20 Clever Apps and Services That Make Great Use of the Cloud

Lots of mobile apps and Web services are available to help people who want all their digital content--not just documents--at their fingertips at any time. We look at 20 that are fun, useful, or both.

The Cloud Isn't Just for File Backups Anymore

Think using the cloud is all about backing up files? Think again. File-storage services such as Dropbox and are likely the first cloud services that come to mind, but these days people are increasingly using cloud-based Web platforms and mobile apps for various purposes.

Just as Google Play Music automatically syncs your song collection across the cloud, your desktop, and your mobile devices, many other great apps and services can give you instant access to all sorts of things, including deals, files, news, photos, and more. Here's a look at 20 of the most interesting offerings.


Category: Music

Why You Need It: Turntable lets you enjoy music and chat with other listeners in virtual rooms where people up-vote or down-vote tracks that users share. Too many “lame” votes, and a song is skipped; lots of “awesome” votes gives a DJ points for unlocking avatars.

The company recently signed licensing deals with the four biggest music labels: EMI, Sony, Universal, and Warner.

Turntable | Free | iOS, Web service; Android coming soon


Category: Productivity

Why You Need It: Yes, you can work with PowerPoint files on your iPad using Keynote, but that approach involves some conversion that can cause formatting problems. No such issues with SlideShark, which lets you view and share PowerPoint presentations on the iPad with animations, fonts, colors, and graphics intact.

To use it, you upload a file to the cloud, where the service automatically converts it for download to the iPad. In addition, you can share presentations online for viewing on demand from virtually any device, and then track the viewing results.

SlideShark | Free for 100MB of storage; paid subscriptions for more storage and features start at $49 a year | iOS


Category: Shopping

Why You Need It: This money-saving app and service employs proprietary algorithms and over 8 billion price observations to deliver accurate, up-to-date recommendations on when and where to buy electronics products. Its database covers hundreds of thousands of items.

Not sure if you should buy now or wait? Decide will tell you, track the products you’re watching, and sync them instantly across devices whenever you add a product to watch.

Decide | Free | Android, iOS, Web service


Category: Music

Why You Need It: 8tracks is a social radio network in which music aficionados upload MP3s, create playlists with eight or more tracks, and add cover art plus descriptions and tags that indicate genre or mood.

Tune in to these radio-style playlists, and you'll find that they frequently have better selection and variety than what you get through algorithm-based Internet radio services.

8tracks | Free; subscription to ad-free 8tracks Plus costs $25 for six months | Android, iOS, Web service, Windows Mobile, Flash/HTML 5 embeddable widget


Category: Business

Why You Need It: LeaseRunner is a digital leasing platform that lets landlords manage all aspects of the rental process--from tenant applications and background checks to lease execution and monthly rent payment--from their desktop or tablet.

On the flip side, renters can use the digital platform to pay their rent online, apply via email, and sign their leases digitally without sharing private information such as Social Security numbers or bank accounts. The platform has users in more than 800 cities across 48 states.

LeaseRunner | No monthly or annual fees; landlords pay for services (such as background checks) per use | Web service

Huddle Sync

Category: Business

Why You Need It: Unlike other popular cloud backup and file-syncing services--which can be the bane of IT administrators who worry about the security of company data--Huddle Sync (currently in private beta) gives employees access only to the company content that they are permitted to view, in real time and on any device, and it fully syncs only files of immediate interest.

Powered by patent-pending predictive technology, Huddle Sync’s learning algorithms, which are linked to staffers’ actions in Huddle, intelligently select files that will be of most relevance to users. Watch Huddle's YouTube video for more information.

Huddle Sync | 14-day free trial; otherwise, contact Huddle for a quote | Web service


Category: Music

Why You Need It: More than 11 million people are using the SoundCloud Web and mobile platform to share their music, podcasts, radio shows, or other audio, as well as to listen to popular uploads and see the comments people have made at various points along tracks as they play. For example, this screenshot shows how a band might use SoundCloud to share music.

More than 250 outside apps for desktop, Web, and mobile have used SoundCloud’s API to let you record, discover, and share audio files on the platform.

SoundCloud | Free for 120 upload minutes; paid versions with more storage start at $39 a year | Android, iOS, Web service


Category: Shopping

Why You Need It: Shopkick is a location-based shopping app that rewards you in “kicks” for doing things such as scanning product bar codes or just walking into major stores such as American Eagle, Best Buy, Crate & Barrel, Macy’s, Old Navy, Sports Authority, Target, West Elm, and Wet Seal.

You can redeem "kicks" for in-store gift cards, song downloads, movie tickets, Facebook credits, donations to 30 different causes and charities, and more.

Shopkick | Free | Android, iOS

LiveShare by Cooliris

Category: Photo Sharing

Why You Need It: On LiveShare, you and your friends can share photos and text in a common space, seemingly in an instant.

For instance, say you’re going to an event or on a trip with your pals; over the course of the day, all of you can post and access photos, as well as share your content more widely with social networks. It’s crazy fast. For more explanation, see this LiveShare page.

