|10 killer apps you shouldn't live without
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When you hop into Apple or Google's app stores on your smartphone or tablet and literally have more than a million apps enticing you, it's easy to get quickly overwhelmed. Of course, there are countless options for the boring staples to handle email, maps, weather, stocks, games and networking.
What's new in the app world? Here are 10 innovative apps that you might want to check out and add to your arsenal. (Note: My favorite is number 10. If you don't download any others on this list, number 10 is simply awesome.)
1. Send self-destructing messages
Email, text messaging and picture messaging are fast and easy ways to communicate with friends and family, but they're far from secure. Each one has weak points where hackers, snoops or the government can see what you're sending and receiving.
Wickr (Android, Apple; free) creates an end-to-end encrypted communication channel with no weak points. Even Wickr can't read your messages.
Wickr includes the standard messaging features like contact lists, picture messaging with fun doodles and stickers, etc. However, its showstopping feature is that you can choose to destroy messages after you've sent them. You can also permanently shred the messages on your gadget.
2. Remove swear words from eBooks
Have you ever had a perfectly good book ruined by inappropriate language? It's a real bummer when you're in the middle of an interesting story, and you come across vulgar words or phrases that you'd rather avoid. Luckily, you can finish the story without reading those words you don't like.
Just load up the eBook in Clean Reader (Android, Apple; free) and choose "Clean," "Cleaner" or "Squeaky Clean." As you're reading your books in Clean Reader, you'll notice blank gray spaces where an inappropriate word used to be. You can select to have a cleaner synonym replace the word, so the sentence will still make sense.
3. Turn your phone into a DSLR
Thanks to smartphone and tablet cameras, everyone can be a photographer at any event. In fact, many people don't even bother with standalone cameras anymore. That's fine for candid shots, but if you want real manual camera controls like you'd get on a higher-end camera, you're out of luck. Or are you?
Both Apple and Android have third-party camera apps that go way beyond the limits of the built-in camera apps. A good one for Apple is Manual ($2) and Android has Camera FV-5 ($3.95). You can step back in time and manually set exposure, timing, focus, white balance, as well as see live histograms of the scene and more.
4. Know what information your apps are collecting
You probably have a bunch of apps to make your life easier, but do you realize that many apps have access to your personal information including your contacts list and your GPS location?
The MyPermissions (Android, Apple; free) app scans major apps like Facebook, Twitter, games, and other services to tell you what apps have access to your personal information and shows you what data the apps are sharing on your behalf. You can then manage these over-sharing apps with just one touch.
5. Make fun videos with friends
Facebook doesn't just want to play you videos anymore; it wants to help you make them. And it actually has an interesting idea that isn't just a copy of Vine's 7-second videos.
Facebook Riff (Android, Apple; free) lets you record a short video clip and post it. Then your friends can add their own video clips to it, and then their friends can add to it, and so on. Basically it's like that game where you tell a story but each person can only say one word or sentence at a time. You have no idea how far your video will go or what it will end up saying.
6. Turn your gadget into a hassle-free scanner
Digital documents are a lifesaver for students, business people and anyone else. They're easy to create, you can edit them endlessly and sharing is simple. But sometimes adding real-world items to digital documents is a hassle. You need a scanner and some photo-editing skill, or you need to re-type the entire document.
Microsoft is fixing that with Office Lens (Android, Apple, Windows Phone; free). Simply use your smartphone or tablet's camera to take a picture of a document, whiteboard or photo. The app automatically detects the corners and automatically shifts perspective, resizes, crops and enhances receipts, documents and more for a perfect scan.
Even better, Office Lens has built-in character recognition that can turn text documents right into Word files. It can add images to OneNote or PowerPoint, create contacts from business cards and much more.
7. Get warnings about traffic jams
Few things ruin your day faster than cruising along and suddenly grinding to a halt in a major traffic jam. Is it just a phantom stop? Or are you going to be stuck for hours behind some big incident? Is there a quick way to get around the holdup?
You can answer these questions in no time, or even avoid the traffic entirely, with the popular navigation app Waze (Android, Apple; free). It pulls information from other Waze users to help you avoid the worst traffic jams, crashes and other obstacles. Waze recognizes your favorite routes and can find ways to route you around potential trouble spots before you even hear about them on a traffic report.
If you do end up stuck in traffic, Waze has a new cool feature called the Traffic Bar that gives you a countdown of how long you'll be stuck in the jam based on where your destination is.
8. Find the cheapest place to park
After you use Waze to beat the traffic, there's still the sticky problem of where to park. If you live in, or have visited, a major city, you know that finding a spot isn't just hard; it's going to be expensive.
BestParking (Android, Apple; free) takes care of that. Simply enter the city name (it works in 105 and counting), your general location and when you'll be in the area, and it will give you a map with parking spots along with how much they'll cost.
9. An activity-based dating app
Most online dating sites and apps have you make snap decisions about whether you like someone based on how they look or their interests. On other sites, a computer program tries to figure it out for you. Do you remember the days when you found out if you liked someone by actually him or her face-to-face?
HowAboutWe (Android, Apple; free) is trying to revive that type of dating. It lets someone post an activity they want to do, such as taking a hike or going to a fun new restaurant, and if that sounds like fun to you, you make a date with them. If you like the same activity, then you already share something in common and you get to find out more about them firsthand, rather than through carefully edited text or Photoshopped profile pictures.
10. Help give sight to the blind
Just for a moment, I want you to close your eyes and imagine that you are blind. Now, let's complete a few basic tasks, like separating medications, using the right button on a microwave oven or knowing which side of the street to catch the bus. Think of all the questions you might have because you can't see.
There's a new non-profit app out that allows sighted people to "lend their eyes" to those with visual impairments through video chat. Simply put, it's remarkable.
The Be My Eyes (Apple; free) app was developed by a visually impaired man inDenmark. It connects blind people to sighted volunteers through video chat. The volunteer can answer questions because they can see the blind person's surroundings using their phone's camera.
The other day, I connected with a young man who wanted to know the expiration date of the milk in his refrigerator. He positioned his phone's camera to the top shelf. Looking at the image of the milk carton on my phone, I said, "I wouldn't drink that if I were you." He laughed, thanked me and that was the end of our call. If you want to do something fun and help another person out, download the app.
On the Kim Komando Show, the nation's largest weekend radio talk show, Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today's digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website at Komando.com. Email her at email@example.com.