By Scott Baughman

With Independence Day behind us and nothing but the dog days of summer in August ahead of us, it’s clear that we’re in the height of vacation season here in Lake Lure. So what’s a technophile like myself (and yourself, dear reader) to do when the mercury is rising and the sun is shining? Why, check out some awesome summer vacation apps for your smartphone or favorite device, of course.

Presented here in no particular order (hey, my organizational skills are taking a bit of a vacation, too, ok?) are five apps that are perfect for summer usage. To wit:

  1. Dark Sky: If you’re like me then you’re a little less Bronze God and more Pasty Prince so spending a BUNCH of time in the sun is a big mistake. Lest we all become too much like Larry the Lobster from SpongeBob, this app can help you make the most of your local weather forecast by providing you not just predictions, but minute-by-minute prognostication on how much sun will be shining in your vacation destination up to an hour ahead of time. And the animations are pretty sweet, too.
  2. Grill Time: Longtime readers of this column will note that I’ve done an entire session on Grilling with Tech in a back issue, so I’ll spare you my usual meanderings on how to make the fire in your cooker burn even cooler with tech. Instead I’ll just say that this handy app not only lets you set individual cook times for each dish you currently have on the grill top, it also sends you “push” notifications for when it’s time to take action on one or more of the things you’re currently charring to perfection – so you won’t ACTUALLY char the dishes.
  3. Camp & RV: This simply-named app is all about those of us who fancy ourselves experts on the recreational vehicle. Whether it’s a home-sized RV with uncountable numbers of bells and whistles or a humble popup camper, the vehicle isn’t much use (or much good) if all it does it sit in your driveway. This comprehensive app includes maps that highlight popular RV resort spots, campgrounds, parking lots, gas stations, rest areas, repairs places and the map it provides even – crucially – notes bridge heights. Talk about making sure to avoid a catastrophe!
  4. Sky Guide: This app is simultaneously one of the most famous on the App store AND one of the most overlooked. Back when Apple first introduced the iPad – with its larger, more colorful display screen – Sky Guide was one of the apps it used to show off the amazing capabilities of the device. When the boys in Cupertino decide an app is a good example of all the amazing that their new toy can introduce you know it has to be good, right? And indeed it is good. The app is all about using the device’s integrated camera to show you constellations in the night sky. You simply hold the camera up to the sky at night and onscreen appears a graphical overlay showing you the constellations! And the rendering is simply gorgeous. The app won an Apple Design award and is perfect for holding up on those starry summer nights on the rooftop or out on the beach – and even the beach at our lake!
  5. Skype: Yes, I’ve also written about Skype before, but that was more about staying in touch with work while you’re remote. Who wants to worry about work during summer vacation? Truthfully, I hate worrying about work at all during any time of the year – but I shouldn’t say too much more or one of my bosses might take umbrage with me. Anyway, Skype can also be a lifesaver for you during your all-too-short vacation in that you can make calls that would normally be long-distance or even International for free as long as you have an active connection to the Internet. And best of all, the connection method is so seamless it typically feels just like a regular phone call.

And speaking of International stuff…here’s one more app that makes it into the area of “interesting stuff you can do with your smartphone” that can be added to our list as an honorable mention:

Honorable Mention: Word Lens – Ok, this is some seriously next level stuff, people. You thought that whole “Find the Constellations in the night sky” thing was awesome? With Word Lens you can point your phone’s camera at a sign or newspaper or even book and it’ll translate the words it recognizes into another language and type them out on the screen for you to read in your native tongue. For example, if you head to Rome and grab a copy of an Italian newspaper you can point Word Lens at it to see what it would say in English on your phone’s screen. How amazing is that?!?! It works the other way, too, so you can let your Spanish friends who don’t read English (or maybe don’t read it too well) see what The Mountain Breeze says in Spanish! Don’t plan on going International this summer? No worries, take your phone with Word Lens on it to that fancy French restaurant and REALLY impress your date as you order from the foreign menu!

That’s it for now, stay cool and enjoy your tech! Until next time…download complete!