New Mobile Apps That Lead the Way
Mobile apps are one of the most exciting areas of innovation in technology today, with the tablets and smartphones that use them in the hands of millions. Here's a look at some of the apps for Apple's iOS and Google's Android that have the potential to improve our day-to-day lives (or at least make them more bearable and entertaining). Let's get started.
What's cool: Meal Snap can approximate how many calories are in a meal you eat--all you have to do is take a picture of the food with your phone. After the app recognizes the meal, it tells you the information.
Keep watching: Augmented reality apps are creeping into more aspects of life, from travel to product identification to translation. And with camera-equipped tablets on the market, augmented reality is moving to larger screens.
Platform: iOS, Android
What's cool: The upcoming version of Fring for iPhone and Android will be the first to offer free, mobile group video calls with up to four people at once. A beta is now available.
Keep watching: Most smartphones now include a front-facing camera, enabling easy video chatting--but most of these apps work well only on Wi-Fi. Carriers are slowly moving to 4G, which will enable good-quality video calling from even more places.
What's cool: PairShare allows you to share your music with other iPhone users via Bluetooth. You become the DJ, broadcasting music live to your friends.
Keep watching: Although PairShare redefines what it means to share music, it's also testing the limits of copyright law. The RIAA might have a problem with this app if it becomes too popular.
Price: Free demo, $3 for unlimited sharing
What's cool: UpSoundDown puts your phone on speakerphone mode automatically when you lay the phone down on a table (pick the phone back up to use the handset) or turn the phone upside down (like a microphone).
Keep watching: More cool and practical ideas like the UpSoundDown app could become standard on Android handsets. A prominent example is the Swype typing system.
Platform: iOS, Android (coming soon)
What's cool: Color allows you to create public photo albums, grouping pictures taken by people in close proximity to one another at a certain time. You can shoot video, too, and save your photos and your friends' images in a visual diary.
Keep watching: Early adopters are going crazy over Color, but the total lack of privacy settings in the app could diminish the enthusiasm.
What's cool: Zite scours your Facebook and Twitter feeds for news, but instead of relying on friends' recommendations (as Flipboard does), the app learns your reading habits and populates the virtual magazine with content tailored to you. (Also see: Hitpad)
Keep watching: Zite is facing the wrath of media lawyers because it hides ads in the text parsed from Websites. Can these kinds of social magazine apps retain their minimalistic look?
What's cool: Nursery Rhymes allows you to read a book to a loved one from anywhere in the world via an iPhone or an iPad. You read the story at one end, and the recipient can interact with beautiful graphics and listen to you at the other end.
Keep watching: Books and reading on tablets are becoming more interactive with user-generated audio, and video could be the next step.
Amazon Cloud Player
What's cool: With Amazon Cloud Player, you get 5GB of online storage for your music, which you can stream on demand anywhere from an Android phone (additional storage costs $1 per gigabyte).
Keep watching: As more storage moves to the cloud, the need for wires to sync media to mobile devices will disappear. Amazon's music-streaming service has the potential to seriously shake up the Android landscape.
What's cool: Gesture Search from Google allows you to search your device by drawing letters and numbers on the display instead of using the software or hardware keyboards.
Keep watching: Handwriting has yet to play a major part in modern smartphone OSs, with interfaces' being based more on gestures.
Platform: iOS (iPad only)
What's cool: With The Daily, you get daily news and videos delivered on iPads exclusively, built from scratch by top journalists and designers.
Keep watching: Is the iPad the future of the journalism business? And can such ventures be profitable?
Price: $1 per week/$40 per year
Platform: iOS (optimized for the iPad 2's new graphics)
Keep watching: Game makers are embracing phones and tablets, and better processors and chips in the devices allow for better gameplay. Mobile games are also becoming much cheaper than console or PC games.
TWCable TV App
What's cool: With this app, Time Warner Cable video subscribers can watch selected cable TV channels on their iPads over their home Wi-Fi connection, for free.
Keep watching: Time Warner argues that the iPad is just another screen, but Viacom is disputing users' right to watch cable TV on an iPad at home. Numerous channels have been removed from the app already. But Dish has a similar offering, and Comcast is planning to join the party.
Adobe Photoshop Express
What's cool: With this version of Photoshop Express, you can manipulate photos taken with an iPhone or iPad using simple gestures, and store your photos in the cloud.
Keep watching: Adobe has demoed an upcoming version of Photoshop for iPad that functions a lot like a desktop version of the more full-featured Adobe software, complete with layers and effects. Let's hope that it won't cost $700 (as Photoshop CS5 does).
What's cool: iSwifter allows you not only to watch Flash videos on an iPad, but also to play Flash games and view Website animations (such as ads).
Bing for iPad
What's cool: With the Bing for iPad app, the search engine becomes the browser, with minimalist controls. Besides tapping, you use just one touch gesture: swiping back and forth.
Keep watching: Microsoft's Bing for iPad seems to be an active encouragement to ditch Apple's Safari (the iPad's built-in browser) and use Bing as your preferred method of searching and browsing the Web (though you accomplish the latter through search, as there is no address bar). Can this catch on with consumers?