Unlocking the creativity of the masses

With the launch of the iPhone last year (and the millions of dollars in ad spend around it), Apple did more for wireless data adoption than wireless carriers had in the last 10 years. With Thursday’s launch of the App Store, they’re doing it again by unlocking the creativity of the masses.

Wireless carriers had long held on to core cellphone features with an iron grip. Want access to the camera, GPS, microphone or address book? Good luck. It usually involved spending a year or more negotiating with a carrier and then writing and (rewriting) your app to work on dozens of phone models. And when you were all done, you brought it to a market with little distribution support at a price few people would pay.

In the last couple of days, I’ve downloaded more apps than I had in my entire history of cell phone usage (dating back to 1996). There’s one big reason: once developers had access to features like GPS and the camera, they created compelling applications.

The most compelling apps have come from independent developers or startups. Some have used public APIs for other products; although there isn’t an official flickr app, there are several apps that interact with flickr. AOL is the lone exception among large companies, with apps for AIM and AOL Radio.

Here are some of the apps that caught my eye. With the exception of iMilk, all are free. That’s another refreshing change: Apple is making it easy for application developers who want to distribute free applications. Even paid apps can be relatively cheap, with a one time price of $3-$10 being common. (Versus the previous $3-$5 per month.)

All is not perfect in app land, of course. Much like when Facebook launched their app platform, some developers are having a hard time keeping up with the demand. I’ve also had my phone reboot at least half a dozen times when using various apps.

The functionality in some of these apps is limited compared with their other incarnations. For example, in Jott, you can’t send Jotts to others. As these apps are revved, they’ll become even more compelling.


Jott allows you to record a voice “note to self”. The note is then transcribed and put in your Jott account, which is available by phone or Web. It isn’t as robust as Jott’s


A mobile social network that lets you plot friends on a map, look for restaurant reviews, find and reserve Zipcars and even look at a map of the night sky where you are with the constellations plotted. (Video of the app.)

There are a number of players looking to create mobile social networks. Whrrl, Loopt and Limbo offer somewhat similar apps. Where offers a range of features beyond social, while Limbo is the most social.

(Disclosure: I did some consulting for Where last year.)


Facebook took an early lead with the iPhone 1.0 by having one of the best iPhone optimized sites. The lead developer released a toolkit that was used by other developers. The application version adds the ability to upload photos and IM, but lacks some of the features found in the browser version.


Upload pictures to flickr (or an AirMe account). The pictures are automatically geotagged with your location. AirMe also tags you pictures with the current weather conditions.


See pictures from Panoramio of places around where you are.


See and update Twitter. Post pictures and location updates. Twitterific has less functionality and also has ads.


Kind of like a Magic 8 ball to decide where to eat. Uses GPS to find where you are. Shake your iPhone and it will select a place for you.

iMilk  ($2.99)

“Drink” virtual milk. Uses the iPhone’s accelerometer to empty the glass. If you prefer, you can pour it into a glass before drinking.


Control your Apple TV or iTunes. Play songs, see album art and search your iTunes library. Works over Wifi, so you don’t have to be in line of sight. Much better than the flimsy remote that ships with Apple TV.


The world’s greatest music discovery service now streams to iPhone. The app is beautifully simple. Add in an aux in jack or FM transmitter for your car and say goodbye to the $14 a month you’re paying to XM or Sirius.


Why settle for the hand-picked (usually glowing) reviews displayed in the restaurant window? Pull out your iPhone and check Yelp. My favorite feature is a filter that limits the search to restaurants that are open now. Very helpful for those midnight cravings.


About Rakesh Agrawal

Rakesh Agrawal is Senior Director of product at Amazon (Audible). Previously, he launched local and mobile products for Microsoft and AOL. He tweets at @rakeshlobster.
This entry was posted in apple, apple tv, facebook, flickr, geotagging, gps, iphone, ipod, lbs, local search, mobile, mobile search, photography, social networking, twitter, where, wireless, wireless data, yelp. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Unlocking the creativity of the masses

  1. Doris says:

    Gonna have to get Yelp; didn’t realize it had a feature limiting you to places open at the time you’re actually hungry. I’m loving Urbanspoon, tho.

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