These iPhone apps are more about Christmas Future

Dec 15, 2009
Shine

Really now – who wants an iPhone advent calendar app that dispenses stinkin’ Christmas carols each day? If an advent calendar isn’t dispensing chocolate, what’s the point? The category of useful mobile apps for the holidays is still on the scrawny side. Mostly, you get things like cartoon Christmas trees you can decorate and apps […]

Really now – who wants an iPhone advent calendar app that dispenses stinkin’ Christmas carols each day? If an advent calendar isn’t dispensing chocolate, what’s the point?

The category of useful mobile apps for the holidays is still on the scrawny side. Mostly, you get things like cartoon Christmas trees you can decorate and apps that make sounds like sleigh bells when you shake the phone. Cute, if you’re five years old. But little more than baby steps compared to what’s surely around the corner.

So, in the holiday spirit, I’ve asked a few tech industry veterans to help with a wish list – iPhone apps that seem entirely possible and would take holiday apps to a next level. Perhaps those little programmers in Santa’s North Pole sweatshop can figure out how to make these:

-For generations, families have piled in the car around Christmas and driven aimlessly around neighborhoods hoping to find a few homes with light displays big enough to cause brown-outs when switched on. What a carbon-spewing, globe-warming waste of time and resources. So let’s have an app to fix that — a crowd-sourced map of houses with over-the-top light displays. This idea comes from Anand Rajaraman, co-founder of search company Kosmix, and it makes use of all the powers of an iPhone – GPS, maps, social communications. Download the app, and if you see a house with a big display, mark it and add comments so others can find it. Then when you’re in the car with the kids, pop the app open, and it will point to you to the best-lighted houses within a certain radius.

-Happens a few times every year: You get a Christmas card from someone you forgot to send a card to. For such moments, we need the Christmas Card D’oh! App, says Brian Gillooly, editor in chief of InformationWeek Events.  Right while standing at your mailbox looking at the return address, you could type in the name and address , snap a pic of your kids in the snow, and a back-end service would turn the shot into a physical card and put it in the mail.

-Philippe Kahn, inventor of the cell phone camera, wants an app that lets you take a photo of any product, and get a list of the best deals in town – or, on a map, the nearest places to buy that product. The twist here is that the service would have to identify the product from the photo. There are apps like RedLaser that will read bar codes and search the Net for deals. Kahn’s idea takes it to the next level.

-Some of us who get to a certain age start having a particular problem near the holidays: finding the car in a packed mall parking lot. So will someone please invent the Parked Car Finder? You get out of the car, hit a button on the phone, and GPS marks where you are. You come out with arms full of packages, and voice directions guide you back – close enough, at least, to then find the car by flashing your car’s lights with your electronic keychain.

-White Christmas Finder. It would track the weather. As Christmas nears, the app would show on a map the most likely places to have snow. Touch a location and get either driving directions or a link to Expedia with flight possibilities.

Christmas Shopping Caddy. “Something that would help me maximize shopping time by showing me the times that various stores opened and the quickest driving route to get there,” Rajaraman says. Going a step further, the app could let you plug in a list of all the stores you want to hit, and show you the best multi-stop route to get to all of them from wherever you happen to be.

-JDate Christmas Day Friendfinder. Not to leave out the non-Christians, this could help out Jewish singles who complain that everything shuts down on Christmas and leaves them with nothing to do. Fire up your phone’s GPS, and the Friendfinder from Jewish dating site JDate could show a map of nearby matches who are tired of watching the TV Yule log.

Naughty or Nice? Gillooly’s twin boys came up with this one:  “You answer a series of questions posted by a virtual elf and it tells you, compared with others in the database, whether you’re on Santa’s naughty or nice list. You keep answering questions about yourself in an attempt to get on the nice list.” Some adults, however, might prefer the naughty list.

Kevin Maney is the author of Trade-Off: Why Some Things Catch On, and Others Don’t.

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