One of the best things about Research In Motion (RIM) BlackBerry smart phones is their ability to download and install external applications.
Every download adds a new level of value and customization to the devices, and BlackBerry users who don’t take advantage of this functionality simply aren’t getting the most out of their smart phones.
But like most things in life, the best BlackBerry downloads don’t come free – with the exception of the following six applications.
They include a free mobile RSS reader that delivers whatever feeds you select in real time; an übersearch application that scans everything from Web sites to online telephone directories to local business listings.
It’s an invaluable travel tool that provides so much information it gives new meaning to the phrase “Don’t leave home without it”; a mapping application that provides satellite images of any location in the world, along with driving directions, traffic updates and local search for many regions; and two mobile applications that keep you connected to your favorite social networking sites anywhere you can fire up your BlackBerry.
Viigo: The True Mobile RSS Reader
Today, just about every Web site worth visiting has an RSS feed. These feeds serve up fresh content to RSS readers so users don’t even need to type in a Web address to find the content they seek.
Desktop and notebook computer users have a plethora of choices when it comes to mobile readers, but there aren’t that many high-quality ones – especially among free readers.
That’s what makes Viigo special. Viigo provides instant access to any RSS feed available on the Web via an easy-to-read and aesthetically pleasing interface.
And it supports the popular Google Reader service so users can import existing collections of RSS feeds from computers to mobile devices.
The application works with any BlackBerry or Windows Mobile device, and it preserves the user interfaces of those platforms so there are no new navigation techniques or tricks to learn.
Viigo’s simple interface lets users add any feed or “channel” they wish by simply pasting in the feed’s Web address, and the application offers some 2,500 preselected channels.
Viigo pushes feed updates to users’ handhelds and stores them on the devices so content can be accessed without cellular connectivity.
Viigo Standard Edition is free for download from the company’s site. There are also two versions you can buy: Viigo Publisher helps content producers or publishers mobilize and easily present their content, and Viigo Corporate Edition is designed to help enterprises provide necessary information to employees via mobile devices.
Viigo isn’t the only free mobile RSS reader for BlackBerrys, but its user interface is easier to read and more attractive than the interfaces of other readers, like NewsGator Go and Berry Bloglines.
Beyond411 Local Search: Customized Mobile Search
It’s certainly simple enough to search the Internet via sites like Yahoo using Web-enabled mobile phones, but what sets Beyond411 Local Search (formerly Berry411) apart is its ability to search beyond Web pages indexed by Yahoo to include searches for local business listings, online telephone directories, maps and more.
Users preset locations – like home or work – and then type what they’re looking for. The application then provides a listing of the closest options.
It can even calculate driving directions based on preset locations or use GPS to determine current locations. (Note: The Beyond411 site says the GPS service works only in the U.S. and is not available on Verizon BlackBerrys.)
To reduce the number of keystrokes needed, Beyond411 “guesses” what a user wants. For example, if you type “Best B” it offers up a set of options with “Best Buy” atop the list.
The application supports BlackBerry address book integration and can add search results to users’ address books or e-mail them in the form of v-cards.
Beyond411 can also help identify the best prices on items at local retailers using the Yokel shopping search service. And a set of external plug-ins for flight-status tracing, stock information and eBay bidding is also available on the Beyond411 site.
A number of other mobile applications include bits and pieces of the above functionality, like RIM’s BlackBerry Maps, but Beyond411 packs it all into one easy-to-use package.
WorldMate Live: Make Those Flight Cancellations and Delays Less Painful
WorldMate Live s a mobile service meant to simplify the lives of frequent travelers by automatically delivering content and services to mobile devices.
Free features available include the My Itineraries function, which stores information on flights, hotels, meetings, public transportation and car rentals on BlackBerrys.
The application also lets users export travel information from booking confirmation e-mails, corporate calendars and more directly into WorldMate Live, and it automatically assembles their itineraries.
The application’s Clocks feature provides the current time and weather for one set location, as well as the time differences in four additional cities of the user’s choice.
The Weather function offers a five-day forecast for any major city, and the currency converter quickly translates U.S. dollars into euros or Japanese yen and back again.
Finally, a full-color, searchable map of the world provides locations of cities as well as the date and time of day in each selected location.
That sums up the free version, but the best WorldMate Live features are available only to folks with fee-based Gold Memberships. These features include real-time flight alerts, flight notifications and meeting notifications, and alternatives to cancelled or delayed flights.
Google Maps: Mobile Mapping With Satellite Imagery
Google Maps for BlackBerry is a mobile mapping application that provides location-based information and services to mobile handsets with or without the use of GPS.
The My Location function employs nearby cell towers to determine rough locations of mobile phone users so no information needs to be entered.
The application also provides satellite imagery from the Google Earth service and can deliver driving – or step-by-step walking – directions with real-time traffic alerts in some 30 major U.S. cities.
The Google Maps search function also offers integrated search results. That means locations of businesses or organizations, along with contact information and more, appear in one place on a map.
And the Details tab can be clicked to gather additional information on businesses when available. For instance, the Details tab could display hours of operations for a restaurant or hotel amenities.
Users can also easily scroll in or zoom out on the maps by simply clicking the BlackBerry “I” and “O” keys.
Facebook for BlackBerry: Never Miss a Beat
If you are hooked on Facebook, this application is for you.
The Facebook social networking tool began as an application used by college students to share photos and other content and to keep in touch with friends, but it has quickly become a valuable tool (some would say addiction) for many business users.
The Facebook for BlackBerry applications lets you take your favorite social networking site with you wherever you may roam.
Though not as robust as the actual Facebook site – you can’t access groups, for example – the mobile application displays your home-screen notifications such as status updates, and you can “poke” or message friends and write on their “Walls.”
Lists of friends and their status updates are also available with a single click from the mobile home screen, and photo uploading and sharing is as simple as snapping an image with your smart phone’s camera and uploading it to the site from the application’s home screen.
Hitting the BlackBerry menu key brings you from the Facebook home screen to a list of options that include all of the above functionality, as well as the ability to surf to the Facebook Mobile site, which includes much of the functionality available on the full Facebook Web site.
TwitterBerry: They’ll Never Have to Ask What You’re Doing
What are you doing?
That’s the question that fuels the Twitter social networking service.
Users constantly submit updates in the form of 140-character instant-message-like posts on their current activities so friends, family, colleagues and others can keep tabs on them and vice versa.
This can come in handy for folks who don’t have constant access to their computers – especially always-on BlackBerry users. That’s where TwitterBerry’s true value shines through.
With a single click from the BlackBerry home screen, users can input Twitter updates. Replies to your status updates, as well as timelines of your last posts and the last public posts, are available via the
TwitterBerry menu, which is accessed via the BlackBerry menu key.TwitterBerry works on most RIM devices from the 7000 and 8000 series that run on the BlackBerry operating system Version 4.0.2 or higher.