by James A. Martin

Frommer’s iPad Travel Apps Can’t Replace Paper Guidebooks

May 07, 20123 mins

Well-known guidebook publisher Frommer’s has released seven digital iPad editions of its travel guidebooks. But do you really want to carry around a $600 iPad on vacation and risk loss, theft or damage?

The folks at Frommer’s, in partnership with Inkling Systems, Inc., did a superb job tailoring select Frommer’s travel guidebooks to the iPad. But inherent limitations with Apple’s tablet decrease the usefulness of Frommer’s interactive travel guides.

Inkling developed iPad editions of Frommer’s guidebooks for Alaska, California, Costa Rica, Great Britain, France, Japan and Spain. I downloaded and perused Frommer’s California Day By Day, a $15 iPad version of the paperback travel guide that currently goes for $19.79 on

One advantage the iPad Frommer’s guides have over their dead-tree counterparts is immediately apparent: They’re less expensive. They also have numerous additional benefits. The iPad guidebooks incorporate current weather information for destinations; enable you to view destination details, photos, and websites next to maps; offer excellent keyword search features that comb not only the book but also lets you search Wikipedia and Google from within the app; allow you to add notes and highlighting; and enable you to adjust the font size.

Frommer's California Day By Day iPad

The gorgeous color photographs are perhaps the best thing about Frommer’s  iPad versions. On Apple’s tablet, particularly the new Retina-display iPad, the photographs are both stunning and wanderlust inducing. And you can view a variety of slideshows.

So what’s not to love?

While you can share the guide’s content on social media, you’ll need a Frommer’s account to do so. What exactly is a Frommer’s account? The California guide doesn’t say. By searching Google, I discovered that you can only register for a Frommer’s account “during the check out process of an online order.” In other words, you must be a paying customer to have a Frommer’s account. Bummer.

I also found the California guide’s travel advice to be mostly predictable and at times shallow. When reading about San Francisco, where I live, I found primarily the obvious tourist attractions mentioned. And in some cases, the guidebook paints a rosy picture of a destination that doesn’t fully match reality. For instance, Haight Street in San Francisco “still kicks a pretty groovy street scene with throngs of fashionistas, punks, street musicians, and tourists trying to make sense of it all.” The guide doesn’t mention the street’s particularly aggressive, and sometimes abusive, panhandlers.

The iPad itself also has a number of limitations as a travel guidebook replacement. Maybe it’s just me, but I’d rather not have a $600 piece of equipment in my backpack when navigating unfamiliar towns and cities. Aside from security concerns, the iPad adds weight and bulk to your bag. I’d much prefer to carry print-outs of selected guidebook pages—but the Frommer’s app doesn’t offer a way to print.

The iPad screen is also difficult to read in bright sunlight, so you may have a hard time viewing the guidebook’s information when you need it most.

Ultimately, Frommer’s iPad guidebook editions seem best suited for finding ideas about what to see and do before you go on vacation.