8 Must-Have Summer Apps

Best Summertime AppsThe first day of summer may technically be June 20, but Memorial Day Weekend is arguably the beginning of the summer season. So to get you ready for the summer fun here are some of the must-have apps for the season:

What to Do:

  • Camp Finder (Android & iOS) – If you plan on packing the camping gear, jumping in the car and seeing where you end up you’ll want to download Camp Finder. This app helps you find campgrounds and RV Parks in the area.
  • Weber’s On the Grill (Android & iOS) – Give your oven a break and fire up the grill this summer. Weber’s recipe app will keep your mouth watering all summer long.
  • Everytrail (Android & iOS) – Need to work off all those hotdogs? Everytrail will point you toward the nearest walking paths and hiking trails.
  • Beach Finder (Android & iOS) – Two different apps, one common purpose – finding the closest place for you to dip your toes in the surf.

When You’re in the Sun:

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How Do You Get to the Top of the App Store?

That’s not a rhetorical question. Mobile analytics firm Distimo published actual data on how many downloads it generally takes to get into the top-25 spot. The short answer: develop an amazing game. For the longer answer, let’s take a look at this recent TechCrunch article:

Turns out, in the U.S. store, the answer currently is about 38,400 daily downloads for free iPhone apps and 3,530 for paid iPhone apps. To rank in the top 25 per category, of course, takes significantly fewer downloads, with games unsurprisingly being the most competitive category. It takes 25,300 daily downloads to rank in the gaming top 25 for free apps and 2,280 downloads for paid apps.

For free apps, other competitive categories include ‘entertainment’ (6,700 daily downloads), ‘social networking’ (5,800), ‘lifestyle’ (3,900) and ‘music’ (3,900). Interestingly, in the paid app charts photography apps rank just behind games and entertainment apps. Still, it currently only takes about 270 daily downloads to rank in the photography top 25 for paid apps.

These numbers, of course, are always changing and this just represent a snapshot of what Distimo found when it compiled this data last month.

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uTest Infographic: Which Android Devices Rock Apps

Do you play games on your SEMC Xperia Play? Are you a news junkie with an LG Optimus 2X? How do sports apps work on your Samsung Infuse 4G? Ever get frustrated with the music app on your HTC Thunderbolt? In our newest uTest Infographic we let the Android Market app reviews do the talking to find out which devices reign supreme (and which fall flat) in the  major app categories.

uTest Infograpich 2012

Which Apps Suck More Data?

Android Eating DataData, data, data, it’s been in the news a lot lately. From carriers throttling “unlimited” plans to the ads in free apps using up more than their fair share of data. But when it comes to the apps themselves, which are the worst data sucking offenders? PCWorld set out to answer that question. They used a Droid Razr running on Verizon 4G LTE and tested apps in six categories. This is what they found:

Movie Streaming
Among the app categories we tested, movie streaming apps chomped up the most data. … And high-definition videos take up double the amount of data that standard definition videos do. …

YouTube videos aren’t the biggest data hog. Netflix streaming uses more.

Listening to Pandora for an hour a day for a month will use about 1.76GB of data.

Spotify differs from Pandora in that it is an on-demand music service and music management platform. Though you can do more things with Spotify, it does use more data than Pandora when streaming to your phone.

If you choose to stream music at the “medium” bit rate of 160 kilobits per second (kbps) you will use about 1.2MB of data per minute. Listening to Spotify for an hour a day for a month will cost you about 2.1GB of data. So Spotify alone can max out a 2GB data tier.

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Android Seeks World Domination

Android Stand at Mobile World CongressIn conjunction with Mobile World Congress that’s going on in Spain right now Google announced that there are more than 300 million active Android devices around the world, and the number is swiftly growing. Here it is straight from Google’s blog:

With a year-on-year growth rate of more than 250%, 850,000 new Android devices are activated each day, jetting the total number of Android devices around the world past 300 million. …

Last year at Mobile World Congress (MWC), we announced that there were more than 150,000 apps in Android Market. That number tripled to more than 450,000 apps today, with over one billion app downloads happening every month.

