Last Updated Jun 16, 2011 8:40 AM EDT
Let's say you just got a new iPhone (which I did). It won't be long -- it was immediate in my case -- until you are wondering: What are the best apps to download? In particular, I wanted to find the best ones for my car -- for highway information, finding parking, entertainment and even avoiding speeding tickets.
I already knew that you could get apps to help you shop for a new car (from Kelley Blue Book or Edmunds.com) or to manage the one you have. In connection with General Motors' OnStar, for instance, apps from Chevrolet and Buick let you lock or unlock your car remotely. (See Mobile Apps that Help You Unlock Your Car or Buy a New One).
But I had heard about apps that can help you find a parking spot at a holiday-clogged mall or find a restaurant you want at the next expressway exit. Which apps are best for those jobs?
To answer that pressing question, I enlisted Simon Buckingham, CEO of Appitalism, a web site that sells apps not only for the iPhone (like the Apple app store) but for most other devices as well. Appitalism also has a lineup of consumer reviews suggesting the best apps for various purposes. Buckingham gave me a list of his favorites in various categories; I have researched and included a few others as well. Here are the top picks.
Help on the Highway
Buckingham enthusiastically endorsed iExit, which tells you what services are available at upcoming expressway exits. "I often find that by the time you see a sign for a hotel or restaurant you want, you have passed the exit," he notes. (You don't have to be near the exit to get that information; the app also lets you plan ahead.)
A quick test seemed to confirm his enthusiasm for iExit ($1.99). I checked on two exits along the Long Island Expressway which I pass every week, and the motels and gas stations were exactly right. And picking a random exit near Boston, I found not only four gas stations and four fast-food joints but a Target, a Staples (in case you need office supplies on the road) or a Petco if the dog food is running low.
For finding a spot in a busy mall parking lot or on a side street, Buckingham recommends PrimoSpot ($2.99). Users praise this app for not only finding street and garage parking but also telling them what the regulated parking hours are in adjacent areas.
This app works only in New York, Boston and Seattle, but many other metro areas have apps of their own. PrimoSpot also can help you remember where you parked and find your way back.
Best Gas Prices
To find where gas is selling for less in your area, check out apps like Gas Buddy (free for iPhone, Android and Blackberry), which could help you find prices 20% less. For a fuller rundown, see Gas Prices: 5 Apps that Save Families Money by my colleague Stacey Bradford.
If you have decided that it is time to track your gas mileage more carefully, you might try AccuFuel (free); reviewers like its easy data entry and ability to track more than one vehicle.
If you are driving for distance or creeping through a commute, you will probably soon lose or grow tired of the radio station you've been listening to. That is the time to check out Pandora (free). With Pandora, your iPhone, Android or other device becomes a radio player: Enter a song or two that you like, and Pandora will produce a whole "station" of similar music. If you have the Ford Sync system or another way to plug your phone into your car's audio system, the sound will be much better. (You may also want a way to plug in your phone's charger: Continuous use will quickly drain your phone's battery.)
If your driving style tends to speed, you might be interested in Trapster (free), which will alert you if you are approaching a police radar gun. The community-based app also flags red-light cameras, so you can avoid your instinct to go on through on the yellow light.
Finally, if your car has picked up so much dust and grime that you cannot stand to look at it, there is WashMyCar (free), which will point you to the nearest car wash.
Photo of highway sign courtesy of Flickr user justinsomnia
Photo of parking lot courtesy of Flickr user Alex92287
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