Palm’s official webOS app store has come a long way. With only 30 apps available at the App Catalog’s launch last June, there wasn’t much for early Palm Pre owners to get excited about. Today, however, the App Catalog sports well over a thousand titles. That’s a far cry from the iPhone’s 150,000 applications, but there are plenty of apps for users of thePalm Pre and Pixi (available from Sprint) and the Pre Plus and Pixi Plus (available from Verizon) to choose from, and many of the best ones are free.
Note: Unlike Apple, Palm encourages the development of “unofficial” apps, which means there are a lot more webOS apps available through channels other than the official store. Installing these apps and dealing with them after an OS upgrade can be a little complicated, so we’ve focused on apps that are available via Palm’s App Catalog for this story.
Here are 10 great free apps that should be running on every webOS phone.
You can organize users into groups with Super Contacts.
Longtime Palm users were disappointed that the new webOS contact manager didn’t include any way to categorize contacts – they’re just dumped into one long alphabetical list. Super Contacts allows you to create multiple contact groups, categorized however you like, and contact people in each group either individually or all at once.
Customizable gestures can be assigned to each contact so that flicking an icon to the left opens, say, an e-mail, while flicking it to the right opens an SMS instead. To add to the mix, each group can be assigned the color of your choice.
The free version of Super Contacts allows you only three groups and only 12 contacts per group, which is plenty for everyday use; a $1.99 upgrade to Super Contacts Plus removes those limits and also eliminates the ads at the bottom of the screen.
Outline Tracker Free
Outline Tracker Free brings professional-quality project management to the Palm Pre and Pixi lines. As a personal project tracker, Outline Tracker Free implements David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology, letting you add multiple tasks to a project. When a task is completed, the next task pops up, walking you step-by-step through the project to its completion. Each upcoming task is placed into your Palm’s calendar so you know what to do each day.
And because Outline Tracker Free also integrates with the online project manager Basecamp, its capabilities go far beyond just personal productivity. Using Basecamp, you can easily collaborate with clients, vendors or team members; changes are synced both ways at regular intervals (one hour by default) so that actions added or marked “done” on the Web are reflected in the Palm app and vice versa.
Outline Tracker Free is limited to 50 entries, enough for personal use or for small projects. There’s also an unlimited paid version for larger collaborative projects available for $23.50.
Keep track of just about any kind of data you can think of with this deceptively simple database application. My DataBank allows you to create simple list databases (which it calls “Categories”) that include text fields, numeric fields and “bit” fields (check boxes).
Lists and list items can be cloned and modified on the fly, so you can easily create new lists based on existing ones – for instance, modifying a “Books” list to track “Albums” instead. The app comes preloaded with several lists, and you can download new ones by selecting “Share Categories” from the drop-down menu (where you can also upload your lists, without the data, for use by other people).
My DataBank can send data to several built-in webOS apps, including the browser, e-mail and text messaging, which means you can set up lists of e-mail contacts to “blast” e-mail to all at once, or lists of Web sites to open in separate cards (the webOS term for an open application window) with one click. Instructions are available from the app’s Help screen or can be accessed online.
Like many free webOS apps, My DataBank is ad-supported; a $3.99 premium version removes the ads, enables landscape mode and increases the allowed number of records from 128 to as many as will fit in 500KB.
Evernote is a fantastic system for storing and organizing all sorts of information – Web pages, e-mails, documents, photos, screenshots, videos, text notes and more. As you add items, they’re cataloged so you can search for them later. You can also add tags to any note to aid in searching.
Evernote’s webOS app lets you scroll backward through your notes, starting from your most recent, and read or edit them. But its real strength lies in letting you add and tag new notes from wherever you happen to be; the app syncs with your main Evernote account automatically in the background, subject to Internet connectivity.
Just click the “+” sign and you can write a text note, or take or import a photo, which will be analyzed for any text it contains when your notes are synced to the main site.
Evernote’s apps on other smartphone platforms also allow voice notes to be added, a feature that’s not available in the webOS app. Palm did not expose the microphone to third-party app developers for its webOS devices; here’s hoping that the company will eventually do so and that voice notes will come to Evernote on the Pre and Pixi as well.
