“Developers! Developers! Developers!” Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was parodied several years ago for enthusiastically shouting those words during a software conference. But let’s face it: Code writers are the construction crews of our tech world. Without cool software, a computer is just an expensive, boring box.
That’s why having a bunch of interesting, useful and fun applications, or “apps,” is essential to the health of any platform. When Microsoft encouraged third-party developers and Apple didn’t, it won the PC wars.
Now there’s a new battle. It doesn’t involve the machines that sit on our desktops but the ones we carry in our pockets. It was clear Apple had learned its lesson from its former faceoff with Microsoft when the company released its iPhone and iPod Touch devices.
Sure, the gadgets are cool, and the interface is fun, but it’s the huge quantity of cool, cheap and just plain entertaining programs you can download that have made them a phenomenon. It’s clear that Apple has attracted many more developers to its product than rival mobile-device companies.
That doesn’t mean others won’t keep trying to topple the iPhone. Take the new Motorola Droid, for example, which is available on the popular Verizon network.
It runs the Google Android 2.0 operating system and has a better screen and a slide-out keyboard. But talk of it being an iPhone killer is premature because there are only about 12,000 apps available for it compared to Apple’s more than 100,000.
But no matter how many apps are available for your phone, you’ll still have to weed through a lot of ho-hum programs to find the stuff that actually improves your life. I’ve saved you all that browsing by asking some of my tech peers about their must-have apps:
Scott Madis, partner at InsideDimensions.com, calls CallRec the best $20 he spent on his Palm Treo. The app records your phone conversations and allows you to record voice notes with the press of a button. “Not having to take notes while on a call is like the first moon landing for me,” Madis says.
Small-business Web coach Jim Kukral uses Apple’s iHandy Tip Calculator. With a swipe he can split bills with his entire party, grade the service and calculate the proper tip.
The team at Cleveland Web developer Aztek is split into “creative” and “developers,” so they, predictably, have different favorite apps.
Their Windows Mobile users (translation: the developers) like SmartphoneNotes, which synchs their desktop Outlook e-mail program to their phone.
Dave Skorepa, Aztek’s chief creative officer, says SpriteBackup (available for Windows Mobile and Android operating systems) is a keeper. “If your phone bricks, or you need to get a new phone, you can easily restore your settings directly to your new phone,” he explains.
And because both techies and creative types get hungry, the Chipotle app (available for iPhone), which allows you to place your office’s lunch order with the nearest Chipotle location, also gets a workout.
What’s better than a Jewish grandmother to keep you on the right path? Brad Kleinman of Beachwood’s WorkSmart eMarketing developed the iGavolt
app that “puts a Jewish grandmother in your pocket.” The 99-cent iPhone app includes 15 audio clips from Kleinmen’s bubbe
, such as “Why don’t you call me anymore?” and “You look too skinny. … Eat some farfel.”
Kleinman had to become a licensed Apple developer to get the application approved. He then hired a company to write the code. Apple gets 30 percent of all sales, and Kleinman is donating 10 percent of the proceeds to the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland. What a mensch.
Cathy Horton, CEO of Beta Strategy Group in Chagrin Falls, says, “I love my flashlight.” Flashlight apps (which for the iPhone is named — appropriately and boringly enough — Flashlight) let you turn your device into a light source. It’s great for when you’re fumbling for keys in the dark.
You’d expect CoolCleveland’s Thomas Mulready to have a, well, cooler version of the flashlight. He does. He uses the Zippo Lighter app on his iPhone. You choose a lighter and “open it” with your thumb or flip the top back with a flick of the wrist. Spin the flint wheel and it lights. Perfect for encores at concerts.
Mulready’s other top iPhone apps include Lose It! (establishes and tracks calorie goals), Camera Zoom (enhances photo quality) and NetNews Wire (an RSS reader). He also likes UrbanSpoon (suggests good nearby restaurants) and iBird Explorer Backyard (helps identify birds).
Michael DeAloia of LNE loves the Midomi app, which will name that tune for you. All you have to do is hold your phone up to a speaker for a few moments and the software will spit out the song title. Have a tune stuck in your head? No problem. You can sing, hum or whistle it into your phone and Midomi will take a crack at identifying it.
DeAloia is also a fan of the Pizza Hut app, which offers a 20 percent discount when ordered via the app, and says he likes to make reservations at more refined spots with the OpenTable app. (All are available for the iPhone.)
The more you start searching, the more you realize that — especially for iPhone users — there’s an application for pretty much anything you’d like to do (I know, I’m starting to sound like the commercial now).
Taking a trip soon? Gas Cubby keeps track of gas mileage. Traveling with the kids? You need the Punch Buggy app — a high-tech version of the classic car-spotting game.
And, yes, there are thousands of useless (does anyone really use a compass anymore?), funny (Cow Toss lets you fling a virtual cow) and gross (don’t ask) apps.
And, finally, there are the downright niche titles, such as the $3 Cannabis app which identifies your nearest medical marijuana supplier. Maybe that one should come bundled with the Chipotle app.
GreatLakesGeek Dan Hanson (firstname.lastname@example.org) likes the Analog Scientific Calculator app. It simulates one of the greatest tools of all time — the slide rule.