Thursday, March 15, 2012


Phone Apps Someone Who Knows How to Make Phone Apps Ought to Make

I'm generally pretty disappointed by the apps I download for my little android phone. I get them, I wait for them to fundamentally change my life, I feel crushing remorse, I delete them and go eat some pretzels. It’s like my relationship with email. I’ve been waiting for an email since the beginning of emails that’s like “Jim, you are wonderful, and the very thought of you makes me feel great. Let’s move to a cabin in the Maine woods and never talk to anyone ever again.” I still haven’t gotten this email. Every day there is a chance I will get this email. Just like every time I download some dumb app I actually believe it can make my life truly better.

I use only a few apps: Twitter and Gmail and stuff. But I always like trying new things and basking in their newness for like 12 seconds. Although I think that’s only because they haven’t yet made the kinds of apps that I think would actually be transformative. I don’t know how to make them myself — I cracked open my phone and tried to make one, but it was just a huge mess. Designers, we need the following apps!


The whole point of carrying a phone around wherever you go is not all that attractive to me. I kind of like using payphones, it makes me feel like a drug dealer. Very few of my best moments have been spent on the phone. But a device I can screw around on while ignoring incoming phone calls, that’s great. And voicemail is clearly the worst app in the world. All you really need is a list of the people that called. If you care about what they have to say, you’ll call them back. Or, if they’re not your parents, you’ll just send them an email or a text or whatever. Phone calls are basically grenades. Why are you throwing grenades at your friends? No one wants to talk to you, really. Unless they called you. And I don’t want to talk to anyone, practically ever. How much better would the world be if we all took vows of silence and everything was quiet and black-and-white like in The Artist? Way better.

So what we really need is an app that pretends to be you on the phone, that gives the person calling the entire You experience. It sounds like you, responds like you, uses your catchphrases. But you’re taking a nap somewhere else. And later, if you care, the app will give you the highlights of the conversation you skipped out on. In a text.



I don’t think my personality would be hard to replicate on the phone. It’s all very “Yeah, yeah. Okay. Sounds good.” Add in a statement about something that happened in sports and a joke about a Republican candidate’s stupidity, and you’ve pretty much got an entire phone call with me. If someone on the other end of this app starts to question whether it’s really you or not, the app could be like “Oh, I feel sick. I have to go throw up.” That ought to get the person off your back. I would call this app “Phone Force Fields.”


When was it that parents started needing to experience every moment of their children’s lives? Both my parents worked, and I turned out great. They gave me a key to the house and a bunch of matches and then were gone from ages 10-14. What exactly do these current parents think they’re passing along to their children by following them around all the time and reading Proust to them while they’re on the toilet? The creeping idea that their parents have nothing better to do. And the desire to institutionalize their own parents at their earliest opportunity. But, it’s clear, in America these days you can’t leave children alone for longer than 30 seconds. So what are you to do when you are trying to entertain your terrible friends over wine? Babysitter App!

Cell phones would make great babysitters! They have movies and music and games! This app could work like the app that shows you who’s breaking into your house. You better hope the ninjas come straight through the front door, I guess. Or else you won’t get any footage of them. With the babysitter phone you will have constant footage of your child’s face as they stare blankly at the phone, watching a cartoon, playing a game or reading Proust. They won’t be able to take their eyes off it or put it down, thanks to the colorful swirling lights beneath what they’re watching. They will be riveted. And most likely paralyzed, so they won’t get into much trouble. You can drink white wine and talk about your dreams of adultery with your pals without a care in the world. There can be a lullaby mode that turns on Bon Iver songs full blast if you want your kid to take a nap, and a shock mode that can zap them with a gentle blast of zaaap if they do anything you wouldn’t approve of, like think for themselves or stop loving you for one second. With an add-on for their teenage years that preps them constantly for the SATs, you can rest assured your kids will be great until they graduate from college and can’t get a job. I would call this app “Zappnanny.” And because the point of having kids is making other people with kids feel like you're better at having kids than they are, there’d be some kind of scoring element involved. Kids would get points for being mindless cyphers of your dreams, desires, and ideas, and lose points for picking their nose or getting pregnant. “Hegemonie got 5,000 on Zappnanny!” And you’d smile and smile, and the rest of the world would melt with shame.


