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Boston’s brightest pick their top apps

If you’re unpacking a brand new smartphone, I suggest clearing your schedule. You’re going to be pretty busy installing new software apps.

But which ones? There are half a million for Apple Inc.’s iPhone alone, and more than 300,000 for phones running Google Inc.’s Android software. What’s a smartphone newbie to do?

Seek advice from smart people. We’ve got plenty in Greater Boston, and I’ve recruited them in a search for the best and brightest apps.

Harvard Law Professor Jonathan Zittrain votes for Instapaper, which lets you save copies of Web pages. Joseph Murphy, the state’s commissioner of insurance, pointed me to a smart app with a ridiculous name: MyHome Scr.APP.book, a great way to take inventory of your household possessions. Emerson Hospital president Christine Schuster is a big fan of Shazam, the popular “name that tune’’ app. And David Friend, founder and chief executive of the Boston data backup company Carbonite Inc., likes TuneIn Radio, which provides easy access to thousands of online audio streams.

Hal Abelson, electrical engineering professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is fond of Evernote, a fine way to keep track of important information. Not just Web pages, either: With Evernote on your iPhone, Android, Windows Phone 7, or BlackBerry, you can easily record voice memos or shoot photos of important events, and then save the files to a digital notebook. Those files then become available to you through any Evernote-compatible device, or on any computer with a Web browser after you log onto your Evernote account. The free version of Evernote lets you load up to 60 megabytes of data per month.


Zittrain’s favorite, Instapaper, is free for use on desktop computers; it works through any standard browser and lets you save a copy of a Web page for later reading. But for $4.99, you can access your saved pages on your iPhone. The iPhone-only app also lets you copy pages from your phone’s browser. With Instapaper, Zittrain can stock up on important news stories, then read them at 30,000 feet.


MyHome Scr.APP.book, developed for the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, lets you take an inventory of your possessions, just in case disaster strikes and you later need to file a claim. Just walk through the house and enter the names, purchase dates, and serial numbers of your most valuable stuff. The software links to the phone’s camera, so you can attach a snapshot of each item. Then you can export the inventory to a safe location on the Internet - Evernote, for instance, or Dropbox, or just your e-mail account. MyHome Scr.APP.book is free and available for iPhone and Android phones.

Lora Pellegrini, president of the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans, cares for herself with a 99 cent, iPhone-only app called Nutrition Menu. This app includes a depressingly comprehensive listing of calorie counts for 92,000 food items, including many you have no business eating. “Very helpful for the perpetual diet,’’ said Pellegrini.

Emerson Hospital president Christine Schuster favors the nutrition apps offered through Weight Watchers. One of them uses the phone’s camera to scan the bar codes of various supermarket food items. Then it displays the relevant nutritional data. That one’s available free for iPhones and Androids, but there are other Weight Watchers apps for BlackBerries and Windows Phone 7 devices.


Schuster is also a music lover, and a big fan of Shazam, one of the most popular apps around. This is the free app that can “listen’’ to music and tell you the name of the song and performer. Shazam is available for iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone 7 phones.

Carbonite’s David Friend mainly listens to National Public Radio, often through his phone via TuneIn Radio. This free app, available for all the major smartphones, lets you look up the Internet streams of thousands of radio stations worldwide. As long as you’re connected via 3G, 4G, or Wi-Fi, you can listen to any of this audio, any time.

The apps suggested by my brainy advisers should keep you busy for a few days, but thousands more await - with more coming every day. So keep your schedule open: You’ve got work to do.

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at bray@globe.com.