With the holiday season fast approaching, deals on smartphones are appearing everywhere, ranging from free phones to drastic price reductions. But once you find a new handset under the tree (or in your pocket if you just can’t wait another week), what’s an uninitiated smartphone owner to do? Once you get past the bells, whistles and native features your device offers, it’s time to start loading up with mobile apps!
There’s no lack of solid apps regardless of the platform your new smartphone runs, be it iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone 7, web OS or Symbian. So here’s a starter list of apps that are handy and can add immediate value and fun to a new smartphone.
Glympse (free). It’s likely that your smartphone has a GPS radio built-in to help you navigate around the town, but it can do far more than that. With the Glympse application, you can share your location with specific people for a given time instead of just blasting your location to anyone and everyone. You get to choose who’s tracking your location and for how long, making the app useful when traveling to meet someone: by sending them a Glympse, they will see your location in real-time on their phone and know if you’ll be late, early or right on time. And friends don’t even need an account to track you on Glympse. [Android, iPhone, Windows Phone 7]
Remote DVR apps (free). Did you leave home and forget to record the latest episode of your favorite television show? You’re in luck, because many television content providers offer free smartphone apps that can remotely access your home DVR. Depending on who provides your service, check these out: Verizon FiOS DVR Manager, Comcast Mobile, DirecTV Mobile and AT&T U-Verse Mobile. You might need a particular DVR model for these apps to work, and there are likely a few simple activation steps between your handset and DVR. [Supported platforms vary by provider]
SpringPad (free). There are apps for tasks, apps for notes and apps to track movies and restaurants. Wouldn’t it be nice if one piece of software handled all of the above and then some? SpringPad does exactly that and intelligently organizes this information for you, often making this data actionable. For example, if you add a list of products you plan to buy, SpringPad can monitor for the best prices and alert you to a price drop. [Android, iPhone]
AngryBirds (free / paid). Who says smartphones are all about productivity? There’s always time to play and perhaps the most successful game this year is Angry Birds, which is available on nearly all smartphone platforms. The concept is simple: Slingshot birds at structures made of ice, rock, wood and snow to smash the green pigs hiding inside. Get all the pigs and you move on to the next level. Not so fast though; different birds are better at breaking the different materials, so there’s thought involved. Plus, the pigs greet you with a snarky smile if you run out of birds, ensuring you’ll replay the level. Not only is it addictive, but it can pull double duty as well, by keeping your kids occupied for hours. Angry Birds is free but ad-supported on some smartphones; on others, it has no advertising but costs a buck or two. [iOS, Android, BlackBerry, web OS, Symbian]
Kindle (free app, content extra). Although it’s a far better experience to read on a larger screen, there’s no need to buy a dedicated eBook reader if you have a smartphone. And you might actually read more often with your handset, because it’s the device that’s always with you; whenever you have a few spare minutes, its easy to read a few pages. Amazon’s Kindle app is particularly useful, because the content you buy is readable across multiple smartphone platforms, Windows computers and Macs. And the software keeps track of your bookmarks, notes and what page you’re on, so if you start a chapter on your smartphone, you can pick up where you left off on your computer. [Android, iPhone, BlackBerry, Windows Phone 7]
WeatherBug (free). There’s no lack of good weather-related applications, but I like WeatherBug. Like most competitors, the software can use your smartphone’s GPS radio to determine your location, so there’s no need to type in a city or zip code. Unique to the program is access to a network of local and remote weather stations, including some with webcams, so you can actually see the weather world around you. [Android, iPhone, Windows Mobile, BlackBerry]
USA Today (free). Staying connected to what’s happening in the world is much easier with a smartphone, provided you have an app to help you out. The New York Times, Associated Press, Fox News and others all offer apps, but USA Today has a more elegant, useful interface than most. You can share interesting news with friends through email or social networks from within the application as well. [Android, iPhone, BlackBerry]
Facebook (free). Speaking of social networks, 1 of every 12 every people on the planet is part of Facebook, so why not add the app to your smartphone? Instead of a watered-down web experience, the Facebook mobile app brings desktop-like features to your smartphone: easier photo uploads, checking in using Places with your GPS, support for better video playback and in some cases, a full-featured Facebook chat client. Clearly if you don’t use Facebook, you don’t need this app, but if you are a web socialite, this is a must download. [Android, iPhone, BlackBerry, Windows Phone 7, webOS]
Related content from GigaOM Pro (subscription req’d):