January 10, 2013
Walking Tour of Cape Town audio-guide app – review
Stuart Buchanan is a journalist, blogger, and online writer for Flow Communications.
He grew up in Durban and has lived in various parts of South Africa and the UK, before finally settling on Cape Town. He often wonders why anyone would want to live anywhere else.
If you've ever been on a City Sightseeing Bus in Cape Town, you'll know about the audio commentary that plays as you approach various attractions around the city. You simply sit back, plug in your earphones, and enjoy listening to interesting and informative tour guides as they talk you through the history, significance and little-known facts of the Mother City.
Well, imagine that same concept, but applied to a much smaller scale – a walk around Cape Town's City Bowl and surrounds. Tourism Radio, the South African start-up founded in Cape Town in 2005, has developed location-based audio guides for cities around the world. The guides can be downloaded as standalone applications for Android and iPhone, or accessed through Tourism Radio's travel application, Hummba – listed by Forbes magazine as one of the Top 20 Start-ups in Africa last year.
Cape Town Tourism worked with Tourism Radio to develop the Walking Tour of Central Cape Town app. With an hour's worth of audio commentary and 40 points of interest in the city, it provides a great way to get off the beaten track of an organised group tour and do some exploring of your own. While that can be a daunting endeavour for the uninitiated, having the Walking Tour app makes exploring on your own safe and fun.
How it works
It works like this: First of all, download the app from Google Play (for a bargain R8.53) or Apple iTunes ($0.99c). Remember to take note of your cellphone's data charges if you are not using Wi-Fi. Next, switch on your phone's GPS. For iPhones, this is done by going to Settings > Location Services, and making sure the switch is set to "On" for the Walking Tour app. Android models vary, but for most, you can switch on the GPS in Settings > Location & security. Next, open the app and download the Cape Town guide (it's about 10MB). Press the green arrow to open up the map, and hey presto, you are ready to explore.
The first thing you'll notice is a little yellow man in the centre of the map. That indicates your current position. The app will track your movements as you stroll through the city, and the map will update in real-time. You'll also notice a number of different-coloured squares containing various symbols. These represent different points of interest. You can press the squares scattered around the map to learn more about each one. All the squares are also listed in a row above the map. Press there to filter which ones are displayed. This is particularly useful if you want to customise your adventure – museums and galleries only, for example.
If you prefer to see all the points of interest in a list, press List in the top-right corner. Then, press on any of them to see where they are on the map. Some attractions come with an audio guide, which will start playing as soon as you select them. You can also press the green arrow to read more about each attraction.
But there's a much more fun way of doing all of this. See where you are on the map, decide which attraction you'd like to head for, plug in your earphones and put your phone away. As soon as you are close to each attraction, the audio commentary will automatically play. It's always a pleasant surprise when it kicks in, preceded with a melodic little jingle that signals you are near an attraction. The commentary lasts anywhere between 30 seconds to a minute or so, and allows you to benefit from local knowledge and insight while still exploring on your own.
I journeyed from Greenmarket Square in the middle of the City Bowl towards the Company's Garden. With my phone safely tucked in my pocket, I was ready for the Walking Tour app to surprise me. It picked out the Metropolitan Methodist Church, The Old Town House and the Square itself as I approached each one, providing an interesting historical context to the buildings that appear so unassuming in our modern world.
I made my way up Government Avenue, and learned about St George's Cathedral, the Houses of Parliament, Die Tuynhuys, and the Iziko Museums. For some attractions, like St George's Cathedral, the audio commentary actually urges you to go inside, and describes what you see in the interior. This was particularly impressive, as the kind of information shared by the app is not always on display at each venue, and you can't help but feel as if you are privy to some special knowledge that others around you (who can't hear the commentary) don't know.
As much as it's great to just wander around, keep an eye on the map to make sure you don't get lost! If you want to head towards a particular attraction, select it from the list, press the green arrow to read more, and then select Go There. The app will then launch a different app (typically Google Maps or Apple Maps) to do this, automatically creating directions to that chosen attraction, and displaying the best route to take. You can follow those directions while keeping the audio commentary running so as not to miss anything on the way.
Things to remember:
- Make sure you have a full battery when you start; using location services generally uses more battery power
- The little yellow man on your map symbolises where you are. When checking on your location, wait a few seconds to ensure that there is no lag time on the GPS
- Don't get lost! It's great to wander around Cape Town, but do keep an eye on the map
- Be aware of your surroundings; don't wander off the main pedestrian routes
- Look ahead! Walking and looking down at your phone's screen may cause you to bump into people or things.
Overall, the Walking Tour app is a great way to augment your travels through the city. If you're the kind of traveller who likes to have their nose in a guidebook wherever they go, you'll love the freedom that an audio guide gives you.
For the adventurous among you, this app will allow you to make your own way through the city without ever feeling completely lost, or that you are missing the good stuff. You'll be able to find the things that interest you, and discover some you may have never known about. It gives you the flexibility to see the sights in your own time, and to linger somewhere or get chatting to the locals if that takes your fancy. And at less than R10 for the app, you're getting professional tour-guide insight for an absolute steal.
Download the Walking Tour of Central Cape Town app now. It's a walk in the park!