Lewiston’s Randy Link had a plumber working at his house a couple of weeks ago when he let slip that he designs software for mobile applications.
“He called me back that night and said he’d be interested in an iPad app to manage his work orders and the work that he does,” said Link, owner of Lewiston’s Clearpath Innovations Inc. “At every level, people are really understanding the benefits.”
What’s not to understand?
Apps are tiny, comfortable-to-use bits of techno-magic that fit on a mobile phone — they literally fit in your hip pocket.
Apps transform that simple piece of telecommunications technology into whatever you want — a digital, magical Swiss Army knife with infinite blades.
Want to read a book, watch a movie or make a loud farting noise? There’s an app for that.
Want to cut in line at the coffee shop, check your stock picks, pay your bills or file your taxes? Want to buy tickets to a sports event, catch a replay at the game, identify landmarks, stalk your friends, autotune your voice, learn how to mix drinks, cheat at trivia, study tiny things in a microscope and fling virtual birds and virtual green pigs?
Well, you get the idea.
Apple, with its iOS operating system, leads the app parade, offering more than 350,000 titles in its iTunes App store. Android, Google’s mobile phone operating system, is a close second, offering 330,000 titles in its Android Market. Blackberry maker Research In Motion, the third big player in the U.S. smartphone market, offers more than 16,000 unique titles in its App World — still enough to cram a few gigabytes of mobile memory.
But the most popular mobile apps transcend their operating system. You can prattle on all day in Facebook and Twitter whether you have an iPhone, the latest LG Nexus or Blackberry’s newest version of the Storm.
Everybody has a favorite. So we asked Sun Journal readers, what are your favorites?
Lewiston Maineiacs — Free
Created by BuzzerAps, the Maineiacs App provides rosters, scores and schedules for the Lewiston Maineiacs as well as their standings in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. It is iOS only, however. The company also provides versions for some of the Maineiacs rivals — specifically, the Halifax Mooseheads, the Saint John Sea Dogs, the PEI Rocket and Moncton Wildcats — if you want to see how the other guys are doing.
“My favorite app for the iPhone is the Maineiacs app. It is brand new, but it allows me to keep track of my favorite team if I am at home or on the road. Anyone can download it at the app store right from your phone, too!!”
— Gail Tarr
Starbucks Card Mobile/My Coffee Card — Free
The coffee company jumped on the mobile app bandwagon early, creating two different apps. One is essentially a glorified map, showing the location of nearest baristas.
But the other one shows true genius. Available for the iOS and the Blackberry, Starbucks Card Mobile keeps track of your prepaid Starbucks card. That means you can add money to your account and collect reward bonus points — good for free drinks and other discounts. But it also means you can dial in your order before you get to the front of the line. The app generates a barcode on the screen that can be scanned at the counter, simultaneously ordering your drink and paying for it.
Starbucks doesn’t make a version for Android phones, but a third-party developer has created one that does the same thing. The free version of My Coffee Card does exactly the same as the company’s official versions. A $1.99 pro version lets the user manage more than one card.
“I’d have to say my favorite app would be ALL of my apps! But seriously, one of my favorites would be Mobile Card by Starbucks. This app allows you to pay with your iPhone for your favorite coffee and get rewards while you’re at it.”
— Ethan D. Masselli
Chimani Acadia National Park — $4.99
Mobile developer Kerry Gallivan of Yarmouth said he was hiking in Acadia National Park with his first generation iPhone when he just wanted more.
“I wanted information about the park, trail maps, events that were going on,” Gallivan said. The idea for his app was born, but it took some time to work out the details. It was released in May 2010 and has had more than 100,000 downloads.
The app uses the mobile phone’s built-in GPS to provide pinpoint accurate hiking and biking trail maps, information about more than 300 points of interest, audio tours, tables to tides, sunrise and sunset, information about ranger-led events and Island Explorer shuttle bus schedules.
It’s available for both Apple’s iOS (iPhone, iPod and iPad) and the Android phones and tablets.
The Maine app has been such a success he’s added similar apps for the Cape Code National Seashore, Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio, Grand Canyon National Park and Yosemite National Park.
He’s already at work on a new version that will incorporate “augmented reality.” Using the phone’s built-in GPS and camera, the app will let users look at their National Park surroundings through the phone’s screen, identifying points of interest.
“So you’ll be able to stand on top of Cadillac Mountain and identify the surroundings,” Gallivan said. “There is so much that can be seen, and there really is no other good way to identify some of those views, down in the valley.”
