App of the Week: RoadAhead Makes Road Trips Easier

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App: RoadAhead Platforms: iPhone Web site: Apple Link Cost: Free

I love a good road trip. There's something magical about getting behind the wheel and putting your hometown in your rearview mirror. I've taken quite a few of them, solo and otherwise, in the last ten years and there are a few things a person learns when driving long distances. First, make sure and have good music in the stereo. Second, snacks and cold drinks must be at the ready. Finally, if you are on empty and you see a sign for a gas station, don't try to make it one more exit, particularly in west Texas.

Fortunately, especially when it comes to that last one, there is an app for the iPhone that takes the guesswork out of what is coming around the bend at the next exit. Meet RoadAhead; an app so usable, it makes road trip lovers like me think, "Why didn't I come up with that?"

There are plenty of apps that will help you locate any number of things: restaurants, gas stations and the like. What makes RoadAhead so unique is that rather than searching for specific stores and pointing out where they are on the map, it checks your GPS coordinates and shows you everything coming up at the next few exits down the highway.

Think of RoadAhead as a mobile version of those giant road signs that show all the lodging, food and gas options at the next exit. In this case, it tracks every stop on a highway and puts those options at your disposal. If you really have a hankerin' for Whataburger, no need to wonder when the next one will show up on the roadside. Just check RoadAhead.

Having reviewed and played with a bunch of apps, I'm convinced that ease of use is one of the most, if not the most, important characteristics of a good mobile phone application. No one should have to search through complex menus or swipe through multiple screens to find the information they need. The developers of RoadAhead clearly made that a top priority.

Once the app is open, it finds your location and starts displaying information for your highway route. If you are stationary, like I was when writing this, you can choose a highway and scroll through the various exits. This particular option is great in rural areas where signal strength might be an issue. Pull up the next 10 or 12 exits and you don't have to worry if your bars hit zero in the middle of nowhere because the info remains on your screen.

The display shows the exit number and name along with any of a number of stopping points, from restaurants to hospitals. Preferences set what types of establishments you might want to find as well as how many of each type you want on the screen. Scroll down to see the upcoming exits and what they have to offer. Tap any exit and get a Google map giving distance and directions.

It's simple and incredibly handy when on the road. I can think of a few times when driving through Mississippi I could have used RoadAhead, and I can assure you it will be with me on my next road trip.

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