It's an App World After All

The success of Apple's App Store for the iPhone and iPod touch has generated app stores from other smartphone makers, but the concept of downloadable applications that can be put onto a device has spread to other products. For example, Logitech's Squeezebox Radio lets users download additional "apps" that connect them to streaming media services such as Pandora and Slacker. Here are two more devices that recently announced some additional app downloads, expanding the value of the original device and allowing for flexibility in future features.

The scoop: Pulse smart pen, by Livescribe, about $200 (4GB model).

What it is: The original Pulse smart pen debuted last year from Livescribe, and has been popular with students who use the pen to take notes on special paper and record the audio, and then have them available for review later through synchronization with a computer. The latest pen includes 4GB of memory, which captures about 400 hours of audio. Like the earlier pen, the Pulse includes an infrared camera that captures writing on the special dot paper, a microphone and speaker, and an OLED screen.

Why it's cool: The new apps available for download through the Livescribe Web site let users experience more applications that highlight the power of the smart pen. For example, the video poker app has you draw the "deal" and "bet" areas on the paper, along with five circles for holding cards. The game occurs on the pen's display, and you choose your actions by tapping on the boxes you drew. The Spanish Dictionary app lets you write out English words and have them translated into Spanish (and vice-versa), and also lets you hear the word pronounced via audio. The Spanish Travel Phrases app lets you select from a variety of travel phrases, such as "where is the nearest train station?" and then the pen translates and provides audio of the phrase. Very handy for travelers.

Apps range in price from free up to about $3, although there is one $100 app (MagicYad) that helps Jewish boys and girls prepare for their bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah by allowing them to hear Hebrew chant recordings.

Grade: 4 stars (out of five)

The scoop: Roku players, starting at $80 (high-def models cost $130).

What it is: The Roku series of digital media players attach to a TV and connect either wirelessly or with an Ethernet cable to your home network in order to access digital media content from the Internet. The original Roku box was a Netflix player, letting you view movies from Netflix's Instant Streaming area and watch the content on a TV. Since the player launched last year, Roku has added the ability to view Amazon's On Demand Service and content to the box. The recent updates allow for more apps to be downloaded to a user's box, letting them pick from additional media streaming services, most notably Pandora's music service and Flickr photos. Other services with apps include Motionbox, Mediafly, and Revision3.

Why it's cool: Having additional media services available for streaming to the TV via the Roku box increases the value of the box, especially if the owner doesn't have a Netflix, Amazon or account. Some of the "free" services need some improvement in their interfaces, but seeing additional content on the box, plus the potential of seeing more content soon (maybe Hulu someday?) make this a cool device to have on the home network.

Grade: 4 stars.

This story, "It's an App World After All" was originally published by Network World.

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