A Concierge in the Palm of Your Hand New mobile applications can help business travelers with everything from tippling to traffic.

By Matt Villano

For many business travelers, it's a recurring problem: You're wooing clients in an unfamiliar city and are faced with an even more unfamiliar wine list. That's exactly what happened to Tina Liao, media director at Freestyle Interactive, an online design firm in San Francisco, at a recent business dinner at STK in Los Angeles.

Instead of panicking, Liao reached for her iPhone and pulled up Nirvino, a mobile application that compiles wine reviews from print, online, and broadcast critics into data and suggestions. It provided her with enough specifics on taste and price to select a balanced pinot noir from Cloudy Bay, a winery in New Zealand. "It saved me," she says.

"These devices and applications will eventually be so ubiquitous that they will lay an invisible data layer over cities, where people plan, interact, and converse," he says.

By pooling online data and opinions, the sites help users orient or situate themselves in unfamiliar environments, off-loading problems so travelers can focus on real work. Want to know about nearby landmarks? Restaurants? Traffic? Flights? Many of the newest tools even use G.P.S. to pinpoint your location.

Here's a sampling of some of the today's more popular mobile recommendation and navigation applications:

Nirvino, available free for all Web-enabled mobile devices, has been described as "Yelp meets Wine Spectator." In addition to compiling professional reviews, the service also lists amateur ratings, decanting normally hoity-toity wine assessments into evaluations everyone can understand. This summer, the service added beer and cocktails, relying on location-aware technology to help users find the highest-rated bars nearby.

You're on the road for work and jonesing for a dose of local history or some information on a quirky building? This free iPhone application will deliver information about landmarks as you go by. The service, from Trivialware, includes data about museums, historical spots, and other points of interest in dozens of U.S. cities. Since it's still in development, the database continues to grow every day.

Flight Stats
Savvy users of Web-enabled devices who fly regularly will want this free application from Conducive Technology, which gives the status of thousands of flights at more than 1,000 airports around the world. The service also provides data on flight arrival gates, airport parking, and weather systems. Users can search the database by flight number, route, or airport.

Designed specifically for iPhones, this 99-cent mobile application from Tap4Taxi finds taxi services in more than 260 cities across the U.S. All searches are automatically based on location, providing users with one-touch telephone connection. The application also offers user ratings and information about whether each company accepts credit cards.

This free mobile application has restaurant recommendations covered. Available for all mobile devices, the service aggregates user reviews (and amateur food photos) from top restaurants in dozens of U.S. cities. iPhone users can access a special location-aware version that recommends eateries within a few-mile radius.

Visit Portfolio.com for the latest business news and opinion, executive profiles and careers. Portfolio.com© 2007 Condé Nast Inc. All rights reserved.

Matt Villano is a freelance writer and editor in Healdsburg, Calif. He is a regular contributor to Entrepreneur, and has covered startups and entrepreneurship for The New York Times, TIME and CIO. He also covers a variety of other topics, including travel, parenting, education and -- seriously -- gambling. He can be found on his personal website, Whalehead.com.

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