Saturday, November 17, 2012

There's an App for That??

If you have a smartphone, be it an "i" or an Android, you've probably come to rely on it for far more than you ever thought possible. Sure, you got it to make calls. But you also check your email, text your friends and surf the web. OK, OK, you also play a little Angry Birds when you have a moment. And you try and keep sharp via Words with Friends. And if you're killing time, perhaps a little Paper Toss. But that's it. It's really for staying in touch. Really. That, and Fruit Ninjas.

But odds are you have stretched the envelope even further. Besides popular programs like Facebook, Yelp and YouTube, there are many special apps that fill a particular need. Using myself as an example, not only do I access the obvious ones like the calculator, the notepad and the camera, but many more. There's Right Track that shows me the next train home. There's Tape-a-Talk, which enables me to quickly make a recording of an idea. And there's My Tracks, which keeps track of my runs, my walks and my bike rides.

I settled on those particular variations after trying similar apps in each category. And while it's true there are fewer possibles for my Android-based phone, it's not like the choices aren't adequate. Yes, iPhone users can choose from over 700,000 options. But those with my eco-system can select from a universe numbering north of 450,000. All in, that's well over a million programs available to smartphone users, a number that climbs by the hour.

However, like many things... actors, companies, items on McDonald's menu... a small percentage of the total attracts most of the attention. And that means there're a lot of apps that don't usually get noticed. In some cases, there's nothing wrong with them, and they might even be superior to the ones to which most people gravitate. In other examples they aren't very good, or they cost more than other alternatives. And then there are those that are, well, strange.

Take iVoodoo. These days if you want to slam someone you are likely to tweet something negative about them, or maybe post something snarky on your Facebook page. But with this app you can revive a lost art. It enables you to paste a pic of the offending party on a voodoo doll, and start sticking pins in it. Good news: the app supports up to five dolls at one time so you can work your magic on a variety of people. And it includes 7 different pins (Positive, Negative, Wealth, Power, Success, Love and Spirituality) to cover the full range of spells.

Or if Paper Toss is too intellectual for you, maybe you'll take a shine to Hold On. The opening screen is a big red button. Press it, a timer starts. And, well, that's it. The object is to see how long you can hold down the button. The best (or should that be worst) thing about it is that you can compete with your friends over Bluetooth.

Or how about Hello Cow. Fire it up, and you get a picture of a cow. Touch her, and she goes "Moo." That's it. Moo. Should you have a 2 year old on your back who won't leave you alone, this might come in handy. Otherwise, not.

Then there's the fact that many folks take the opportunity to check their phone when they are sitting on the can. One developer saw this as a unique community that was underserved. And so they created iPoo. There you can write or draw on the wall of a virtual stall, read random facts to keep you occupied ("The average human eats 8 spiders in their lifetime at night"), get stats on how many others are currently in your, er, situation, even earn points and badges as a Super Pooer. I wish I was kidding; I am not.

In the movie Field of Dreams, Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella hears a voice that tells him, "If you build it, he will come." App makers hope for the same thing. If they build it, they hope you will download. But there is a limit: if Shoeless Joe Jackson had walked out onto the field and found iPoo, I bet there's a pretty good chance he would have shaken his head, turned around and gone right back into the corn.


Marc Wollin of Bedford deletes apps almost as fast as he downloads them. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at

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