The Android Market may not have as many apps as the iPhone App Store yet, but there are still more than enough to be overwhelmed, and it continues to grow at a breakneck pace. To help you sort through them all, here is my latest list of the 20 most useful Android apps (this is an update of my 2010 Android list). I’ve also recently updated my list of the most useful iPhone apps and you’ll notice several of the same apps on both lists.
Remember that I primarily had business professionals in mind when making this list and also keep in mind that this is a snapshot in time. The Android platform is developing so quickly that I guarantee my home screen will look different a month from now.
Still, here’s my list of tried-and-true Android apps that I can highly recommend.
Google Voice is a service that is so useful I consider it one of the top benefits of Android itself. The service gives you a phone number that can ring to multiple places or devices and it allows you to access all of your voicemail and text messages from the Web. The Android app integrates even deeper. It can make outgoing calls look like they’re coming from your Google Voice number so that you can keep your real mobile number private.
One of the realities of having a multitasking mobile OS is that you have to manage your apps so that they don’t hurt performance or battery life. Advanced Task Killer (ATK) is my favorite on Android. It even comes with a widget that you can tap once to kill all open apps and you can also set up ATK to kill all apps at periodic intervals. Some people will argue that task managers are irrelevant and unneeded in Android, but I still prefer to use ATK.
Dropbox is a great cloud service that automatically syncs a folder of files between multiple computers (Windows, Mac, or Linux). This app extends Dropbox to Android and interacts with other apps (such as Documents To Go) to open the files. It allows you to access PDFs, image files, and business documents by simply dragging them to a folder on your computer and then you immediately have access to them from your mobile phone, once you have this app installed.
Once you get used to typing on a virtual keyboard (and it honestly took me over a year to do it), then these devices are great for note-taking, and Evernote is a great note-taking app. It is similar to Dropbox in that it saves data locally but syncs it across all your machines and devices.
There are plenty of to-do apps to choose from on Android but I now prefer Taskos because of the clean, easy, Android-friendly user experience. It also has a few extras that give it an advantage over apps. The biggest one is voice recognition, which lets you speak a task that the app turns into a to-do item (you might have to correct a word or two).
For some reason Google doesn’t have an official app for Google Analytics (for either Android or iPhone). The best one I’ve found on Android is DroidAnalytics. Another good one is mAnalytics.
The free version of Documents To Go offers a great little reader for Microsof Word and Excel files. You can upgrade to the full version (for $15) if you want to be able to create and edit files and add PowerPoint files to the mix. If you do want editing capability, I’d also recommend taking a look atQuickOffice.
If you mostly work with Google Docs (including uploading Microsoft Office files to your Google Docs repository) then the only app you’ll really need is the Google Docs app. It’s a nice mobile implementation of document management, although the one annoyance is that always open up files in a web browser rather than within the app itself, which would be a little smoother.
I dig Tripit. It is by far the best app I’ve found for keeping track of all my travel itineraries. It runs on some great backend systems. You simply forward your confirmation emails for your flights, hotels, rental cars, and more to Tripit and it automatically organizes them into trips with all your details and confirmation numbers. Or, if you use Gmail, you can even use a plugin to automatically catch confirmation emails and turn them into Tripit trips.
This is an awesome app for finding shops and services near your current location. From restaurants to medical facilities to taxis, this app is very accurate and takes advantage of the business information from Google Local. This app is better than the info you get from a GPS unit (or app) and better than any of the similar apps available on the iPhone. It’s also integrated into Google Maps.
Another one of the great things about Android (if you’re a geek or a tinkerer) is that you have lower-level access to the system itself. Astro is an app that lets you navigate the Android file system, which is mostly just interesting, but can be handy once in a while.
I’m obsessed with running speed tests to check my bandwidth in various places, both to see 3G/4G fluctuations and to check the quality of Wi-Fi. There are a number of really good speed test apps, but my favorite is the Speedtest.net app. It’s generally consistent and it has some of the best graphics and options.
