Travel Tech: Gov’t Gets “Smart” Apps

July 9, 2010

in App Reviews, Travel Tech

  • SumoMe

iPhone 4 If Maxwell Smart were a spy today he might be carrying a smartphone with “apps” that the U.S. government has created.  But these wouldn’t be James Bond-like secret intelligence gathering and dissemination programs, and anyone can obtain them at the “Mobile Apps Store” on the Website.

With only 18 apps in its store (and an Excel spreadsheet listing 109 apps available from various sources) the federal government is no match for Apple’s iTunes App Store which lists well over 200,000 apps.  Some of the government-issue apps are designed only for the iPhone, others will work on any Web-enabled phone.

Here are ones that travelers might find useful:

Alternative Fuel Locator

Driving a car powered by a fuel other than gasoline or diesel?  This app lets you find both public and private (not always open to the general public) places to re-energize a vehicle using these alternative fuels:

  • Biodiesel
  • Compressed Natural Gas (CNG)
  • Electric
  • Ethanol (E85)
  • Hydrogen
  • Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG)
  • Liquefied Petroleum (LP or Propane)

icon_new_alt_locator The app gave me the location, phone numbers, and driving directions (along with a Google Map) for five places in or near San Francisco where I could purchase biodiesel, including People’s Fuel and Dogpath Biofuels.

Unfortunately, I’d have to be Maxwell Smart to get a fill-up at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (open only to government “operatives.”).  And if I did have a hydrogen-powered Aston-Martin comparable to the fossil-fuel one James Bond drove, I’d have to be in a “fleet” program in order to top off my tank at the the only two refueling spots (Oakland and West Sacramento) near San Francisco.

Available for Web-enabled smartphones; free from or Mobile

icon_americagov Although designed primarily for foreign visitors to the U.S., American citizens may find this app interesting as it provides:

  • News on a broad range of subjects
  • Topics (right now there are several entries about the soccer World Cup)
  • Texts & Transcripts of remarks by U.S. government officials
  • All About America (all 50 U.S. states, the federal government, U.S. history, and more)

Available for Web-enabled smartphones; free from or  (Update 8/14/11 – This app appears to no longer be available).

CIA World Factbook

Maxwell Smart would have really been smart if he had this app whose information is arranged:

  • By Location (Afghanistan to Zimbabwe)
  • By Map (like those you’d find in a World Atlas)
  • By Rank (various categories such as birth rates, GDP, Internet users, airports)
  • In Appendices (including geographic names,weights and measures, and other information)

I learned that in Europe the little country of Andorra (where I’ve never been) has zero miles of coastline, no permanent crops, avalanche hazards, and a population of less than 85,000 with a 100% literacy rate.  On the other hand, France (which I have visited on three trips to Europe) has over 4,000 km of coastline, 2.03% permanent crops on its arable land, even more natural hazards than avalanches, over 64,000,000 inhabitants, and a 99% literacy rate.

There isn’t any real “spy” information in this app, but it could make for fun reading when you’re traveling aboard.

Be careful when buying this app.  There is a “2008 CIA Factbook” by C.I.A.-Metabook and a separate “2010 World Factbook” by Fuzzy Peach LLC.  Each sells for $.99 on the iTunes App Store.  You want the “2010” app which is listed among the 109 apps in the U.S. government Excel spreadsheet; the 2008 book is basically a scanned version of a printed book and is almost impossible to read on the iPhone.  You can get the “CIA Reader” free from the iTunes store if you’re intent on becoming Maxwell Smart or James Bond.

Find Your Embassy

icon_Embassy U.S. citizens can use this app to find:

  • Travel Alerts and Travel Warnings issued by the U.S. State Department
  • U.S. Embassies and Consulates overseas (addresses and maps, phone/fax, e-mail, Web site)
  • Emergency Services (phone number for the Overseas Citizens Services)

Available for Web-enabled smartphones; free from or



  • Shows wait times at security checkpoints and general airport status information (but not for specific flights) on delays, gate holds, and closures at U.S. airports.
  • Answers “What Can I Bring?” through security checkpoints.  Type in the item, and the app searches for it.  Note:  It found “phone”, but not “iPhone” or “cellphone.”
  • TSA Traveler’s Guide tells you how to “Pack Smart” and “Dress Smart” to speed your way through security checkpoints, as well as providing TSA rules on liquids, aerosols and gels, and other useful information.
  • Lets travelers provide feedback on issues or problems at a specific airport.

Available only for the iPhone; free from the iTunes App Store.

U.S. Postal Service Tools

icon_usps You don’t need to be seeing the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet to use this app, but it could be handy to have it on your next road trip across the America because you can use it to:

  • Find the location of Post Offices, Automated Postal Centers, and mail Collection Boxes
  • Look up Zip Codes
  • Track packages
  • Connect to the U.S. Postal Service Mobile Web site

Available for the iPhone, free from the iTunes App Store;for Web-enabled smartphones, free from or Mobile

This app is mainly a search engine for locating information on U.S. government Websites. It also has a 1-800 number and e-mail form (you need to know the e-mail address for the agency or person you want to contact) and a link to the Blog.

Available for Web-enabled smartphones; free from or

UV Index

icon_uvindex This app provides general information on UV indexes and advice on avoiding harmful exposure to the sun, and lets you search the current UV index of any U.S. location by Zip Code, City/State, or view a four day forecast map of UV Index values in the U.S.

Available for Android, Blackberry, and Web-enabled smartphones; free from or

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