None of us can actually have sex with everyone else in the world. There’s just not enough time. And soon there won’t be any contraceptives. All Hail the Emerging Golden Age of Dry Humping. But we don’t really want to have sex with everyone. See the following app. We just want to see people naked. And see what they’ve got. People check people out. When you walk by a guy, he will check you out. Quickly and thoroughly, faster than it takes to turn a page on your little fancy kindle. Women look like they’re reading or looking the other way or talking on the phone, but they're checking you out, too. I just haven’t figured out how. Women are much smarter than me. But what about an app that gave us the ability to see what people were like, deep down? Underneath their clothes? And no deeper. Because muscle systems are creepy. The promise of X-Ray specs have delighted Americans’ imaginations and always come up disappointingly short. But how hard could this technology be? There’s all kinds of wacky radiation coming out of these phones all the time. We just have to harness it for the good of society and stuff.

I have seen literally half a dozen people naked in my adulthood. And you can rarely guess just by looking at people how great they'll look naked. I have been constantly thrilled with naked people blowing away my expectations. It is always a thrill to see someone else naked. Even just random dudes on the subway. This is where the X-Ray Specs app comes in. And with all the phone camera technology, you could even get views of people bathed in a glorious sepia! Everyone looks better in sepia. And maybe there could be some kind of thing where you could improve how people look naked, Photoshop-style. For when you inevitably turn the naked app on yourself , drunk, and post photos to Facebook.


The thing already had vibrate mode? Why not make the vibrate work for you? You could get some kind of washable case for the outside, perhaps something ribbed, and bzzzzzzz away your worries. I can’t believe this isn’t already a thing.


This is by far the best idea I have had, ever, yet. How much time do we all spend wondering if we could be doing something cooler and better somewhere else? For me, the nagging sense that I’m missing out on something great is almost overwhelming, particularly because I never leave my apartment, and nothing good ever happens around here. What if you got an instant alert when good times were happening somewhere else? “CHET DOING BODY SHOTS OFF POSTAL WORKERS! 42ND & 8TH!” If you knew the exact moment to leave the lame party you were at for the one that had just gotten out of control, your phone would be more than a phone. It would be a compass and a phone. A compass to good times and a phone that sometimes rings.

Previously: Steve.

Jim Behrle tweets @behrle.

Photo by 1000 Words, via Shutterstock

76 Comments / Post A Comment

The Lady of Shalott

I want an app that is Ctrl+F for real life. I spend SO MUCH TIME wandering around my house looking for something I misplaced, or looking through 300 hard pages of research for a three-sentence quote, or looking on a library shelf for something specific, looking for something in the grocery store, looking for my chapstick, looking for EVERYTHING.

I need Ctrl+F for real life.

And a smartphone to use it with.


@The Lady of Shalott Sometimes when I begin looking for something in real life I mime the Ctrl+F motion with my left thumb and forefinger. Then I feel like an idiot.

I have also made the same gesture, but intending to press Ctrl+S, after finishing writing something by hand, on paper. This is probably the problem with my generation, somehow.


@xx-xx-xx I do this too! Almost always when I am re-reading something, looking for where in the text something specific is mentioned, I think, oh of course - Ctrl+F - perfect! And then I am ashamed.

Deb of last year@twitter

@xx-xx-xx I messed up my eyeliner one morning and for half a second Command+Z popped into my head all "Whoops! Undo!" I was incredibly embarrassed for myself.


@The Lady of Shalott only problem is, it's my phone i need to ctrl + f the most :(

no it's really my keys, okay this could work for me!


@Deb of last year@twitter You're not alone. My mom's friend was once telling a story about how her daughter dropped a bucket of black paint on the floor, and my brain went "Oh no, Ctrl + Z!" Luckily I didn't say it out loud, I probably would have gotten one of those "oh you kids..." looks.


@redheaded&crazy This whole thread is amazing, and I am embarrassed to admit I didn't know Ctrl+Z was the undo shortcut.

My only comparable thing is the urge to "like" everything I read online (that I like... that isn't on Facebook).


@bookfreak apparently the first time I ever used a typewriter, I turned to my parents and asked, "where's the 'delete' key?"

...which I just realized is rapidly changing from an "oh, the changing technologies!" story to an "I'm so old that I've used a typewriter" story.


@The Lady of Shalott Life should have an esc button as well. Don't want to deal with this? CLICK and its gone

fondue with cheddar

@redheaded&crazy That's a great thing about living with another person. Because I can just tell him to call my phone while I walk around the house listening for it.

Also, on an iPhone it would be Cmd-F and Cmd-Z.

