While firms such as SpaceX and Virgin Galactic are planning sub-orbital trips to space, many travel companies are focusing their mobile apps on activities on the ground â" and what you can do in close-by neighborhoods.
Facebook recently fine-tuned its Nearby button, a feature of the social network's free apps for iPhones and Android devices. Separately, Groupon introduced an identically named Nearby feature in its free iPhone, iPad and Android apps.
When you arrive at a destination, you can use Facebook Nearby to search for restaurants, coffee, nightlife, outdoor activities, arts, hotels and shopping in the vicinity.
Before the update, Facebook Nearby merely enabled you to view these attractions in one list, mixing restaurants and bookstores within several miles of your current location. You could learn about their basic amenities and how many "likes" they've attracted, read posts about the place, and see which of your Facebook friends have "checked in" at the venue.
You can still do all that with the revised Facebook Nearby feature. But now you also can search for these hotels, restaurants and nightlife activities by the aforementioned categories, which is a nice twist if you are set on finding an eatery or an art gallery within walking distance or just a few miles away.
Facebook Nearby also breaks down each category into more specific ones. For example, within the restaurants category, you can search for breakfast and brunch, a deli, ice cream and frozen yogurt, and many ethnic cuisines.
The Facebook Nearby feature works best for users when the business has a Facebook page. The descriptions of its amenities are more detailed. For example, a hotel description may include information about parking and Wi-Fi.
Facebook Nearby is a very useful feature for getting a quick overview of a neighborhood's attractions and can serve as a sort of roving and instantaneous guidebook for travelers.
Groupon's Nearby feature is less geared for travelers and 100% more deal-oriented.
Using your mobile device's GPS feature, Groupon Nearby enables you to search for all deals in close proximity, as well as food and drink, events and activities, beauty and spa, fitness, health, home and auto, shopping and education. Like Facebook Nearby, Groupon Nearby also enables you to search for subsets of each category.
You can drill down under events and activities and search for tours and attractions.
For example, I found a "deal" for a one-hour private flight over Manhattan, Staten Island and the Hudson River from NYC Air Service. The Groupon offer for one person would cost $89, and Groupon touted it as up to 53% off the company's regular rates.
The deal also included options to buy the Groupon voucher, which had to be redeemed by June 24, for two people ($190) and three people ($270). Groupon pledged that the three-person flight is "a $570 value."
You can definitely find discounted offers using Groupon Nearby.
But a quick phone call to NYC Air Service revealed that you can regularly purchase the private flight for three people for $270. Thus, there was actually no Groupon discount in the offer for three people.
The enhanced Facebook Nearby feature (free; Android, iPhone) enables you to search and view detailed information about attractions, from restaurants to activities and hotels, near your current location.
Pros: For travelers it puts an instant guidebook into your hands, usually providing a basic overview about the attraction, including how popular it is, and which of your Facebook friends have checked into the location. Very convenient and useful.
Cons: The details it provides about various restaurants, hotels or activities are inconsistent. They favor businesses that have their own Facebook pages. For bargain hunters, there's a paucity of information about pricing and special offers.
Takeaway: If you are out on the town, and the hotel concierge isn't at hand, Facebook Nearby provides a quick and easy-to-use guide to nearby places of interest.
Groupon Nearby (free; iPhone, iPad, Android) provides special offers close to your location. Vouchers have to be purchased, usually within a day or so, and must be redeemed within a certain time.
Pros: It has an attractive "look and feel," is easy to use and gives detailed information, including the "fine print," about the offers it's promoting.
Cons: While the Groupons often provide substantial discounts, they sometimes amount to little or no savings off regular prices. This app feature is not particularly traveler-oriented because some of the businesses require reservations. If you're in town for only a day or so, there could be many customers trying to redeem their Groupons the same day you want to.
Takeaway: Very useful for bargain-hungry people, but do additional research to determine if the "deal" is really a deal. Groupon Nearby would be even better if it incorporated the Groupon Now feature, which enables you to redeem your Groupon on that day only. Groupon Now eliminates voucher-redemption hassles.
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