Unless you’ve been living in a cave or under a rock for the past few years, you’re probably aware that the Olympic Games 2012 begin in London tomorrow. The preamble is to the event is drawing to a close: even now, the torch is making its rounds through the streets of our capital, in preparation for the opening ceremony. Predictably, the world is abuzz with excitement – but if you’re lucky enough to be attending the Olympic Games, there are attendant dangers. After all, tourists from all corners of the globe are flocking to London: hotels have been pre-booked to capacity months in advance, the streets are crowded (well… more crowded than usual), and hysteria is the watchword of the day. So if you’re looking to gain an edge over the competition, and become the gold medal standard for spectating, you should download an app or two to help you on your way!
A plethora of applications intended to enhance your Olympic experience have sprung up recently (not to mention older, unrelated applications which are nevertheless the perfect complement to convenience), and today Mobile Madhouse is going to chart our five personal favourites of the selection! So if you happen to be attending the sports event of the year, you owe it to yourself to read onwards!
5 – Toilet Map
No, we’re not joking – anyone who’s been to London can testify that there are two things in short supply: rubbish bins (the terrorist threat of hiding bombs in a ready-made tube was too great), and toilets. We can guarantee that during your Olympic experience, the following scenario will occur at least once: you duck into a McDonald’s or a Starbucks, intent upon using the toilet and getting straight out again, only to discover that the other hundred people jammed into the shop had the exact same idea. Bored staff members look on as a thirty metre line snakes its way past the counter, but nobody’s buying anything – they’re looking to offload merchandise, not purchase it!
With the Toilet Map application, those worries (and that flush of embarrassment… get it?) will be removed. It’s incredibly simple to use: once you open the application, it culls information from Google Maps to automatically pinpoint every known toilet in the surrounding area. As if that wasn’t handy enough for the tourist-on-the-go, clicking on one of the floating toilet icons brings up a chart with relevant information about the toilet: the name of the shop it is in (if any), the hours it is accessible, any attendant price, whether it’s male or female only, or available to both, and even the type of shop it is located in (for example, it might say ‘Café’, just in case you want to get a bite to eat after you micturate)! Utilitarian in the extreme, you won’t find yourself fiddling around with Toilet Map like you would with one of the tie-in Olympic game apps, but we guarantee you’ll still be sighing with relief that you bought it!
4 – BBC Olympics
One of the official applications distributed by the BBC, BBC Olympics is the only application that streams live feed from the Olympic Games 24 hours a day. After all, though you may be attending the games, you can’t watch every single event at the games – so when Usain Bolt is performing his trademark leg stretches and you’re bored to tears waiting for him to actually start running
, you can pull out your Smartphone and take a look at the concurrent swimming event, instead!
BBC Olympics is really easy to use. All of the most recent and high-profile events are organized in a Facebook-esque “top stories” section, allowing you to instantly access the most up-to-date information right as you open the application. Events stream live, and are saved for later perusal, which means you won’t miss a single moment unless you really just don’t want to see it. BBC journalists update the application with a live text feed as events occur; so if you happen to blink and miss a crucial moment, you’ll instantly know about it from their reaction - and as if that wasn’t enough, there are handy bios for each athlete performing in an event, allowing the less sports-savvy amongst you to garner a bit of context! And the capper? – This is a free application. You can have the whole of the Olympics at your fingertips for no cost at all! If you have even a passing interest in the games – even if you’re not attending – you owe it to yourself to install this application post-haste!
3 – London 2012 – Official Game
Something a little bit different, this time – not an application that will aid you in your trek around London or that will help you gather context on the Games, but rather a fun little diversion for you to plink away at in your hotel room at night. (Or in the stands during the pole vault event, for that matter!) Licensed as the official game for the London 2012 Olympics, the aptly-named London 2012 – Official Game is free to download and an awful lot of fun to play. It features a plethora of Olympic events – whether you want to see your little electronic avatar sprint the 100m dash, swim the 100m butterfly or leap their way into the stratosphere with the triple jump, there’s bound to be at least a game or two that you’ll enjoy.
