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The 9 Most Useful Mobile Apps for the Road

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San Francisco's Ferry Building, with business listing in Street View

According to Mashable.com, today is Social Media Day. And even though we don't fully understand the rationale -- It's the end of Q2? The feast day of St. Theobald (unlikely, since he was a hermit)? -- we're happy to take part in the festivities as long as there's punch and pie.

...Okay, so we've just gotten word that there's no punch and pie. Still, we went to the trouble of cobbling together a list of our favorite social media applications for drivers and auto buffs, so we might as well share them with you.

As you'll see, we've divided the list into four general categories: geolocation, entertainment, mobile phone integration, and promotion. Those are the major areas into which most social media tools fall.

One other thing to note: our fave applications are almost all intended for mobile devices. Only one involves Facebook, and Twitter nor Foursquare are nowhere to be seen. We know our sample set is pretty small, but it appears that where cars are concerned, the High Gear family would rather experience social media on the go, rather than at our desks. Food for thought, kids.

And now: drumroll, please...

GEOLOCATION

Winner: Google Maps
Since the automobile is all about mobility (it's built into the name, right?), it stands to reason that geolocation is a major focus of many social apps. And when it comes to geolocation, Google Maps is the daddy of 'em all. Not only is Google Maps available on mobile and desktop platforms, but the service's recent addition of business listings to Street View makes driving an even richer, more interesting experience.

Runners-up: Tie between Caravan and Virtual Road Rally apps for the Ford Fiesta
Technically, neither of these apps are in production just yet, but in concept, they're genius. The Caravan application -- developed by UM students John Ciccone, Collin Hockey, Sangmi Park, and Joe Phillips -- allows groups to communicate quickly with one another on road trips, making it far easier to tell the guys in the Trans Am two miles ahead that that six-pack of Mountain Dew has gone right through you. Virtual Road Rally is intended more for businesses, parks, historic markers, and the like, allowing them to reach out to anyone passing by and say, "Hey, we're a point of interest!" That's great for sales and scenic views alike.

ENTERTAINMENT

Winner: Aha Radio [iTunes link]
There are lots of traffic apps on the market -- some for mobile phones, others for portable and in-dash telematics systems -- but the free Aha Radio (formerly known as Aha Mobile) offers far more than most. Not only do users get traffic data and navigation assistance, but also full access to their stored music and a wide selection of special stations to enjoy, including NPR, CNET, ESPN, and our personal fave, Grammar Girl. Added bonus: the Caraoke feature is full-on brilliant.

Runner-up: Pandora
We can't speak for everyone, but when we're driving around town, we're almost always listening to tunes (or Grammar Girl). The Pandora app for mobile phones (and for the new MyFord Sync) gives us exponentially more variety in our music options, and it lets us share our custom stations with others. Because surely everyone wants to rock out to our playlist of Kenny G/Michael Bolton monster ballads.

MOBILE PHONE INTEGRATION

Winner: General Motors' Android app for the Chevrolet Volt
GM knows that mobile phones are becoming increasingly indispensable, and the automaker leveraged that fact to create a brilliant new Android app for the upcoming Chevrolet Volt. With the flick of a finger, you'll be able to unlock the car, keep tabs on the Volt's battery charge, stay ahead of maintenance needs, and make use of other vehicle diagnostics. Which is way better than being confronted by a flashing "engine" light first thing in the morning.


 
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