The iPhone’s “Israeli Embassy”

The iPhone’s “Israeli Embassy”

After years of not knowing to handle it, the government of Israel has finally “gotten” tech. The IDF has its Youtube channel, and the government has learned how to use Twitter and Facebook. And now, the Tourism Ministry has its own iPhone app, called iSrael, which you can download for free from the iPhone App Store.

The iSrael app has a nice interface, and includes information about hotels and special events. Currently, there are a number of blank sections in the database, such as lists of restaurants, recommended tours outside the center of the country, and other details, but one can assume they will be filled in over the coming days and sent on to those who downloaded the app. Currently, you can click on a phone number or email address to make a call or send a message to a hotel, organization, or other group featured in the listing you’ve been reading; hopefully the app will in the future provide maps and driving directions to the sites included in the app, taking advantage of the tight integration of the iPhone platform.

Unfortunately, I don’t have such high hopes for most of the other Israel-oriented apps in the App Store; most of them are very basic, lacking the useful information their publishers claim for them, while other apps that look promising are very buggy, and tend to crash.

Indeed, many of the apps could have been so much better, so much more useful: The app put out by a large Israeli supermarket chain could have, for example, let you see prices on products by using the iPhone’s video camera to upload UPC codes, like some supermarket apps in the U.S. do, but in its current form, the only thing you can do is make a basic shopping list – very basic, since you can’t even choose between competing brands, like Tara and Tnuva, when you click on “add milk” to your cart! There’s the Hasbara app that in its App Store description that claims to include all of Israel’s most important documents, symbols, and biographies – but falls far short, basically swiping Wikipedia’s pages on the subject. And then there’s the the business directory put out by one of the largest dispensers of information in the country whose app crashed nine out of ten times on my device. Pathetic!

But there are some standout Israel-oriented apps for the iPhone, many of which are very popular, practically guaranteeing they will be made available for other platforms in the future. One of the reasons you got a smart phone was so you could have information at your fingertips – and these apps, which you can download in the iPhone App Store, will hopefully make that information a lot more accessible and usable.

Visit-TLV: If the Tourism Ministry is looking for pointers on how to build a successful tourist app, they  ought to set up a meeting with the folks from the Association for Tel Aviv-Jaffa Tourism, the geniuses behind the free Visit-TLV iPhone app (there are Hebrew and English versions). Heavy on easy-on-the-eye graphics, the app tells visitors all about the things you really want to know when visiting the “Big Orange” – where the cafes, restaurants, pubs, museums, and activities are, and how to get to them. The app includes all the hotels in the city, a list of free guided or unguided walking tours, photos and descriptions of public art in the city – and phone numbers, web sites, and integrated iPhone maps and directions to make sure you get where you want to go. Visit-TLV is the kind of tourist application the iPhone was made for!

Sherut.Net (Hebrew): One of the ways large corporations defend themselves from nudniks is through the “phone tree.” Of course, they would say that a drill-down phone menu that you use to make selections that will eventually get you to the person you need to speak to is just a matter of efficiency, but we know better; it’s a tactic to wear us down, to make us compliant so we won’t complain about poor service or high prices.

That’s why, an iPhone app based on a website of the same name, is so useful. Let’s say your YES remote control doesn’t work; who do you call? Well, YES, of course, but negotiating that phone tree is such a hassle! With, though, you know exactly how to get to the appropriate representative: Dial *2080 (the YES phone number), then press 1, 2, 3, 2, 1 on the menu, in that order.’s got the contact info and “phone tree formula” for nearly every large company or service in the country.

Food: There are a number of Israeli restaurant apps in the App Store, the most comprehensive of which is the free app from, based on the website of the same address. Just like on the website, you can choose a location (region, city, town), type of food (Italian, Chinese, coffee shop), specify whether you’re looking for a kosher place – and the app will fetch all the restaurants meeting your criteria, with details, phone numbers, and maps (no driving directions, though). The app has everything you need to know if you want to dine out anywhere in Israel, and the app’s interface is easy enough to use, but some of its “features” – for example, the app doesn’t “remember” well; you have to do a new search of the database every time you leave it, like when you click on a phone number in order to speak with the restaurant – could use some work.

For sheer fun, though, the Fiddme app can’t be beat. Fiddme is a restaurant/meal review site, where you can upload photos and reviews of memorable dishes you’ve had while dining out. As a result of all the reviews, the app (many of its features are now available on the site as well) now has a solid database of restaurants, mostly in the Tel Aviv area. Fiddme gives you the facts, but it also gives you editorial opinion, based on what its users think of dining establishments and the dinners they serve, saving you from the heartbreak – and heartburn – of making a poor dining choice!

Tweet Your Prayer: Alon Nil started taking “tweeted” prayers to the Western Wall last year, letting people send in their 140 character or less requests, blessings and pleas via Twitter; he then printed out the prayers and put them in the Kotel. Now, Alon has a free iPhone app, downloadable from the App Store or from his site, where the “iPhone challenged” can also tweet prayers from. In the iPhone app, you just type in your prayer, click on the “Amen” button, and you’re set. Imagine – being able to “pray” at the Kotel anytime, from anywhere. Talk about a useful app!

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