In terms of graphics, it’s reminiscent of Wii Sports: stylized and cartoony, with deliberately disproportionate characters for added cuteness. You can buy new outfits for your character and outfit them to make them stand out in the multiplayer challenge mode. But don’t worry about power expenditure: if you have an up-to-date Smartphone, it runs incredibly smoothly, with bold, swooping camera angles that really put you in the thick of the action and add a sense of drama to proceedings. The only real complaint we had was with the controls, which can be sloppy from time to time.
There’s nothing more frustrating than coming in second place because the game decided to bring your avatar to a dead halt for no discernible reason. Multitouch support is all well and good, but if you’re going to rely on it so heavily, it needs to be more polished and less mushy than this. Nevertheless, the game was fun enough that we managed to muscle through and have a great time with it anyway. So if you find yourself with a free moment during the 2012 games pull out your Smartphone and give it a go!
2 – Travel+ London
In our overview of Toilet Map, we mentioned the two things that can never be found in London: rubbish bins and toilets. Well, we’re appending that list with a third addition: public transport that isn’t crammed with a veritable throng of people. At the best of times, London is one of the largest and busiest cities in the world, and the vast majority of people commute to their workplace via public transportation; during the Olympic Games, we can comprehensively state that it’ll be worse than ever before, courtesy of tourists flocking from all corners of the globe to catch a bit of the Olympic action. You really need to plan your journeys out in advance to ensure that you don’t get left out in the cold, unable to catch a train or hop aboard a bus thanks to a whole horde of tourists – and when it comes to forward planning (and on-the-fly amendments), nobody does it better than Travel+ London.
In their own words, they “[aggregate] live TFL feeds across Underground, Bus, Train, DLC, Tram and River networks, [allowing] users to find, plan and select the most efficient and direct route to their destination of choice”. In layman’s words, Travel+ London is constantly updating their store of information to take into account things like delays or crashes, ensuring that you’re always kept aware of mitigating circumstances that could affect your journey. A route planning feature means you can enter your destination and instantly have Travel+ plot the fastest way from A to B, utilizing whichever public transport you want, and a superb online map (parsed from Google Maps itself) ensures that even on foot, you know exactly where you are and exactly where you need to be going.
As if all this wasn’t enough, Travel+ London also saves your search history and previous journeys – so if you want to make the same trip twice, you simply have to open up your previous entry and check it out! For real convenience, it’s hard to find a better journey planning tool than this… and though you may find it unbelievable, Travel+ London is still in Beta. Imagine the plethora of features they’ll manage to pack in when they finally issue a full release!
1 – Hotel Tonight
Transportation is important, and games are a lot of fun to noodle about with in your spare time, but the most important factor in your 2012 Olympic experience should be where you’re staying. Most London hotels – most London hostels, in fact – are booked solid, and have been for months. It’s incredibly difficult to just “wing it” and check in somewhere – but if you’re stuck with nowhere to stay, there’s no better way to try than with the superb Hotel Tonight application!
They say the best ideas are the ones you think of and wonder “why has nobody else done this yet?!”, and we certainly felt that way about Hotel Tonight. The concept is simple: they are connected and in contact with a huge number of hotel chains, motels and hostels in major cities (including London, of course), and are notified when bookings fall through. They then update their application with the information. Everybody wins: Hotel Tonight receive money for filling the spare room with a warm body, the hotel chain receives money they wouldn’t otherwise have attained, and you – naturally – get a room for the night at a heavily discounted rate! There are few other circumstances where you could reasonably expect to stay in a hotel at a 70% discount on a same-day booking, but with Hotel Tonight it’s just a run-of-the-mill experience. It’s intuitive, it’s easy to use - but above it, it’s unbelievably convenient. And – incredibly – it’s free to download. If you ever plan on entering London, let alone attending the Olympic Games, you owe it to yourself to download this amazing application as soon as possible!