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Latest smart phone apps offer fun, function

Smart phones are the biggest tech trend right now, offering a new level of computing convenience. Cell phones started in the 1980s as bulky “car phones” with a huge battery and foot-long antenna. Today’s tiny devices can call, text, retrieve e-mail, access the Internet and run thousands of apps or applications, programs that provide useful and fun utilities.

Apps include Global Positioning System navigational programs, location-specific weather reporting, even maps of the stars currently overhead. Downloads for these utilities are available online. Many are free, some require a small fee.

The GPS is perhaps the most useful application, replacing the dedicated device many have mounted on the dashboard. A destination is entered and the app supplies a map and audibly gives turn-by-turn driving directions.

Another practical application is the shopping app, which allows you to scan the barcode of an item with your camera and “shop” for it on your smart phone. The app will find nearby stores that stock the item and provide the price and availability at each location. This will impress geeky sales people and may facilitate price matching or simply allow you to drive to the store that offers the best price.

Also very handy is a weather app, which provides temperatures and forecasts for your specific location. Multiple locations can be accessed to compare our weather here in paradise to those less fortunate. Marine conditions and warnings can also be easily accessed.

On a clear night, the Skymap will allow you to orient your smart phone to the night sky so that you can locate constellations, stars and planets. Skymap will demonstrate the path of the moon, and the movement of the stars through the night.

An RSS Newsreader will supply you with news items based on your areas of interest. You may select Internet news sources. This app updates you daily or as news breaks.

Pandora is a popular app for both smart phones and computers. Pandora is a Internet radio feed that tailors musical selections to your taste. After you suggest a few favorites, Pandora will offer what it determines is similar music. As you approve or disapprove its selections, your Pandora fine-tunes its knowledge of your preferences.

Purely for fun, there are photo-morphing apps that change your camera-phone’s photo to negative exposure, or create stylized or mirrored effects. Some utilities enable you to take rapid-fire photos of moving objects.

A recent ad campaign highlighted several apps, including a “fog-and-draw” app, which senses the user’s breath and “fogs up” the screen, then allows you to write on the surface with your finger. The fingertip writing will even appear to drip with condensation.

Further information on these applications and the phones that run them can be found online. Some of the most popular smart phones include RIM Blackberry, Apple iPhone, and Android-based phones including T-Mobile and Nokia.

Patty Harshbarger, the owner of Computer Renaissance in Bradenton, can be reached at