Automotive App : Parker for iPhone

Besides battling traffic, finding a parking spot in a metropolitan area is high on the list of driving aggravations. Even if you know a city — and especially if you don't and are just visiting — getting a decent parking spot sometimes takes a magical mix of impeccable timing and blind luck.

If your parking karma could use a boost, the free iPhone app Parker may come in handy. It has a balance of decent availability in multiple cities and cool features that make it worth taking for a test ride.

App Tutorial
After launch, the app gives you a tutorial that walks you through the various features. The tutorial includes an explanation of what powers the app: real-time sensors located at parking spaces and garages that provide Parker with availability data. You also get an overview of app icons. These icons quickly get you to functions such as filtering parking searches by street or garage location, payment method and finding regions where Parker has sensors.

In addition to Los Angeles, where we tested the app, other metro regions include Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Memphis, New York, New Jersey, Phoenix and San Francisco. The app's developer says more cities are on the way. Google Maps and an overlay of intuitive functions and icons make the app easy to use. You simply set your region and you're on your way.

Color-Coded Parking
The app provides two primary options on the main screen: Find or Park. We used Find on a Hollywood-area parking quest, which is never an easy feat any time of day or day of the week. We tapped in the intersection of Hollywood and Vine and hit the Search icon.

The app immediately displayed a cluster of color-coded dots to indicate parking-spot availability close to our destination: green (best), blue (OK) and red (keep looking). Colored dots can also contain a number indicating how many spots are currently available.

After tapping on a blue 2+ icon, meaning more than two spots are available, another cool feature popped up: a rectangular box showing the price and time limit of the spot. Tap the same info box again and you get directions to the spot. An info screen displays the spot's daily restrictions and payment methods, such as cash, credit cards and mobile-phone credits.

Guided by Technology
Using Parker, we snagged a spot near the Capitol Records building. How great to have something to rely on besides sheer luck. Then we tapped the Park icon to get into another set of features, including an option to pay by mobile payments (select locations only) and a way to rate, comment and share info on the spot. We could upload an image of our prized spot, too.

The best part was the timer function, which sent a text alert 10 minutes before the meter was up. That really sold us on the app — and saved us from an expensive parking ticket.