These apps are ideal for Chicago

Sep 24, 2009

Chicago is one of America’s most formidable towns and a top tourist destination, known as much for its legendary politicians and sports figures as it is for architecture and food. If you live in the Windy City of just spending a long weekend in town, these apps offer a glimpse of what Chicago has to […]

Chicago is one of America’s most formidable towns and a top tourist destination, known as much for its legendary politicians and sports figures as it is for architecture and food.

If you live in the Windy City of just spending a long weekend in town, these apps offer a glimpse of what Chicago has to offer.

Getting around town

The first challenge with a big city like Chicago is learning how to get around. This includes the city center as well as the suburbs, as there are plenty of activities across the area.

If you are driving into Chicago, you can check traffic tie-ups by using Multicam Chicago. This 99-cent app taps into the Web cameras spread across the area’s freeways to monitor traffic hot spots. These are the same images you would see on morning news programs when traffic reporters inform you of snarls along the Kennedy, Eisenhower or I-294. If getting a birds-eye view of traffic doesn’t thrill you, radio powerhouse WGN AM 720 offers WGN Radio Traffic and Weather Central, a free tool for up-to-the minute traffic information and local weather.

Many locals prefer using the area’s fine public transportation system for getting in and out of Chicago. From the suburbs, the 99-cent iTransit Buddy-METRA app offers schedules and on-time details for the Metra commuter rail service. There are several similar transit apps for Chicago, but tapping into the Metra service makes iTransit Buddy the most useful. If you’re in the city, I can’t recommend the 99-cent Buster: The Chicago Bus Tracker more highly. I use this app at least twice a day to get back and forth from home to work. It’s easy to read, provides fast load times and accurately tells you when the next bus is coming.

Finally, when you’re on the ground in Chicago, there are a number of mapping apps to navigate the city. I like the one simply called Chicago because this 99-cent map includes a GPS tracking function to ‘tag’ your car or other landmarks. If you have a hard time remembering where you parked, this mapping app will mark the spot. It will also guide you to essential services, like nearby ATM machines in case you’re running low on funds.

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A cultural taste of Chicago

Metromix What’s Nearby finds restaurants, bars, movie theaters, concerts and other cultural events for the city. You can filter by type of event you’re interested, schedules or simply tap the “Buzz” button to see what’s getting attention in a city as big and diverse as Chicago. Metromix uses the iPhone’s GPS functions to find points of interest near you, making it especially useful.

Likewise, by using popular apps such as Urbanspoon and Yelp, you can find restaurants by your current location or by selecting the neighborhood you want to eat in, such as Bucktown or Lincoln Park. I’ve used these apps across the country and in my backyard and have always found that both provide useful and tasty recommendations.

Chicago is filled with places and people that draw our attention. One place offers both and has becomes one of the city’s top tourist spots despite the team’s woeful history. That place would be Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs. For a glimpse of what the famed “Friendly Confines” has to offer, check the useful Wise Guide Wrigley Field. The 99-cent guide offers a good history of what is Chicago’s most unlucky sports venue as well as attractions–think bars–in the Wrigleyville neighborhood.

If you’re in town to see a show, the BIC Theatre app offers show times and ticket information from the Broadway in Chicago organization. Broadway in Chicago is the biggest producer in the city and the force behind the top touring shows that hit the city.

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For a slice of the people that help define Chicago, check out the free app from the city’s house band, Wilco. This fan-based app provides tour dates, album information and photos from the band when it hits the road. And when Wilco is not on a national tour, the band and its members frequently play at the city’s smaller music venues.

Another Chicago icon is profiled in a e-book fitted especially for the iPhone. American Pharaoh: Mayor Richard J. Daley – His Battle for Chicago and the Nation, by Adam Cohen and Elizabeth Taylor, is an award-winning profile of the city’s first Mayor Daley, a legendary figure in local politics who also widely influenced the nation’s cultural tone of the 1960s. The book, however, is a pricey download at $19.99.

Need to know news

For local news, the innovative EveryBlock breaks down news by Chicago neighborhood or zip code. The goal of EveryBlock, offered for free, is to segregate news by your specific location, right down to the crime reports reported by address. Users can type in a zip code, use GPS to mark your location or select a specific neighborhood and will then be provided with current information about the area. You’ll find restaurant reviews, real estate listings and even coupons from nearby retailers.

For a broader take on Chicago area news, the Chicago Tribune News Reader and the Chicago Tribune Sports Reader offers what you’d expect from a big city newspaper: the big stories that give readers insight into the day’s headline. These apps have a distinct scrolling wheel to navigate the news and an take some getting used to, however.

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Eric Benderoff

Eric Benderoff is the principal of, an editorial services firm, and a founding member of the Appolicious content strategy team. His personal technology column for the Chicago Tribune has appeared in newspapers and websites nationwide. He is a regular guest on Chicago's WGN Radio and is a frequent commentator about consumer technology on national TV news programs.

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