By Michelle Price
Microsoft Word and Excel are both applications, but these rather staid and well-established pieces of software are not what modern-day tech enthusiasts mean when they talk about “apps.” The emergence of Web or “cloud”-based IT services and super-smart mobile phone and tablet technology, as embodied by the iPhone and the iPad, has given birth to a universe of weird and wonderful pieces of software brimming with all sorts of information and tools. Apps combine the unique features of the new wave of super-clever hardware, including a camera, a global positioning system, a high-resolution screen, and WiFi capability, with a bottomless pit of Web-based information and data, to deliver some truly innovative and mind-boggling gizmos.
Because apps can be developed by any third party who wishes to try, there are literally millions to choose from.
Presented here are 10 of the most useful, most recommended and most interesting.
This is an application for anyone who has ever heard a song or tune they love on an advert or in a shop but have not been able to identify it. Self-styled as a “music discovery engine,” Shazam is a smartphone application boasting a simple but revelatory function: Hold up the phone to the music, whether the tune is being broadcast from a speaker in a shop, on the TV, or in the gym, and the Shazam application will identify the song and the artist. Users can also view related YouTube videos. Shazam is primarily a smartphone application but it can also be downloaded onto the iPad.
The Good Food Guide 2011
Foodies of the U.K., rejoice, as Britain’s best-selling and most well-established guide to dining well is available on the iPhone. The Good Food Guide iPhone application, launched last year, includes the entire food guide for 2011, as well as independent reviews of the best restaurants in the U.K. It also allows happy and disgruntled diners alike to upload their own reviews and includes a function, using the phone’s global positioning system and WiFi location service, which allows users to locate restaurants nearby. In addition, users can exploit the handy restaurant reservation functionality, which clicks through to the restaurant website and phone number.
Always forgetting to pick up your dry cleaning? OmniFocus has the answer. Developed by productivity application specialist the Omni Group, OmniFocus is a location-based task manager founded on the principle that certain tasks are performed in certain contexts. OmniFocus uses the GPS and WiFi positioning capability of the iPhone to organize the user’s list of chores according to their location. For example, if the user has a number of chores to perform in a morning, the OmniFocus app will remind him or her of the tasks when they are in the relevant contexts, such as passing the dry cleaners. OmniFocus also has a sister iPad app.
This application will change your life, but not necessarily in the way you would like. With excessive alcohol consumption costing the U.K’s National Health Service ₤£2.7 billion ($4.4 billion) a year, the health service has developed this handy iPhone app that allows the user to keep track of his or her ongoing alcohol intake. Simply input the strength, size, and quantity of the drinks consumed and the app will tell you the equivalent units and present the information in an easy-to-view graph. This app, if a little depressing at first, is extremely useful for people attempting to cut back on their alcohol intake.
DataVault Password Manager
As more and more applications and IT services are delivered via the Web, consumers are expected to memorize an ever-bewildering array of passwords with an ever-expanding number of characters. Designed by California company Ascendo Inc., DataVault Password Manager offers a handy and intuitive way to store a range of passwords, PINs, credit-card details, and other vital personal information, which is protected with strong encryption technology. The application, which is designed for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch, allows users to have all their vital password information safely to hand at all times, although a desktop version is also available.
Find My Car!
Wondering around helplessly trying to find your parked car is a common recurring mid-life frustration dream, but it need never again be a reality with this inspired application. Developed by French mobile application specialist Presselite, Find My Car puts an end to the ignominy of misplacing your car. Using the iPhone location capability, the application allows the user to locate the position of the car and fix it on the iPhone’s map function. For those who have trouble following maps, the application also has the facility to record visual information as a helpful prompt using the phone’s camera. Once the user’s excursion is over, he or she simply follows the map back to the vehicle.
Layar Reality Browser
Produced by Dutch company Layar, Layar Reality Browser is one of hundreds of applications that use a technology known as augmented reality to provide additional information about the user’s surroundings. Augmented reality overlays images, Web links and data on top of the image displayed by the phone’s camera in order to provide useful context-specific information. Hold up the iPhone’s camera to capture the surrounding area and Layar displays a wealth of additional information onto the smartphone’s field of vision, such as the most popular bars nearby, or flats to rent in the area.
Whatever happened to the boy who played Oliver in the 1968 film musical? What year was the first Alien film released? The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has all the answers. As the world’s largest collection of TV and film trivia with a database of some 1.5 million films and TV shows, IMDb can satisfy a vast majority of obscure film-related questions. This app is for any household incapable of finishing a film without squabbling over the name of the supporting actor and other films he has starred in.
A good music-streaming application is a must-have for anyone who loves music, whether the app is downloaded onto a desktop, tablet or smartphone. Music-streaming apps allow users to listen to their favorite music on-demand via the Web, without the irritation of endless adverts. There are a number of good streaming applications out there, but Spotify continues to improve and is available on desktops, a number of smartphones, and the iPad. In addition to providing online music streaming, Spotify allows users to play back tunes when offline, and the mobile app offers smooth syncing with the desktop app.
One of the most celebrated apps to be released in recent months, Word Lens instantly translates printed words in one language into another using the phone’s built-in video camera. For example, the user is traveling abroad and cannot understand what a sign says. He or she points the iPhone or iPad camera at the sign, and the English translation will immediately appear on the screen overlaying the initial image using augmented reality. At the moment the application only provides translation between English and Spanish, but the application’s creators—augmented-reality app development firm Quest Visual Inc.—promises more European languages in due course.
Ms. Price is Trading and Technology Editor at Financial News in London. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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