On a separate note, a recent study found that a good number of those 450,000 apps are downloaded by Android users for free. Strategy Analytics conducted a survey and found that free Android apps account for a higher percentage of downloads than free iOS apps (in their respective markets). Blackberry users come in right between Android and iOS users in terms of downloading free apps. Here’s a recap of the survey from PC World:

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Jakob Nielsen on Mobile App Usability

I just posted a Testing the Limits interview with Jakob Nielsen – aka the King of Usability – over on the uTest Blog. The subject matter will of great interest to readers of this blog, as we had an in-depth discussion on the past, present and future of mobile applications. Here are a few clips where he discusses native apps vs. the mobile web, tablet usability issues and his take on the iPhone vs. Android situation.

On native apps vs. the mobile web:

JN: Apps are superior for 3 reasons:

  • Empirically, users perform better with apps than with mobile sites in user testing.
  • Apps are much better at supporting disconnected use and poor connectivity, both of which will continue to be important use cases for years to come. When I’m in London and don’t feel like being robbed by “roaming” fees, any native mapping app will beat Google Maps at getting me to the British Museum.
  • Apps can be optimized for the specific hardware on each device. This will become more important in the future, as we get a broader range of devices.

Apps have the obvious downside of requiring more development resources, especially to be truly optimized for each device. If a company doesn’t have enough resources to do this right, it’s better to have a nice mobile site than a lame app.

A second downside of apps is that users have to install them. Our testing shows poor findability and usability in Apple’s Application Store, and many users won’t even bother downloading something at all for intermittent use. So ask yourself whether you’re really offering something within the hardcore mobile center of need: time-sensitive and/or location dependent, and whether your offer is truly compelling in this crowded space. Most companies are never going to make it big in mobile. In some cases all they need is to make their main website somewhat mobile-friendly. Many others should deliver a dedicated mobile site but not bother with apps.

On usability problems with tablets:

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Inside the SetiQuest Explorer Beta Test (Interview)

On Friday, I wrote about one of the most interesting beta tests on the planet (and perhaps, the galaxy). SetiQuest Explorer, a newly developed app for Android, was produced by the Seti Institute – a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to scientific research and education on extraterrestrial life. For you sci-fi buffs, this organization was the inspiration for the movie Contact, one of my personal favorites.

The application lets users look for patterns in noise from radio signals picked up by the Allen Telescope Array in Northern California. The telescopes are focused on stars beyond our solar system, including stars with planets nearby that NASA’s Kepler mission has determined are in a habitable zone, meaning they could sustain life.

Anyway, I promised to get in touch with the developers of this application to learn more about the challenges they face in their current beta test. Francis Potter (pictured left) who led the development effort, was kind enough to field a few questions from yours truly. Here is the brief Q&A. My questions in bold.

Needless to say, this is not your typical beta test. What kind of information and feedback are you hoping to receive in the testing phase? And what is the nature of the issues already being reported (if any)?

FP: We decided to take a community-driven approach to many aspects of this application, including testing. The version that’s out there now is very raw, and we’re getting useful input on everything, from the placement of buttons to the authentication options. No major bugs being reported though.

The press coverage has mentioned that the iPhone version will be available later this year. Is there a particular reason why the SetiQuest Explorer was first developed for the Android operating system?

FP: We built the app using the Adobe Flex/AIR framework. It compiles to Android very easily; making an iPhone app from the code base is a little more work, so we decided to hold off. We did build an in-browser version for personal computer users, and we’re releasing it simultaneously with the Android application. Besides, those of us on the core team are all Android users, so it made sense.

What’s been the biggest challenge so far in testing the application? I’m guessing it had to do with transferring data from the Seti servers, but I’d like to hear your thoughts.

FP: Obviously the big challenge is that we don’t have all the handsets. We have a cross-section of them though. The Adobe toolset makes it really easy to test on the desktop using different pixel dimensions, so that was easy. But we know there are subtle differences between some of the handsets. Hopefully our beta testers will tell us if there is a problem!

We demo the app on the Samsung Galaxy Tab. It’s a terrific form factor for this kind of app. I’ve become a big fan of that device.

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Testing The Alien-Hunting Android App

Hunting extraterrestrials…there’s an app for that, and it’s currently in private beta. No fooling.

