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With Google I/O this week, there was a noticeable focus on productivity and phone navigation apps, all enhancing the Android experience. The yearly event was also an opportunity for Google to flex its muscles, revealing a new Music app that takes the personal cloud to the next level. The combined efforts of Google as a platform owner, and developers in the Android Market, make Android devices all the more competitive with Apple iPhones, and this week’s updates bring hope of Android’s tablet potential, perhaps one day toppling the iPad reign.
Google I/O, the yearly event for innovative products and services, took place this week in San Francisco, giving the search giant a fine platform for launching a highly anticipated app for music. Dubbed Music Beta, the app is a cloud-based service that grants you instant access to your personal music collection from any connected Android device. The good thing about the Music app is that it circumvents wire plug-ins or syncing, making the app more competitive with Apple iTunes and its family of music-happy devices. Though Music Beta was a long time coming, it still falls short compared to other cloud-based services, as Google has yet to settle royalty payments and methods with the major labels. That means Music Beta has no store accompanying its player, restricting it to a personal cloud storage and management tool, absent of a competitive market. The free app is currently in private beta for U.S. users only.
Springpad is also dedicated to the personal cloud, with an upgrade to its bookmarking and organization app. Now with a tablet version, Springpad’s extending its access points to more Android devices. Tablets were an important focal point at Google I/O, with the launch of Honeycomb 3.1 and the unveiling of new tablet devices. Springpad’s staying ahead of the curve, pushing through this major upgrade to appeal to the flexibility of its users. The first smart note app optimized for Android tablets as well as e-readers, this Evernote competitor offers custom home screen widgets, seamless syncing, note-sharing and alerts. Adding to its flexibility, Springpad also added offline access to its service through a Chrome web app, ensuring you can access and manage your saved content even when you’re not connected.
Wave Launcher ($0.99)
Wave Launcher also has an app for better navigating your Android phone, with a gesture-enabled action bar for quick access. From any app, you can pull up the Launcher with the swipe of a finger, displaying icons for other apps and shortcuts. The action bar itself is a custom feature, so you can select which apps to include. The wave can contain a direct-access icon to the built-in app-drawer, and dynamically updates your recently-used apps queue. The customization doesn’t end here--choose your colors and shortcuts for the quick bar as well. From the drawer you can sort apps alphabetically, in ascending or descending order, or last-updated time. With Android phones offering a more pliable approach to smartphone navigation, Wave Launcher helps Androids better compete with Apple devices in the cool factor.
Smart Places (Free)
With location and privacy becoming such big issues for today’s mobile user, we’re seeing an emerging crop of management tools for the data-conscious consumer. Apps like Glympse are blazing the path, with custom options around location-sharing. A new app called Smart Places is like Glympse, but for space instead of time, allowing you to draw zones on the map of where you’d like to check-in using Facebook. The free app, still in beta, automatically checks you into Facebook Places as you pass through, and also gives the option of two-click access for on-site check-ins. On the social side, you’ll get notifications for nearby Facebook friend activity, and stats on your check-in activity, including the total time spent at a given location.
Another app that gives you more control over your smartphone experience is Vlingo, a voice recognition app that lets you speak orders to your phone. Geared towards drivers in particular, Vlingo’s update includes a guide screen that tells users what their options are for voice commands, as well as the words to use. Also demoed at Google I/O, Vlingo’s new version gets smarter with your interactions, learning your communication behavior. If you normally text your sister Gail, Vlingo will automatically initiate a text message when you command it to “message Gail.” You can also search locally through Vlingo, as it now pulls information from Yelp and Citysearch to give you more comprehensive results and reviews.
Zipcar is turning to Android’s mobile reach in order to extend its own, launching a public beta app enabling users to reserve rental cars. Zipcar found that a whopping 90 percent of its members are smartphone users, the majority of these “Zipsters” owning an Android device. It’s only natural that Zipcar, which recently became a public company, created an Android app, as its service has always centered on efficiency and self-service. You can use the free app to search for cars by time, location and vehicle type. View available cars on a map, get directions and manage your reservation. You can even use the app as a key fob of sorts, honking the horn to locate a Zipcar in vast parking lots, and unlocking the car as well.