Veronica Mars is smarter than me

@nonvolleyball Wait, I have used a typewriter with a delete key. They exist! It pops up a separate (basically wite-out) ribbon instead of the black ink ribbon over whatever character you just typed.


@Veronica Mars is smarter than me ah yes--they do exist now. but I don't think they existed ca. 1989 when this story took place (or, if they did, my parents didn't know about them yet). they used to sell separate rolls of that white-out tape & you'd have to manually line it up over your mistakes.

...get off my lawn!


@Veronica Mars is smarter than me That is so cool! Did it actually line it up for you?

Veronica Mars is smarter than me

@mabellegueule It did line up, yes. Obviously you had to go one character at a time, though.

@nonvolleyball I think the one I'm remembering was ca. 1993. It was pretty "modern" in that it was powered by electricity and had the "sleek" look of an early 90's computer-y thing (boxy, off-white plastic console, red rocker on/off switch).


@Veronica Mars is smarter than me ah, yes--sounds just like the typewriter my parents got for my grandparents (which they then inherited, as it was deemed "too high-tech").


of God is so BEAUTIFUL@y


Anybody have any actual good app recommendations, specifically for Android phones? I basically just have Gmail/Facebook/Twitter, various ones for the radio, and a version of Brian Eno's "Oblique Strategies" cards. I need cool ones!


@Decca I looked for an Oblique Strategies app when I first got my iphone. I could. not. believe. it wasn't the first app ever made.


@Decca: Here's some stuff I use on my EVO.

Shazam: App that uses the phone mic to listen to music, then matches that music against an online database to tell you song artist and title. Handy. Clever usage: if you ever watch a youtube vid and want to know the music but it's not listed, put your phone up to your speaker or headphones and use Shazam.

Pulse News Reader: Simple, decent news aggregator/feeder.

Maxthon mobile browser: better than Android built in browser, many features.

Screen On: Because I use my phone in my car for GPS and music, this app allows me to specify the screen staying on during different states, in this case, when it is charging. Very useful for this purpose (built in Screen Timeout prevention leaves the screen on but will lower brightness by 60% after 2 minutes).

Wallswitch: simple wallpaper switcher. Pick a directory and time interval.


@Decca It depends on what you do, I guess. Like, I travel for work a lot, so I love TripIt, where you just forward all your itineraries to an email address and it keeps track of reference numbers, times, dates, etc. because I'm somehow incapable of doing that for myself.


@Decca voice record, notes, droid light, alarm clock, The Onion News Network, HEY THE HAIRPIN COMMENT APP! (that'd be real trouble)


@laurel Isn't it fantastic? I really want a physical deck of them, but they're kind of pricey so I'm going to wait til my birthday. But the online version is good too.

@everyone else Thanks! Some of these are relevant to my interests.


@Decca I was all set to recommend things, and then I looked at my phone. The only apps I have that aren't games or the usual suspects are Spotify (expense!), Cardiotrainer and The Guardian's app. I had a mildly drunken purge of my phone about 8 months ago and haven't missed anything. I use Opera mini browser and I hate it; I just keep on with it because, I don't know; maybe I ♥ shitty browsers?


@Decca These are the apps I miss since switching from android:

Tasker - If you are into really customizing your phone, Tasker is awesome. I had mine set up so that it all my music apps would pop up when I plugged in my headphones, It would turn my ringer off if I had something on my calendar that showed me as being busy. The list goes on.

Pdanet - Free USB Tethering, you have to go to their website and download this one

Google Music - All my music for free and in the cloud

DoubleTwist - Itunes for Android

Dolphin Browser - Great browser

GoSMSPro - Great text msg'g app

And of course google voice which is the best thing ever. Especially for being reachable without being available.


@QtheQuidnunc oh, you've made the tasker thing worked! I read the description of that and thought, "shit, CB, if you were smart, you could take over the WORLD with that app, but you're not." Is it hard to program? Are you generally tech-savvy? i so very much want my phone to know that I want it to stay lit up while I'm writing a text, or to adjust the volume down when I stick in headphones, etc.


@decca Period Tracker!

Cat named Virtute

@QtheQuidnunc Oh man, I've been using Dolphin and find that it crashes CONSTANTLY. Often this is due to my penchant for too many tabs open, but not always!

Veronica Mars is smarter than me

@Decca I made a crazy long list of rec's to a friend a little while ago. Here you go, everybody with too much time on their hands! If you drive and/or cook and/or sing/play an instrument, I have some more apps specific to these things. And more recs if you are interested in playing games on your phone.

