Monday, November 22, 2010

App Store and Marketplace

I am horrified to find that my last few posts were so serious, I find myself almost going into depression reading them. So here is an about-turn -- and on something that's loads of fun -- Apps from the App Store of Apple, and Apps from Google Android's Marketplace. Android phones and the iPhone are the two smart phones of the future (sorry, Nokia and Blackberry guys, you are history, even the new N8 again with Symbian can't stand up to either of the above two in the marketplace IMHO). The iPhone App store has some 250,000 apps as of last count and the Google Marketplace has far 'less choice', close to a mere 100,000 ! It's a measure of our expectations that these days a mere 100,000 apps are not considered good enough.

Few people around me have smart phones with smart apps -- why is that, I wonder? Laziness, techno-challenged abilities,... So, in this and the next post, I will give a few apps which I have found very useful, funky or just plain interesting. I start with the Android Marketplace since I have an Android phone (Motorola Droid or Milestone) and in the next post will discuss some Apps for the iPod Touch (I don't have the iPhone so some 'only for the iPhone' Apps will be missing). I know that many places, including the New York Times give lists of useful Apps, (for example here is Pogue's recent list) but many of them are less than useful in India. For example, Urbanspoon does not work in India (it gives a list of nearby restaurants, depending on your GPS enabled position) or live updates of Traffic conditions. Here we don't even get updates on new roads or one way streets!

So here goes (I am leaving out standard Navigation Software and stuff like Google Latitude which comes pre-bundled. These, by the way, are great fun and you should check them out at Google and get them if they aren't on your phone already). These are not in any particular order but I have tried to give the most useful ones first.

GPS Test: This is used with your GPS receiver built in the phone. It shows graphically all the satellites with which your phone is communicating, the signal strength, your Lat and Long and Elevation, speed of movement and your exact location on Earth (in case you didn't know that!). It also has a built in compass. However you can also download the stand-alone

Compass: This is a compass (:-)) and allows you to set the ring outside to align with whatever direction you find convenient. It doesn't do much else but is very useful as a compass. It work with or without GPS and also can point to the true North. It allows navigation using the compass points and allows you to make short notes.

Scientific Calculator: Android comes with an ordinary calculator (with some basic scientific functions but it's very clunky) but there are many scientific calculators in the Marketplace.

Google Sky:Hold your phone above your head and based on your GPS location and the date and time, Google Sky will show you the relevant part of the sky -- identifying the stars, the constellations, the planets, and other heavenly bodies. Of course it works during the day too since a view of the sky is not necessary!

The Weather channel: Get the weather in different parts of the world. Useful when travelling and about as reliable as the standard weather sites :-)

Google Goggles and Layar: This is truly a great piece of software. Point your camera at a book or DVD, or some landmarks like say the Qutb Minar, or some artwork, bar codes, business frontages and they will try to match it with their database and identify it. It works almost perfectly with book covers and artwork (particularly Western Art), a little less well with buildings in India unless they are really well known and fairly well with logos (the Coco Cola logo works instantly of course!). Layar allows you to switch on various layers which will tell you whether you are near some restaurant or spa or some park. It can work without the GPS but of course works really well when it is turned on.

Convert:This converts anything to anything else (of the same type) -- area, distance, speed, thermo electric units whatever. It even converts currency but you need your GPRS on for that purpose.

Taskos: This is a standard task reminder -- it could be birthdays (though I would use the calendar for that which is pre-bundled) but usually it's to keep a list of pending tasks with notes which you could look at and tick off -- of course you can prioritize them, set up alerts and all that.

Sound Hound: Truly a great piece of software. It identifies music. Turn it on, hold the phone in front of the music source and in about a minute it identifies the song and the players. I have even tried it in a restaurant with a lot of ambient noise and it has identified the background music. It identified the second movement from Beethoven's 6th, (no surprise that) but it even got the orchestra and the conductor right - that was impressive. The free version only allows five identifications per month, the unlimited version costs $5 -- well worth it in my opinion.

Internet radio: I listen to a lot of internet radio stations in my office, off my desktop. In fact some station or other is always on. However, this allows you to catch internet radio on your phone through your GPRS connection (3G is needed, 2G tends to break too often). The advantage? You can have it on in your car while driving. Connect the phone ear phone jack to the AUX input of your car audio system and you are done. Far more choice than the local somewhat mindless FM stations here. (Yes, you will pay 3G GPRS charges but BSNL charges very little). The two software I use are TuneIn Radio and Public Radio Live Stream but there are countless others.

Bar Code Scanner: Scans bar codes both the linear and the 2d ones (called QR codes) using the camera. Useful to get more information from a product label than just the price.

Send Contact: An incredible gap in the Android software is the ability to send a contact details to another contact. Even simple basic phones have a way to send, for example vcf cards (business cards) but not the Android. But fear not -- there is 'Send Contact' which does all this and I am told Android 2.2 will come with this feature (but surely it should have been there in version 0.1 !)

I invite you to send me your favourites for either the iPhone/iPod touch or an Android phone.


Qasar said...

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I will recommend this service to all new businesses.
Business cards

Niket said...

Here are the apps that I have installed on my Nexus One:

1. Astrid Tasks
Easy to use, customizable and powerful task manager. The widgets are also excellent.

2. Shuffle
Task manager based on "Getting Things Done". These days, I tend to use Astrid only, because it is more functional for my use.

3. Google Calendar and CalWidget
I can't live without the first. The latter puts a widget on my home screen that shows my appointments in a "agenda" format.

1. TooDoo
Although meant to be a lite task manager, I use it to create lists.

2. AK Notepad
Simple. Syncs with

3. Evernote
Well, just google it and you will know everything you need to. :-)

1. Dropbox
To share files remotely. Highly recommended.

2. Astro Folders
Manage files and folders

3. Gentle Alarm
An alternative to the built-in Android alarm.

4. Multi-Con
To put multiple icons on a home screen. Currently, home screen supports 4*4 icons. You can extend it using multi-con.

5. Any Cut
To put shortcuts and widgets on the home screen.

1. Trip it
Since I travel a lot, I use trip it to organize my itineraries

2. Tasker
Well... to automate typical tasks.

3. NetCounter
To keep tab on my internet usage (especially GPRS usage).

pamo said...

Nice list, Rahul. However you forgot one app which most people in the scientific community will find amusing and occasionally helpful: detexify

As the name indicates it allows you to draw the symbol you're looking for and then gives you the LaTeX syntax.