ZDNet explains:

The Seti Institute launched a private beta test on Thursday of SetiQuest Explorer in the hope that amateur astronomers will help with tasks that cannot be done well by computers. The app runs on Android 2.2 but will be available on the iPhone this summer. There is also a desktop version for any computer running Flash Player 10.2. “We want to tap into the brain power of the world,” Jill Tarter, director of the non-profit Seti (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute, said.

The Seti@Home project run by the University of California at Berkeley is harnessing unused computer processing power to help crunch the data coming from outer space. SetiQuest Explorer is modeled on the same idea, but using humans and crowdsourcing to distribute visual recognition duties to people with spare time on their hands.

Of all the private beta tests we’ve covered over the last 200 posts (yes, we’re keeping track) this one stands alone as the most interesting and unique. Of course, we’d be very interested in learning more about what this beta test is going to cover in terms of functionality, compatibility, usability, etc.  I’ll see if I can get the Seti to agree to a short interview about what they hope the beta test will confirm. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, here’s some more background info:

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Paranoid Android Users: App Malware On The Rise

Malware writers, clever bunch that they are, have turned to the mobile app space for new victims. This is particularly true of the Chinese Android marketplace, as outlined in a recent Register piece:

Malware writers are trying to infect Chinese users of Android smartphones with a Trojan that poses as a wallpaper for the smartphone’s screen or other legitimate applications, such as the popular game RoboDefense.

The mobile malware, dubbed Adrd or alternatively HongTouTou, has been seeded onto third-party mobile app stores in China. The official Android Market is not affected.

If installed, the Trojan gathers the IMEI and IMSI numbers of compromised devices, uploading this information to a remote server, before generating counterfeit queries against particular search results. The malware specifically generated fraudulent clicks on the Baidu ad network, according to anti-virus firm AVG, which reckons the Trojan is the work of a group also producing malware targeting Symbian smartphone.

The use of the malware in a click-fraud scam marks it out as more sophisticated than previous flavours of Android malware, which typically send SMS messages to premium rate numbers from compromised handsets.

What’s a mobile user to do? Well, if you’ve been following the Mobile World Congress (as we have), you’d know that Kaspersky Mobile now protects BlackBerry and Android users from all sorts of mobile mischief. But aside from a small selection of anti-malware products, the industry’s best bet for protecting users is a top-down focus on mobile app security testing, but you probably already knew that.

Got testers?

Top Ten Mobile Apps For Valentine’s Day

Today is Valentine’s Day. You haven’t forgotten, have you? Last minute plans for Valentine’s Day can be difficult to arrange, but don’t worry, we have you covered. If you’re worried that you’ll only get to the store in time to get a bunch of wilted roses, melted chocolate or crumbled cookies, here are some iPhone applications that will make you look more like Clark Gable, and less like Clark Griswold.

1. Cookie Doodle ($0.99) – This app allows you to prepare virtual heart shaped chocolate chip cookies covered in sprinkles. There’s even a text tool that allows you to write a special message for that special someone. This app is ten times better than burning the house down trying to bake… and a hundred times better than accidently poisoning your girlfriend.

2. Instant Poetry ($1.99) – Do you find yourself tongue tied every time you see the girl of your dreams? Instant Poetry helps you out – tap a button and rearrange the words that pop up on the screen until you’re happy with your poetic masterpiece, and then send it straight to your Valentine. They’ll be blown away by your romantic words. Just don’t panic when they expect you to be romantic in person as well…

3. Star Walk ($2.99) – What could be more romantic than gazing at the stars? But how much better would it be if you knew which constellation was which? Star Walk allows you to point your iPhone at the sky, and see which constellations and stars you are looking at. Now you can be romantic and smart at the same time!

4. Send eFlowers ($0.99) – What girl doesn’t love to get flowers? Using this app, you can send her flowers virtually. They may not be quite as good as the real thing, but they’ll keep you out of trouble until you pick up real roses for her later!

5. Valentines Radio (Free) – Check out this collection of romantic radio stations. This app gathers together radio stations with the best compilation of love songs – and if your favorite isn’t here, just email them and have them add it. This is way better than just putting your iPod on shuffle and hoping that “Baby Got Back” doesn’t come on.

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