LiveShare by Cooliris | Free | Android, iOS, Web service


Category: Shopping

Why You Need It: A free mobile shopping app and website currently in beta, Eyeona helps shoppers save money by tracking price-protection policies and price fluctuations.

With most retailers, if a product you buy goes on sale shortly after your purchase, they will refund you the difference. Eyeona makes it simple to get that cash back by snapping a photo of the receipt, which Eyeona stores in the cloud through a personal receipt manager. If a purchased item goes on sale within the retailer's policy window, Eyeona will alert you via email so that you can bring the receipt to the store for a price adjustment.

Eyeona | Free | Android, iOS


Category: Productivity

Why You Need It: Millions of engineers and designers have downloaded AutoCAD WS because it gives them a workspace in the cloud where they can view, edit, and share their files as well as collaborate with other people in real time.

The mobile app lets you annotate and revise AutoCAD drawings on your mobile device, work with local copies of designs when you have no Internet connection, and open DWG, DWF, and DXT files that you receive by email.

AutoCAD WS | Free for 3GB of storage | Android, iOS, Web service


Category: Shopping

Why You Need It: SavingStar distributes e-coupons. To use it, you register your grocery and drugstore loyalty cards, and when you use them at the store, it adds the savings to your SavingStar account.

Once you save $5, you can pick your method of payment, such as a deposit to your bank account or PayPal account, an Amazon gift card, or a donation to American Forests.

SavingStar | Free | Android, iOS, Web service

Kindle Cloud Reader

Category: Books

Why You Need It: The Kindle Cloud Reader lets you read Kindle books on a PC or Mac using Chrome, Firefox, or Safari, on Linux computers using Chrome or Firefox, and on an iPad using Safari.

When you launch the reader, you have to sign in with your account to access your existing Kindle Library. You can also set it to enable offline reading.

Kindle Cloud Reader | Free | Web service

OnLive Desktop

Category: Productivity

Why You Need It: OnLive Desktop gives you full-featured online versions of Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint on your iPad or Android tablet, as well as cloud storage for transferring files between devices.

Paid versions add accelerated browsing, additional storage, Flash support, and other features. Within Windows you can use touch gestures such as pinch and zoom, drag and drop, and flick to scroll.

OnLive Desktop | Free for 2GB of cloud storage; paid versions start at $5 a month and range up to the enterprise level | Android, iOS, Web service

Google Cloud Print

Category: Utility

Why You Need It: Google Cloud Print not only lets you print remotely to a connected networked printer, but also integrates with a slew of apps so that you can print from Chrome or any mobile device. For instance, the Google Docs app on Android allows you to print documents, spreadsheets, and other Docs files right from your smartphone.

Google Cloud Print | Free | Android, iOS, Web service, other platforms


Category: Business Accounting

Why You Need It: Think Mint, but more focused on business. This affordable Web platform and iOS app handles all of a business's accounting needs, automatically estimating taxes, profits, and annual revenue projections.

Outright just launched an iOS interface last month that lets entrepreneurs enter cash transactions while in the field or at trade shows. If you use Square or some other credit card reader, digital transactions flow automatically into Outright.

Outright | Free; $10 a month for a premium account | iOS, Web service


Category: Business or Social

Why You Need It: The SceneTap nightlife app for iPhone and Android gives users real-time info on the local bar scene, including the male-to-female ratio, the average age, the crowd size, specials, and more. It also provides bar owners with reports that include foot-traffic and demographic info.

SceneTap uses the cloud to store all of this data, so bar owners can look back at any time to see how their venue's foot traffic compares from month to month.

SceneTap | Free for consumers; the premium for bar owners varies depending on factors such as venue size and market, but typically runs a couple hundred dollars a month | Android, iOS, Web service


Category: Business

Why You Need It: This Web service lets restaurant managers build employee schedules online, including availabilities, requests off, job codes, and experience levels; it also allows managers to check sales forecasts and historical trends so that they know how much staffing they'll need.

Managers can push prepared schedules out and alert staff via text or email. Staffers can then view their work schedule, request shift trades, and communicate with coworkers, all from their phone or computer.

HotSchedules | Monthly subscription varies depending on number of employees and locations; mobile app is $3 | Android, BlackBerry, iOS, Web service


Category: Business

Why You Need It: This digital filing system handles any kind of paperwork. Imagine you’re at a business lunch, and you take notes on a napkin. With your iPhone, Android handset, or iPad camera, you can scan your napkin scribbles, a paper contract that someone else at the table needs you to sign, and the receipt for your meal.

OfficeDrop saves them all to the cloud as PDF files that are instantly searchable. While you sit there, you can share everything with your assistant back at the office.

OfficeDrop | Free | Android, iOS, Web service


Category: News

Why You Need It: Too cheap to pay for in-flight Internet service? While you wait to board, Instapaper lets you save copies of all the interesting news stories you want to read; you can then pull them up on your iPad once you’re in the air without a signal.

The Web version gives you a 'Read Later' bookmarklet that you can use to mark and save pages you want to read on your computer when you have more time.

Instapaper | iOS app, $5; Web service, free

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