Google Calendar Search
Although the Palm Pre and Pixi integrate seamlessly withGoogle’s online calendar, the calendar is not integrated with Palm’s Universal Search function, so there is no way to search for particular events in the calendar.
Google Calendar Search from VivaLV Software allows webOS users to search their Google or Google Apps calendar and go directly to that event’s “Day” view in the Palm calendar. Searches can be set to look for upcoming events, past events or both, and to find both event titles and descriptions.
The streaming music service Pandora has become the darling of music fans everywhere for its ability to create custom music channels on the fly based on listener preferences. Seed it with the names of a few bands you like, and it starts playing music from those and similar musicians, making it ideal for discovering new music.
The Pandora webOS app puts the service in the palm of your hand, allowing you to import your saved channels from Pandora’s Web site or create new ones. For immediate gratification, a “Buy this song” button links directly to the Amazon MP3 Store app that’s built into webOS.
The audio output from Palm’s Pre and Pixi phones is phenomenal and makes Pandora sound great (provided the Wi-Fi or 3G signal is strong). Plus, you can listen in the background while working in other applications; Pandora puts music controls (play/pause, thumbs up/down) in the phone’s notification area so they remain accessible while you’re using other apps.
There are several Twitter clients available for the webOS platform, but few of them are free. Of them, the best is Delicious Morsel’s TweeFree, which offers the usual timeline, @ mentions, direct messages, favorites and search in a clean, elegant and intuitive interface.
Users can select one of two themes, white on black or blue on light blue, as well as which photo service (TwitPic, TwitGoo, YFrog or Img.ly) to use and what kind of retweet style they prefer. A “Twitter Trends” view allows you to see what the top topics are on Twitter, with explanations drawn from What the Trend to cut through the noise and tell you what everyone is really tweeting about.
A $2.99 upgrade offers a location-based “Nearby” stream, as well as the ability to read and add to Twitter lists.
Keep on top of the weather with this slick little app. AccuWeather presents just the information you need in a clear and attractive way, plus a few bells and whistles.
The main page gives the current temperature, wind speed, and humidity based on either your ZIP code or GPS coordinates, along with a 5-day forecast. (There are several other free weather apps available for the webOS platform, but I find that AccuWeather provides the most useful information right on the home screen.)
Other views give an hour-by-hour forecast for the next 24 hours, a satellite radar view of your current location, and a list of the prospects for people with various conditions (arthritis, allergies, sinus problems) and for various events (running, holding a barbecue, flying kites). It’s like being a meteorologist without going to weather school.
Fairly unobtrusive ads slide open across the bottom whenever you change views. A $1.29 premium version removes the ads if you find them too annoying, but chances are you don’t spend enough time obsessing over the weather for that to be an issue.
Got an important business dinner coming up? OpenTable lets you make instant reservations at participating restaurants without ever having to call (and hoping the maître d’ can hear you over the restaurant’s din).
Using your GPS location (or a location you enter manually) and the mealtime and party size, OpenTable finds nearby restaurants that are taking reservations for that time. Pricing information, menus and customer reviews from OpenTable’s Web site help you choose a restaurant, and a map helps you get there.
Your GPS is good for more than just finding the nearest Starbucks. SmartRunner turns your webOS smartphone into a geo-tracking app to record your jaunts into the deepest wilderness, or simply monitor how far your daily run took you.
Using the phone’s built-in GPS, SmartRunner tells you how fast you’re walking, skiing, biking, running, parasailing or whatever it is you’re doing, and tells you exactly how far you’ve traveled. It also keeps track of your maximum and average speeds. Tell it your age, sex and weight, and it will calculate how many calories you’ve burned.
The SmartRunner app is linked to a free online account that lets you keep a log of your travels or your training regime, complete with maps of your exact track. Social networking features on the site allow you to discover and comment on other people’s tracks, and to share your tracks via Twitter. Since SmartRunner is the product of a German company, some of the menu commands are in semi-German (e.g., “Neu Track” instead of “New Track”) but the gist is always clear enough.
Logan Kugler is a frequent Computerworld contributor. His most recent article was 10 must-have free Android apps.