*This is an old entry! Check out my updated list here.*
Everyone knows that iOS has (or has had) exclusive access to killer apps in the past. Consumer sensations like Instagram, Flipboard, and now Vine all either were or still are exclusive to the iOS, which gives the platform a real advantage since it reinforces the notion that iOS is where the users are and, by extension, where the money can be made.
Android has its own suite of exclusive apps, but many of them are so niche and fringe that they’ll never have any widespread appeal, nor succeed in driving casual users to the platform, even if they do constitute a shocking portion of the Top Paid apps in Google Play. Most users will never root their devices or have the need to dig deep into its file structure using Android’s vast, robust suite of file/ROM managers, for example. But I do think that there are already some Android exclusives which have the potential to become valuable tools that any user could use. So far, however, there aren’t many, which is why this is a top five list rather than a top ten or top 20 list.
I think the deficit of good Android exclusives vis-a-vis their iOS counterparts indicates a wider issue, however: the misunderstanding of what Android, as a platform, does better than iOS (or Windows Phone or BlackBerry OS). That is, the oft-cited “customization” advantage that Android provides does exist, but in a different way than is widely reported. Sure, the ability to turn the phone’s operating system inside-out appeals to a (small) certain audience, but its advantages are often hard to grasp – unless you are a power user or (most likely) a programmer, then this level of manipulation (on a mobile device, especially) is more likely to result in issues (deleting a crucial file, overtaxing the device’s CPU, etc.) rather than benefits.
No, what Android is good at is inter-app communication and the pooling of information from different apps and sources into common buckets. Google’s own efforts with Google Now weren’t just some gimmicky attempt to keep up with Siri (like Samsung’s own S-Voice was). It was a clear volley to show Android OEMs and developers that Android is uniquely positioned to collect lots of information and use it to make sense of your entire mobile existence. Google Now makes sense of your Gmail, location, and search habits in order to provide preemptive advice and to catalog information in a single location. Already, in my own usage experience at least, Google Now has basically made Yelp, Urban Spoon, ScoreCenter, and most similar discovery/review apps obsolete.
The advantage extends to apps that need access to other apps’ information, or deeper access to your location and habits. Privacy and “creepiness” issues exist, certainly, but the entire mobile world has come a long way since 2004, when even Gmail ads (something that Microsoft now desperately tries to use as leverage in its pathetic “Scroogle” ad campaigns) pushed the envelope. And there is still some small advantage in “customization,” especially on the aesthetic side. With all of that in mind, here are my top five most usable exclusive Android apps. Unsurprisingly, three of them are from Google itself.
Developer: Google, Inc.
Let’s start simple (and no, alas, this isn’t a custom Android version of Spotify). Androidify lets you create a picture/avatar based on the stock Android robot. It straddles the line between nerdy customization/tinkering and casual aesthetic appeal. You can customize the robot’s appearance, build, and clothes, and then easily share the sketch or set it as a contact photo, wallpaper, or gallery photo. It’s fun to use and functional, too.
4. Notif Pro
Developer: Eric Carboni
Notif Pro is a stylish, super-simple notification/reminder app that lets you make rich notifications in Android Jelly Bean. Make a list that can be viewed directly from the pull-down notification center, insert a photo in your notification, and/or assign it any icon you want. This does more than almost any of the myriad list/reminder apps on Android and iOS, and it does it by doing less (but doing the few things it does do much better).
Developer: Sand Studio
You may have noticed that I like this app. AirDroid makes deep file access and management easy. It gives you complete access to your phone’s SMS, contacts, photos, and settings from a Web app for Mac/Windows/Linux. Meanwhile, the Android app lets you manage all of your running processes, monitor your phone’s RAM and battery life among other things, and easily uninstall apps. The Web app and Android app hence work as a pair. Between them, they consolidate and simplify a lot of your phone’s operational functionality. And while it’s cool to text from your desktop browser via the AirDroid Web app, the app does an even better job of making huge file/folder transfers dead-easy – simply drag files from your computer into the Web app, and they’ll appear on your phone.
2. Field Trip
Developer: Google, Inc.
NOTE: This app is no longer an Android exclusive as of March 2013
Google Now’s partner-in-arms. Field Trip is one of the flag-bearers for contextually-sensitive apps, as it uses your location to alert you to nearby attractions, which could range from museums to places to eat. While it can be a little overzealous with the notifications, these can be adjusted, and the app’s vast store of information can answer the age-old “What should I do?” question better than almost any other mobile solution. You can bookmark favorite notification cards for later, share cards with friends or via social networks, and read info like restaurant reviews from Zagat. Integrated Google Maps is a nice bonus.
I was heartened to see that this obscure 3rd-party app recently drew a lot of investment interest from heavyweights Sequoia Capital and Qualcomm. Friday does, well, everything. I would describe it as a time machine/time log – it catalogs your calls, text, checkins, routes traveled, and songs played (via Google Play Music) and keeps them in a neat “Story Line.” In addition to this collection of info, the app lets you keep a mini-diary of sorts – you can talk about what you’re eating, watching, playing, or doing, and either keep those thoughts as private notes or share them to Twitter, Facebook, or Foursquare. I find this app almost a perfect replacement for the latter two networks in that list, at least in terms of adding content (you would still need to use Facebook to see others’ profiles, that is).
Moreover, Friday can produce some astonishing results, such as showing you a map of everywhere you’ve been on a given day, with different parts of the map populated by flags that indicate “events.” For example, it might say that, while you were precisely at the intersection of Dearborn and Washington, you listened to “The Golden Age” by Beck, an incredible synchronization of your info from GPS and Google Play Music. It lets you “warp” back to any given day/month/year since you’ve been using the app, so that you can peer into basically anything that you did on that day.
You may say “so what?,” but there’s more. Via its own push notifications and widgets, Friday can suggest what you should or at least are likely to do next – such as calling a specific person, playing a specific song, or visiting a specific place. It keeps track of your favorite contacts and checkin spots to do this. You can also do plain language search to have the app return answers to queries like “who did I call at this time two weeks ago?” or “what song have I listened to the most.” Granted, some of these features are admittedly in “beta,” but the app’s overall attempt at gathering, remembering, contextualizing, and suggesting information is one of the more ambitious mobile app projects I’ve seen, and a major part of why I was so unimpressed by Facebook’s somewhat belated Graph Search project.
-The ScreenGrab Team