Actual functional phone-related things:
-3G watchdog to monitor my data usage (you can set the bounds according to your plan).
-Lookout Mobile Security as my virus scanner.
-Prey as my antitheft/tracker, because I am paranoid.
-SpeedTest to, um... test speeds.
-Dropbox for saving files to the cloud (you need an account but I use mine all the time, both on and off my phone).
-I use ES file explorer as the file browser on my phone.
-I use Quickpic to view all my pictures; both this and ES have a lot of good stuff integrated into them.
-Amazon Kindle, which I actually don't read books off of pretty much ever, but works well as a PDF reader.
-I use Chrome to Phone a lot if there's something I need to send from my laptop's browser to the phone. You have to install it on the browser end too, and you have to be using Chrome. I'm sure there's something similar for Firefox as well.
-Mint.com because it is the only way I am even remotely aware of my spending. I like that you can add cash transactions and choose to deduct from your last ATM withdrawal, so it actually keeps track of things properly.
-White Noise Lite to help me clear my mind when meditating or going to sleep; there are a lot of white noise apps out there, it depends which noises suit you. This app doesn't have good actual white (or pink or brown or whatever) noise, but it has like waves on the beach, rainfall, wind, etc.
-LittlePhoto is currently my non-Hipstamatic Hipstamatic in terms of picture effects/filters.
-Amazon App Store: I've found some good free apps of the day. Some good games, but also a really good list manager and another data tracker, so I can track things like my gas mileage and exercise etc.

Self explanatory:
-Alarm clock plus; I love the math problems option (you have to solve arithmetic questions correctly for the alarm to turn off, it helps you wake up).
-Twitter and facebook official apps (although the fb one is meh)
-I still can't decide what internet browser I like, but I have both Opera Mobile and Dolphin Browser HD installed. I switch back and forth a lot.
-Google Goggles, because duh.
-TechCalc as my calculator; it has scientific functions, which the stock calc doesn't.
-IMDB app; it's just a shortcut to their mobile site but it's convenient.

-urban dictionary because I am An Old.
-Google translate, duh again.
-The Free Dictionary by Farlex - regular dictionary. You can switch between several languages, but it doesn't translate; just defines in the same language.
-I also have some French and Portuguese specific translation dictionaries/verb conjugators for when I practice those languages.

-I use SoundHound all the time to identify the song/artist/album/lyrics I hear on a TV show or the radio.
-Ringtone Maker to edit music files into ringtones/alerts (or just to make shorter audio clips out of larger files)
-Google music to play music w/o storing on my phone

Local stuff:
-LivingSocial; great for finding nearby lunch specials/discounts as well as the actual deals you can purchase
-Weather Channel app (I like the widget it has too)
-Flixster for when you want to see what movies are playing soon/nearby
-I also have an app specific to the Philly transit system; I'm sure there's plenty of options for most major cities.
-Obviously, Google Maps/Navigation, which you will already have. But I use them for walking/transit directions too, not just driving.
-GasBuddy for finding nearby gas stations and/or cheapest gas prices.

tea for all

papoose beat you to the x-ray specs app. (nsfw. nsfl? but also sort of brilliant.)


@tea for all Yeah I sortof loved that song.

Veronica Mars is smarter than me

@tea for all uggghhh I could not even HEAR the song because the vid was so gross.

Hello Kidney

Vibrator app IS A THING!

No, my phone & I are not THAT close, but I found a few of them while browsing the most popular free app downloads. It was a ways down the list.


@Hello Kidney I just had a scroll through the free app downloads for the first time. It's a grim place.

"See through your friends' clothes!!! Trick your friends that you can see them naked!!! Sexy girl, man and fat!!! included."

So very, very [sic].


@Hello Kidney Yep, vibrator app is a thing.


(That says it's NSFW, but it's not really.)


@Hello Kidney There is more than one! I have heard they are not good though. But still, NEVER TOUCHING ANOTHER PERSON'S SMARTPHONE AGAIN.


@Megan Patterson@facebook I just ask first. "Hey, before I take this picture of you and your husband in front of the Statue of Liberty I just need to know - have you ever used this on your vagina?"


@Hello Kidney Good, I was waiting for someone else to say this so I didn't have to. Because it's not like I actively searched for one one day when my vibe ran out of battery.

Also @Megan Patterson@facebook yeah, they definitely are not good enough.

vivian darkbloom

I have Google Voice as my voicemail and I LOVE IT because whenever I get a voicemail it emails a transcription of it to me. This is doubly cool because the transcription is always horribly wrong in a hilarious way, but I still get the gist of it (most of the time) and don't have to check my voicemail ever.