I’ve never completely warmed up to the Amazon Kindle e-reader, but I’m a big fan of the Kindle mobile app. Since it was released I’ve read a lot more books simply because my smartphone is always with me and I can pull it out and read a few pages anytime I’ve got a couple minutes free.
I’ve written a lot about Google+ since it launched in July and I’m pretty active over there (+emkaytsg). One of the great things that Google did was to release a Google+ Android app at the same time it launched the service as a beta. And, surprisingly, the app was actually pretty good and has been improved since. It immediately became one of my most used mobile apps and definitely stole some of my time away from Android’s Twitter app, mostly because Google+ is a little more interactive.
The TED conference features a meeting of the minds of some of society’s most influential thinkers. You’ll disagree with some of them since there’s a large diversity of viewpoints, but many talks are worth listening to in order to catch the latest creative thinking on society’s biggest challenges. The cool thing is that they’ve taken the videos from the conference and made them freely available on the Web. The TED Air app provides a great way to access the videos on a mobile device. I hope more conferences follow TED’s lead on this.
This is a fun app that is a little bit ahead of its time. It does visual searches. You can take pictures of things and then the app tries to tell you what they are. It’s limited in its scope but it is pretty cool, and it’s definitely a peek into the future. One of the coolest features is the ability to take pictures of text in a foreign language and let the app translate it for you. In a foreign country, this can help you read street signs and avoid going into the wrong bathroom. 🙂 On a more practical level, Goggles is a QR code reader.
Photoshop is, of course, the best known photo editor in the world and its mobile app doesn’t do anything to hurt that reputation. But while the desktop version is known for having a zillion features, the mobile app is distinguished by its simplicity. It’s the best Android (and iPhone) photo editing app for simple crops, brightness adjustments, and sharpens, for example.
As much as I like the Kindle ebooks, I actually consume more books as audiobooks via Audible. With the Audible app you can connect to your Audible library and download over the air. The app also gives you a self-contained player optimized for audiobooks, with a skip-back-30-seconds button and the opportunity to make notes and bookmarks (although I wish the app would store these online so that they could be accessed from the Audible site).
If you want to impress your friends with a mobile app, show them Shazam. Ever hear a song being played at a store or on the radio and ask yourself, “Oh, what song is that?” That’s where Shazam comes in. Just hit the button and let it listen for 15 seconds, query its database, and then return the name of artist and the song. It has about an 80% success rate. This one isn’t particularly productive, but it is really cool. (You have to live a little, every once in a while.)
This is a great little app that regularly gets overlooked. It connects to your Google Finance account, where you can set up a list of stocks and companies to follow and sort them into groups (portfolios). The app provides three simple tabs — a look at the market, a look at your portfolios, and the latest market news. It even does real-time updates when you have the app open.
Other Non google APS which are very good.
“The future is already here — it’s just not evenly distributed.” William Gibson
One of the best things about my job covering the latest technologies is getting early information about some of the amazing things coming down the pipeline in the years ahead. But, the flip side of that is that I often learn about some really cool stuff that won’t be available to the general public at a reasonable cost for a long time, which often leads to a case of “Isn’t that here yet?” that can last for years.
With that mind, here are my current top five picks for “Isn’t that here yet?” These are the technologies that I’m seriously impatient to see show up in the real world.
