps that support just about every major mobile device, including the iPhone, Android devices, and Blackberry phones. Once you have the app installed, usually it’ll use your phone to pick up your current location and help you find restaurants, bars, music venues, and even comedy and jazz clubs in your immediate area.

    You can always trim down the number of results by picking the kind of activity you’re looking for, and even though Yelp really started (and continues to specialize in) around restaurants and bars, the service has a pretty solid number of other venues and activities to choose from as well. Best of all, since it’s so well known and highly regarded (except for some pesky attacks over its credibility) the community is large and you can generally trust the reviews of certain locations. If everyone on Yelp says the drinks at a certain bar are watered down, or the food at the Mexican place on the corner is great, you can be sure they’re probably right.

    Let me know how the food at that Mexican joint is though, okay?

  • Aloqa on the other hand is a mobile app for the iPhone and Android phones that doesn’t just compete with Yelp, it pulls in data from Yelp for venues it knows about and then adds a wealth of additional locations and types of activities. For example, Yelp can help you find a nearby restaurant, but it can’t help you find nearby shopping if your out-of-town company are shopaholics and just have to buy souvenirs. Aloqa, on the other hand, can help you out.

    The app organizes venues and activities into channels, and shows you how many entries for each channel are in your vicinity. So if you’re looking for someplace to spend your money shopping, just tap the shopping channel to see local malls, plazas, outlet stores, and other big stores in your area. Additionally, Aloqa is Ray Ban online perfect if you’re looking for a certain kind of event – if you live in New York City and you have an out-of-town friend who’s dying to have a slice of real NY-style pizza, tap the pizza channel to see local delivery and eat-in venues. If you don’t see what you like, you can even create your own channel for the types of things you like to do.

    The same applies for live music, food to go, and even to see a list of venues that have shows playing tonight, and to see who’s playing. How’s that for an answer to “what should we do after work?”

  • UrbanSpoon is another service that can help you find someplace to eat, and it’s geared explicitly for those folks who have a hard time deciding what they want to do, but can pretty easily decide what they don’t want to do. It also has mobile apps for the iPhone, Android phones, and the Blackberry, and one of the mobile app’s signature features is the ability to open it up, pick a few essential things about what you’re looking to do (or none, for that matter) and then shake your phone to randomize what to do tonight. Trust me, it’s fun, and the thought that my boss can spin a wheel and decide where we’re going for lunch is simultaneously terrifying and exciting.

    The site is also a great resource, and while the entire service is designed specifically to help you find somewhere to eat, it’s also hyperlocal and has listings for a ton of restaurants that may otherwise have fallen under the radar. It also incorporates reviews and ratings, but it doesn’t rely on those ratings to make it into your suggestions. The best part about the app (aside from the randomness of using it) is that it gives you great detail about the restaurant’s menu and how much you should expect to spend when you go. I’ve seen a lot of apps that help you find a place to eat and then a different place for dessert and coffee, but none of them have quite the selection of UrbanSpoon.

  • Geodelic is a new app to take up the banner of helping geeks like us find something worth doing in our neighborhoods, but its focus is more on what’s near you versus what’s possible in your region. When you fire up Geodelic on your Android phone or iPhone, you’ll see a little person standing on a planet. That person represents you (yeah, I know he looks nothing like you) and you’ll see items over that little person’s head that represent places in your area that you can go, things you can do, and businesses in your immediate vicinity.

    The app is ad supported, but unlike a lot of these apps, you’d never know it because the sponsors just make sure that their services are listed in the scrolling list of nearby apps and services you can partake in. For example, you can bet that your closest Pizza Hut is in the list of available services, since they’re sponsors of the app. That’s not really a bad thing – the ads blend in so well that if I hadn’t said this, you probably wouldn’t have known they were there. Geodelic doesn’t stop with eateries though, bars are included, destination venues like science centers, parks, landmarks, and other “experiences” are listed; even movie theatres and nearby banks are in the list.

    I know, you’re not going to go out on a date to a bank, but hey – it might be helpful to have an app that can tell you where to take your first date AND where to stop and pick up cash in the same app. You never know, you might need to take a cab home if things go bad…or good, depending on your plans for the evening.

  • Also, if your phone isn’t supported by one or any of these services, most of them have a mobile version of their site that works well from your device. Standard flip phones and feature phones probably need not apply, but only because their built-in browsers are generally awful and you have to pay an arm and a leg for Web access on them. Even Windows Mobile phones (notice no one’s making apps for them?) should be able to fire up Mobile IE and get to the sites of services like Goby, Yelp, and UrbanSpoon.

    The best thing about all of these services though is that they’re all at your fingertips, they all use GPS to pinpoint where you are so you don’t have to worry about it, and they’re all perfect for the geek that can remember to use them when all of your friends are staring at each other wondering what there is to do or whether they should all go home.

    No way, my friend – unbutton those cuffs, roll them up, and declare the night young; pull out your smartphone, tap the screen a few times, and proudly tell your friends that there’s a bar only a couple of blocks from the movie theatre that’s getting great reviews. That’s class.

    Author Description

    Alan Henry

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