App: Inrix Traffic Platform: iPhone, Android, Blackberry, Windows Mobile Website: InrixTraffic.com Cost: Free
Mr. Burns once called sitting "the great equalizer" on The Simpsons, but I tend to think it's traffic. We all get stuck in it and we all curse the day we were born as a result. In Houston, we are particularly cursed with god-awful traffic as commuters haul their tired selves home to the burbs.
I don't normally drive in traffic because I have a flying car, just like the cartoons I watched as a kid told me I would have...in the future. But, for those who have to peddle along in the gridlock, there are apps for that. I wrote about Waze last year and I still use it, but it is more of a social app for finding out what's going on right now where you are. It's cool, but limited in what it can tell you. For more comprehensive coverage, you need Inrix.
I had never actually heard about Inrix until Dwight Silverman mentioned it in his tech blog over at Chron.com. When I downloaded it, I was immediately struck by the fact that the map looks an awful lot like a TranStar map. It is the entire city grid laid out with freeways marked in colors based on traffic flow. Inrix also has small icons that represent various traffic hazards like accidents, construction and the like.
But, one of the coolest features is the traffic predictor. Choose a time you plan on leaving -- you can also input your home and work locations to be saved by the app -- and it will estimate traffic based on historical averages. Obviously, it can't predict the future, but it sure does help when you are going to a part of town that is unfamiliar.
Inrix also has some interesting features like a section of traffic stats that compares Houston to other cities in terms of the amount of time we waste in traffic. Right now, we are 17th -- L.A. is numero uno.
Like Waze and other traffic apps, Inrix has a community of people turning in traffic information on the regular. Any user can sign up to provide information in real time, which helps to increase accuracy and efficiency. There is even a premium sign-up that provides users with access to traffic cameras and unlimited locations.
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One minor quibble I have with Inrix is that it continues to run in the background even when you exit the app, providing occasional notifications of traffic conditions. If you don't want this semi-annoyance, you have to actually turn the app off by double-clicking (on iPhone) the main button and then holding down your finger on the Inrix icon until you see the red off icon and click it.
Minor issues aside, Inrix is a very helpful app for getting around in traffic, but like all apps that deal with driving, it is best used BEFORE you leave home and not while on the road.