SOMETHING TO DREAM FOR
There are apps that reproduce mooing sounds (Hello Cow), games where you score points by licking the screen (iLickit). What could possibly be left?
THE ORIGINAL 2007 IPHONE HAD ONLY ONE screenfulof software icons, believe it or not. You couldn’t install any new ones of your own. It took a whole year before Apple opened the iPhone app store, making it possible for the masses to download and install new apps (programmes) and, in the process, creating a whole new gadget category.
The app store changed everything. Why just make calls, when you could auto-tune your singing voice, play virtual Ping-Pong or summon bodily sounds on command? There are 225,000 apps on the iPhone store and 60,000 on Google’s Android store, and that’s just the beginning. Those statistics will be out of date by the end of this week, or even the end of this sentence. You may find it hard to comprehend a selection that vast, let alone to navigate it in search of the good stuff. But it could be worse: you could be the aspiring app programmer who has to come up with a fresh idea. (Maybe you’re inspired, for example, by the release of Google’s new, free App Inventor software.) There are already apps that reproduce mooing sounds (Hello Cow), apps that dial someone from your address book randomly (iDrunkTxt), games where you score points by licking the screen (iLickit). What could possibly be left? This week, I challenged my Twitter followers (I’m @pogue) to invent iPhone or Android apps that don’t exist but should.
I’ll spare you the jokey wishful-thinking responses: “An app that puts my kids to bed at night,” “An app that gives my wife the ‘right answer,’ “ “An app that teleports me to a spot with a good cell signal.” OK, everyone’s a comedian. In general, I’ll also omit the great app ideas that do, in fact, exist. (One popular idea: a To Do-list programme that, thanks to the phone’s GPS, would remind you of things to do when you’re in the right place to do them — to “pick up a saw when you’re near the hardware store,” as @Truman206 put it. But the Twitterites were quick to identify programmes that already do that: Reqall, Omnifocus, Remember the Milk, Geostrings, Pocket Informant, Astrid, Task Aware and so on.)
One hugely popular category was “Shazam for other things.” Shazam, of course, is the amazing app that identifies a pop song on the radio just by listening to it. No wonder, then, that people loved @ale_guzman1’s concept of “Shazam for movies or TV.” How great would it be to let the phone’s camera identify whatever you’re watching? But why stop there? The Twitterfolk also dreamed up Shazam for art (“who painted that?”), Shazam for plants (“is that a weed or a valuable plant?”), Shazam for bird calls, Shazam for classical music, Shazam for “the handwritten menus on the walls of Chinese restaurants,” and Shazam for people. (“I want an app that shows me someone’s name/info when camera is pointed at them,” said @maj8614. “Conferences and weddings: much easier!”)
Parking was a hot topic, too. “Alternate side parking app. You don’t have to open it; the icon just says YES or NO.” (That’s from @harryhassell, who obviously lives in Manhattan, where you’re required to move your parked car to the other side of the street on certain days.) Likewise, @2jase dreams of “an app that tells me the correct parking rules for the spot where I’m currently standing.”
But @danfrakes responded, “I think I’d rather see an app that teaches people how to park and sends them a notification when they do it wrong.” Social apps were popular, like the “reverse Foursquare” suggested by @churlala: “Register all your exes, so no awkward runins around town.” Or @sppatel’s “Six Degrees of Separation” app, which “uses public friends lists across multiple social sites to determine how you may be tied to someone you just met.”