I’ve recently talked a lot about the utopian convergence of PC and mobile devices. I see this as the next big game-changer in the technology industry, and that’s why I’ve pinpointed it as Microsoft’s next big opportunity (and explained why they could miss it). However, the number one factor that’s needed to make this happen isn’t a super-fast CPU or a miniature SSD drive with lots of storage, it’s a common standard for wireless docking. That’s what will enable us to take a smartphone or tablet and set it on desk or on a charging station like the Palm Touchstone and then have it wirelessly connect to a keyboard, mouse, and large screen monitor. We need something easier and more robust than Bluetooth. A technology like Wireless USB could be the answer. The most important thing is that it will need to be a universal standard integrated into every phone and tablet so that we no longer need proprietary docking solutions like the ones for the Motorola Atrix.Timeframe: 3 years
The arrival of true 4G wireless broadband is just beginning to hit critical mass in the U.S. in 2011 with the continuing rollout of Verizon’s LTE service (I don’t count the 3.5G of T-Mobile and AT&T as 4G). And, while LTE offers impressive speed and performance, it still has wrinkles that need to be ironed out (handoff between 3G and 4G often gets goofy). But, the biggest thing LTE needs — from a user standpoint — is a little more competition to drive the price down and force the telecom companies to fight tooth-and-nail for business by deploying 4G everywhere. It’s a shame WiMAX is floundering in the U.S. because it was a legitimate 4G competitor and was aimed at delivered low-cost, high-speed mobile broadband everywhere — and then just turning phone calls into VoIP calls (like Skype) since people are using their phones less and less for voice and much more for data. Still, 4G is going to happen because people want high-speed Internet everywhere and are willing to pay for it. There might even be creative companies that will give it away or offer a reduced rate for ad-supported access. Timeframe: 2 years
One of the coolest and most futuristic things in the works has got to be 3D printing. No, I’m not talking about making a printout and using 3D glasses to create a silly illusion (that would be even dumber than 3D movies and 3D TV sets). The three dimensional printing that I’m talking about is where you make a three dimensional design on a computer and then send it to a special device to “print” a 3D model. There are already some expensive (over $15,000) models available in the real world and used by companies that need to make rapid prototypes of products. However, there will eventually be models available for average consumers and lots of templates of different things to create, which means it will someday be cheaper and easier to create certain things than to go out and buy them. In other words, this will likely be the first step toward the replicator in Star Trek.Timeframe: 5-10 years
There are a lot of things that HTML5 will bring to the web — and some of these elements are beginning to show up in a few sites today — but the biggest thing HTML5 is going to do is take the training wheels off the web and unleash it to compete with traditional software. The two things that I’m most excited about are that HTML5 is going to turn the web into app and it’s going to eliminate the need for most of the plugins that slow down browsers and introduce extra security risks. With HTML5, constantly refreshing pages will become a relic of the old web as pages become far more dynamic and interactive, automatically loading the latest content and changing the page based on user clicks, mouse-overs, and multi-touch gestures. And, of course, multimedia will be integrated into the experience and plugins for Flash, Shockwave, Silverlight, and other helper technologies will become unnecessary. Timeframe: 2 years
Another technology that has been promised for years but still needs several breakthroughs before it’s ready for the mainstream is OLED displays. We’ve seen some high-priced prototypes from Sony that feature ridiculously thin TV screens in small sizes (under 30 inches), but that only scratches the surface of what OLED will be able to do in the future — at least theoretically. These ultra-low-power displays will be able to be almost as thin as plastic wrap and will be completely flexible (even when in use). The result will be screens that can be integrated directly into walls and be virtually invisible when turned off. You’ll also see smartphones that can be folded in half and put into a pocket or a wallet, or even rolled into a bracelet. We could even see the re-emergence of the broadsheet as a way to read and consume news, but instead of unfolding a newspaper you’ll unfold an OLED display that is tied to a subscription to The New York Times, for example (here’s an example of how the Times is already envisioning this). Timeframe: 4-5 years
Ten best things to say if you get caught sleeping at your desk
10.”They told me at the blood bank this might happen.”
8. “Whew! Guess I left the top off the white out. You probably got here just in time.”
7. “I wasn’t sleeping, I was meditating on the mission statement and envisioning a new paradigm.”
6. “I was testing my keyboard for drool resistance.”
5. “I was doing a highly specific Yoga exercise to relieve work-related stress. Do you discriminate against people who practice Yoga?”
4. “Why did you interrupt me? I had almost figured out a solution to our biggest problem.”
3. “The coffee machine is broken.”
2. “Someone must have put decaf in the wrong pot.”