Yahoo Radar is a mobile travel guide with a chatbot-like assistant

Yahoo this morning launched a new travel guide for iOS it’s calling Yahoo Radar. While the app will offer traditional travel companion type features like restaurant recommendations and details on popular attractions, landmarks, and other sights in a given city, the app will be more useful to those who use Yahoo Mail as their primary email client. It also heavily relies on a chatbot-like interface which feels more experimental than practical at this time.

What makes Radar interesting is that it taps into your email inbox to surface trip information you have saved there – including flight, hotel and rental car reservations – then organizes this in the app on your behalf. With this data on hand, the app is competitive with other travel utilities as well as something like Google Now, as it can send you notifications about flight delays, cancellations or gate changes, for example.

You don’t need to have a Yahoo email address to use Yahoo Mail. As you may recall, Yahoo announced the ability to manage email from other providers – including Gmail, Outlook/Hotmail, and AOL – back in December.

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In addition to its more utilitarian functions, Yahoo Radar also leverage data from partners like Yelp and TripAdvisor to offer travel information, like must-see sights and top restaurants. You can also make your own “bucket list” for your destination in the app and get tips from fellow travelers, the company notes. What you can’t do with the app, however, is actually book travel or other reservations.

Though travel companions are fairly common, what differentiates Radar is that it uses a chatbot-like interface for your interactions. This, honestly, feels a bit gimmicky right now.

While you can use the app to view your trip information, the bigger idea with Radar is that this “virtual travel assistant” can be launched at any time by tapping buttons at the bottom of the app. But this bot – which follows Yahoo’s launch of bots on Kik earlier this month – would be far more useful if it could help also with making reservations, or if it was an optional means of accessing Yahoo Radar’s recommendations rather than the primary search tool.

After all, it’s not really all that efficient to use a bot as an interface to Yelp or TripAdvisor.

For instance, if you ask the bot for suggestions on restaurants, it first shows you the three most popular restaurants that are open now. You can narrow this down by suggested filters like “budget friendly” or “brunch,” etc. The bot will then return three more suggestions. If you want to view more options, that’s yet another tap. Finally, you can choose to save those recommendations you like by favoriting them, which populates another section of the app. But if you actually want to book a table or a sightseeing tour, for instance, you’ll need to call the business or use another app.

Overall, the bot makes finding a restaurant or other destination a multi-step process, whereas you can configure filters, do a search, and get a full list of results right in an app like Yelp itself. (Or even Google Search.)

It’s not surprising that Yahoo Radar is an iOS-only app for now with no plans for an Android counterpart yet – it’s clearly more of an experiment with using bots as a front-end to search at this time.

Yahoo Radar is a free download on iTunes.