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Appiphilia: iWish iHad these iPhone apps

December 16, 2008 |  2:00 pm

IPhone In many ways, iPhone fanatics and evangelists endow the device with magical and mystical qualities.

It can name that tune in five notes. It knows where I am. It knows where you are. It knows where I want to be before I do. Whoa.

My iPhone knows what I wish for -- three apps that don't yet appear to exist.

When I swipe the screen and hold it to my head, these three things flash to mind: something idle, something new-aged and something stealthy.

After the jump, my list of iPhone apps I wish existed.

...Something idle (or 'Idol,' actually)

'American Idol judges Idol' Hands -- As you may know, the pop-cultural phenomenon that's almost as popular as the iPhone (in some circles) is about to return to television. That's right, "American Idol" begins its eighth season.

Advertising is about as prevalent as, well, music is on the show. (See the red Coke cups in front of each judge in the picture to the left, and the Ford-shaped oval of the "American Idol" logo.) And, as it turns out, iPhone's sole wireless carrier in the U.S., AT&T, is actually one of the show's signature sponsors. Last season, performance downloads of celestial wannabes were available on iTunes almost with the last echo of the haunting and hypnotizing theme song. (The omnipresent Ryan Seacrest even did a hey-lady-gimme-that-iPhone in-show commercial break.)

With all of that Apple-AT&T amore, you'd think there would be an iPhone anything for "Idol." So far, the only "AI" app came with the release of Season 7 winner David Cook's single "Light On." It's a virtual lighter that also plays the song. Cute, because the darkness of every concert is broken by the eerie glow of cellphones lifted in the air. But hardly satisfying. There doesn't even appear to be iPhone optimization for the official "AI" website.

Here's what I'm thinking for an "Idol" app:

  • Social networking: Twitter functionality and connection to those fans in proximity (thinking time zone more than ZIP Code)
  • Video clips: Wherever they reside -- YouTube or the official "Idol" site -- integration of access to video clips of the performances
  • RSS feeds: An aggregation of the top "Idol"-related blogs
  • Interactivity: Users could tap in reviews of the performances as they might for movies or TV shows, as well as weigh in on polls 

Something new-aged

Medical alertICan't Get Up -- You remember the ad: "I've fallen, and I can't get up!" With the silvering of America, tech has to keep up with the needs of this booming demographic. Tech-savvy seniors surf the Web, send e-mail (even if it's just hitting the "forward" button) and negotiate gadgetry.

In the '80s, it was high-tech to push a button for help. And don't get me wrong, these are invaluable. But, frankly, they work only at home -- they're tied to a home landline. Today's senior is on the move.

My mom, for instance, is all about the technology. I see the way she clings to her iPhone. She'll forget to take her emergency-alert necklace off the doorknob it hangs from -- it was across the room when she fell and broke her hip -- but you'd better believe she totes her iPhone with her everywhere she and her walker go.

There are variations with some of this functionality, such as Emergency Distress Beacon, but nothing I've found yet has it all. Here's what I want:

  • Seek and find: With two taps of an app (two to avoid accidental triggering), a call is placed to the closest emergency service provider as determined by internal GPS. If the caller isn't using a headset, speakerphone could be automatically activated. 
  • Tell a friend: An SMS or e-mail alert goes out to a predetermined group that there's an emergency. The message would include current location, clickable on a Google map, and the iPhone callback number.
  • Who's nearby: The map with the senior's location would also indicate where other contacts are, to help determine who is closest to respond to the senior's emergency.
  • Emergency info: Once the call is placed, relevant emergency info, such as the person's name, preexisting conditions, medications and contact is accessible from the touchscreen.

Something stealthy

IspyISpy (or maybe iLeash)-- As my godson is growing from child to preteen, I'm becoming more aware of the importance of keeping in touch with power kids: young people with schedules more packed than their adult drivers. I'm seeing my friends give their 9-year-olds their own cellphones. (The prospect raises my eyebrow, but I get it.) But for every privilege, there can be some responsibility and maybe even compromise.

So, let's say you have a preteen or teen, and, generous parent that you are, you've given little Marlena or Michael an iPhone. In exchange, there's a covert operation -- a tracking app. That's right, you go all Sting on them: watching every move they make.

The beginnings of that app were recently announced, but this would also track physical movement. My suggestion is that it be a condition of use, not a secret. It could also serve as a little LoJack if the phone is stolen. A combo of Loopt, Trak and Mobile Spy. My features:

  • Where are they really: Teens sometimes have a different definition of truth. This would use the GPS in real time and in retrospect to plot the movement of your child. It would also record speed. So if they're in a car with friends, you'd know whether they were traveling at unsafe speeds.
  • I know what you're up to: Remotely, you could set up location parameters. If your kid is outside those boundaries, a phone call is initiated. Um, sweetheart, didn't we say you weren't allowed to go to the promenade?
  • Who are they talking to: That part is easy enough to track already.

If, heaven forbid, something bad happened, this could serve as a black box for your adolescent. Of course, this is starting to sound like a bad surreality TV show. Plus knowing this is on their phone could encourage them to 1) shut off the GPS (they'll figure that out), 2) put it in airplane mode (that's even easier) or 3) leave it sitting around (too easy to do).

Maybe just good communication and attentive parenting would be better than a cyber-sitter or -stalker. The implications for romantic relationships with this are a bit too unsettling to even ponder.

This one feels a tad Orwellian. I suppose, as they say, we should be careful what we wish for. Magic wish-granting iPhone, make that last one the iDon'tThinkSo.

-- Michelle Maltais

First photo: iPhone display at the 2008 MacWorld Conference. Credit: Robert Durell / Los Angeles Times

Second photo: "American Idol" judges Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell. Credit: Michael Becker / Fox

Third photo: Screen grab of Life Alert commercial.

Fourth photo: Bill Cosby, left, and Robert Culp in the 1960s TV series "I Spy"

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