Pocket Whip is fun if you want to point your phone at someone/thing and have it make a whip pop sound.


@vivian darkbloom Yeah, those transcripts are wonderful.


@Alexander I need this. I wonder if I can get this! I need it. There is nothing I hate more than listening to voice mail. Having to do it for work is actually the worst.


@vivian darkbloom That's amazing. Listening to voicemail is my least favorite phone-related thing, except for actually talking on the phone.


Thanks Jim Behrle, I was totally stressed out today with the NBA trade deadline (no seriously) this cracked me up at least ten different times.


I enjoyed this article immensely. That is all.


"Phone calls are basically grenades. Why are you throwing grenades at your friends?"

You speak the truth, Jim Behrle. I think I need to put that on a postcard and send it to everyone I know.


@redonion Amen.


I disagree about voicemail. If I don't know the number (which I often don't, especially if it's for a job thing), I WILL HAVE NO IDEA WHO YOU ARE. And just assume it's telemarketers.

fondue with cheddar

@Megan Patterson@facebook Me too. I never answer when I'm called by a number that's not in my phone. Also, 3 of the last 4 digits of my phone number are zeroes, so I get a lot of wrong numbers.


This is really, really great.

Blackwatch Plaid

There is a vibrator app. And it sucks.


this article is the best

30 Helens Agree

"Hegemonie got 5,000 on ZappNanny!"

Hegemonie! That's terrific.


@30 Helens Agree I think you mean Hegemione!


The entire ipad/iphone is ZappNanny. Have you seen a kid with one of those things? It is scary. Low battery warning pops up, 2 year old kid hits "ignore" and continues playing game.

miss buenos aires

Here is my million-dollar app idea, which I would really like for someone (who is not me) to develop and make a million dollars off of: an app that will tell you how many calories are on your plate. Aim the phone at your food, let it do its thing with lasers or whatever, and bam! then you just know. No guessing, no estimating, no hinky serving sizes messing up the math. This could even be a billion-dollar idea.


My favorite Android app was AIRHORN, I was very obnoxious about it.

The other day I got really excited about the idea of an app that would turn your iPhone into a remote control, turns out they already created that one. I was temporarily intrigued then decided I was too lazy to search/download/set it up, so I guess it still exists only in my dreams.

fondue with cheddar

@emilylouise When I first got my iPhone, my favorite app was the lightsaber one. WHSSSHHVVVVVV!


When I first read the title of the Babysitter app, I was hoping it would be a babysitter for me. Like, an app to tell me that maybe I don't need that fourth drink at the bar on a Wednesday night and remind me that, as much as I think I can, I can no longer stay out until 3am on a work night and feel ok the next morning.

Does this exist? Can someone make it exist?


I use Chase, Zipcar, Viber (for free international texts -- it says calls, too, but I haven't tried that), Gmail and my GCalendar, and that's mostly it. I had some Weight Watcher tracker ones, but stopped using them too often. They're useful, though, when you're on plan!

jurassic snark

There is some quote from Andy Warhol I can't remember exactly of course where he says if he had a TV that looked in on every party in the world, he would never leave his house. I would still leave my house but I would really like a phone APP that told me the funnest thing to do at all times because I too suffer from grass is greener syndrome as if it was my job. My friend calls it FOMO aka Fear Of Missing Out which sounds so bourgie I want to throw myself off a cliff but it is succinct if nothing else. This piece and I should get married. Jim, can I email you and move to the Maine woods with you then?

Jim Behrle@twitter

@jurassic snark sure

jurassic snark

@Jim Behrle@twitter Thrilling! I hope you like girls. I'll be wherever you are in 2 hours. Or maybe I'm already right behind you.

jurassic snark

@Emily Garten@facebook :) If only once a day he said something as funny as about everything in this post, it would result in a life well-lived.

Emily Garten@facebook

@jurassic snark True, true. I accidentally deleted my comment because I am a Jurassic dork.

Jim Behrle@twitter

I love dinosaurs

jurassic snark

@Jim Behrle@twitter Dinosaurs love Jim Behrle.


" 'Let’s move to a cabin in the Maine woods and never talk to anyone ever again.' I still haven’t gotten this email." That's because Kurt Vonnegut died on his way to the Internet Cafe to send you a message.


Hegemonie as a baby name? Please be true!


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