Map My Run/Ride — Free
Getting fit is great, but what’s the use if you can’t brag to your buddies? The free Map My Run uses the built-in GPS in your Android, Blackberry or iOS phone to track your exercise route, training log, run time, calories burned, pace and personal records. All that information is stored on the company’s web servers where it can be easily shared with your less-fit friends and competitors.
Map My Ride does the same thing for biking enthusiasts.
Music — Free
We had several readers chime in with their favorite apps for music or radio. One standard is the free Pandora , the app version of the popular Internet radio website. Users select a few favorite songs, and Pandora begins playing recommended music based on those picks. The mobile app works on a dizzying array of phones — not just Android, Blackberry and iOS, but Palm, Windows Mobile, Nokia and some Java-enabled phones.
The free Shazam is a music identifying service. Hold up the phone to the speaker of a song you like, Shazam will identify the tune and tell you where to download it. Versions are also available for the big three and Windows mobile and Nokia.
Radio — Free and paid
Every once in a while, you need to turn off the music. Maine Public Broadcasting is one of hundreds of stations nationally that offer live streaming apps of their broadcast, for both Android and iPhone.
And sometimes instant news is just too darn slow. That’s where Scanner Radio comes in. Developer Gordon Edwards has developed a series of apps, both free and paid versions, that play to Internet-fed police, emergency and fire scanners for the Android, Blackberry and iOS phones. You can listen to emergency scanner traffic around the country and specifically to Lewiston/Auburn’s own medical and fire response.
Games — Free and paid
Who would have guessed just two years ago that we’d spend so much time kicking disgusting green pigs out of their ramshackle houses with bird-filled slingshots? Finland-based Rovio released Angry Birds in 2009 for iOS users. They’ve sold more than 12 million copies of the game, which has inspired Android versions, holiday versions, movie tie-ins and a host of competitors. Angry Farm anyone?
Of course, Angry Birds is not the only game in town by a long shot. Just go to your phone’s respective online store and start browsing games. There are enough card games, strategy games, racing games, puzzles, first-person shooters and side-scrollers to make waiting in any line bearable.
Apple, Google and Blackberry all keep lists of the most popular and most downloaded game apps they stock. For Apple iOS users, it currently looks like a tie between Scrabble and Solitaire. For Google Android users, it’s Fruit Ninja and Robo Defense. For Blackberry, it’s a memory matching game. Who knew?
Features for not-so-smart phones
What your smartphone-toting cousin won’t tell you is that smartphones are still the exception, not the rule. For most people, the price tag attached (both in store and monthly fees) puts them out of reach. Last year, 72 percent of all handsets sold in the U.S. were less expensive, mobile Web-enabled “feature phones.” These phones usually ship with less expensive cameras, sans touch screens, fewer bells and whistles, little or no web data packages and without any of the smartphone cachet.
Most do have built-in GPS, have no problem connecting to the 3G mobile networks (if you pay for it) and have some form of slide-out keyboard. Most importantly, you can get apps for them — if you are willing to experiment and try some things that may not work.
GetJar.com is one source for mobile-Java applications. And when they work, they make your cheaper handset feel like a million bucks.
You can get Java apps for your phone on GetJar even if you don’t have mobile web service but it’s usually a frustrating job that requires special cables and several false starts. It’s a lot easier if you can connect to the mobile web over a 3G network. It’s worth checking with your provider to find out how much it costs for your phone.
Google Maps works on a variety of feature phones. A free, standalone Java application for mobile phones, it provides address look up, map and satellite overhead views and even street views for most of the world — just like the full Web version. In some phones, it even connects to an internal GPS and provides turn-by-turn navigation.
Of course, if a feature phone has a Web connection, that means it probably has a browser. In most cases, that browser stinks. Point that mobile browser to Opera and download a replacement. There are multiple versions, and most users will be able to find one that works for them. It’s fast, attractive and will make your feature phone start to feel pretty darn smart.
If you need a good Facebook or Twitter third-party application (and the pages in Opera don’t do it for you) look no further than Snaptu. A British software outfit, it houses great-looking mini-apps for Twitter, Facebook, Picasa, Google Calendar, Photobucket, Remember the Milk, LinkedIn and Gawker. It offers a great, customizable weather app and an RSS feed reader to keep up with your favorite blogs.
It also has up-to-date London Tube maps, BBC TV schedules and cricket match scores — but you don’t have to use those if you don’t want to.