iPhone restaurant apps: Six UrbanSpoon alternatives

Editor’s Note: The following article is reprinted from CIO.com. Visit CIO’s Macs in the Enterprise page.

Apps for finding cool places to grab a bite to eat are some of the most popular in the App Store. Of course, most iPhone owners know about the gorilla in the category, UrbanSpoon. But have you seen these six worthy alternatives?

Siri

Siri, billed as a personal assistant app, isn’t really underneath the radar, especially for Apple, which acquired Siri earlier this year. Much more than an app for finding restaurants, Siri has artificial intelligence technology that lets iPhone owners ask questions such as “what’s the best sushi near here?” and basically have a conversation with the app to narrow down a search.

While restaurants headlines a list of search options, Siri also helps people get information about movies, events, weather and even hail a taxi. Nevertheless, Siri might be a better option than UrbanSpoon because it has the potential to be the go-to-app, that is, the first app to be fired up when looking for anything. For such users, specialty food searching apps will be the second option.

Wikitude is another app that has much more to offer than merely finding restaurants. Wikitude lets you open up the iPhone camera and scan your environment. Names of restaurants, shops and other places of interest will appear on the camera viewfinder. This emerging technology is called augmented reality.

Most starving iPhone users will likely choose UrbanSpoon over Wikitude because the former will show restaurants that are around the corner and out of view of the camera. But Wikitude does have its place, especially if you’re, say, lost on the streets of an unfamiliar city surrounded by shops.

AroundMe is a similar general searching app. Fire up AroundMe and you’ll see a list of 13 kinds of shops, such as banks, coffee, gas stations, hospitals, parking, pubs, and, yes, restaurants. Tap on any of these subjects and a list of shops will appear along with their distance from you.

Of course, you can also tap a button to call up a map dotted with pins of different locales. (For some reason, with this app I often run into compass interference and have to recalibrate by waving the iPhone in a figure-8 motion, which makes me feel silly when strangers are around.)

OpenTable

OpenTable is perhaps the biggest head-to-head competitor to UrbanSpoon. This app finds nearby restaurants and provides a good description along with a picture, average cost, and a comprehensive review. Like the name implies, OpenTable also shows times when you can make a reservation.

What’s Next, created by NileGuide, uses content contributors in major cities around the world to write up places to go, things to do, hotels, bars, and restaurants. The app caters to globetrotting business folks and vacationers, not so much the young backpacker crowd on a super-tight budget.

NileGuide differentiates What’s Next from other apps by taking a global spin yet tapping local knowledge. “We can help you find a Chinese restaurant in Rome that’s kid friendly,” says Josh Steinitz, CEO of NileGuide.

Yelp, already familiar to many Web savvy people, lets patrons read and write reviews about bars, coffee and tea shops, banks and other retail outlets. However, Yelp is most known for restaurant reviews. With the iPhone app, you’ll be able to find nearby restaurants and read reviews about them.

A word of warning: Yelp has been hit with numerous class action lawsuits over allegedly shady practices. The cases allege that Yelp pressures companies to advertise in exchange for manipulating ratings and bad reviews.

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