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Amazing apps raise the bar

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Friday, Feb. 14, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
 

It's a downer of a time in the tech world in so many ways. The NSA is snooping everywhere. Ad trackers attach themselves to us like dust bunnies. Hackers and scammers are hiding around every digital corner.

Remember when we loved technology? I like it not just for all the great things it can help us do, but also for that ineffable feeling of wonder that a bright technological idea can sometimes give us. Remember when you first started to play with the Internet? The first time you Skyped with a loved one far away? The first text from someone who claimed all this digital stuff was too hard?

What we need is a tech pick-me-up. I've collected a few little apps to remind us that tech can still have the capacity to amaze. Are they moon shots? No, but they all brought a smile to my face.

Vyclone is one of the first indications of what can be done with the mass of filmed material out there. A few years back, Microsoft Labs debuted an amazing program, Photo­synth, which stitched together photos on the Internet to give us amazing 3D visualizations of often-photographed sites such as the Notre Dame cathedral.

Vyclone is on the trail of something similar, except with video. The program takes different snippets of film from the same event — a wedding, say, or a music concert — and makes a crude but passable edited chronicle of it.

Are the results perfect? No. But think about it. There are all sorts of public events these days being filmed by dozens, sometimes hundreds, of people. The potential here — instant, 360-degree filmed coverage of certain events — is mindboggling.

Next, did you know your smartphone could be a metal detector? There are several metal detector apps available on the Apple App Store or Google Play. I tried Metal Detector from the App Store.

Fire it up and turn the knob on your screen to the right to bring it to maximum intensity.

Move around your house and you'll see that the app does indeed work as advertised. Like most metal detectors, it's looking for magnetic fields, so it won't register nonferrous metal — i.e. not iron or steel. Still, it's a fun app. (Spoiler alert: The app uses the same magnetic detector used by the phone's compass app, which is worth playing with in and of itself.)

Here's another: I'm sure you've heard about the driverless cars Google is pioneering. Just imagine the technology the company has stuffed into each of those. Your phone already can begin to perform some of those tricks.

One of the new driving apps is called iOnRoad. You fire up the app and attach your phone to your car windshield via the accessories the developer sells.

The phone is then turned into a combination GPS, black box and driving adviser. Most notably, it will flash red when you're too close to the car ahead, if you drift out of your lane or start speeding. It will even take a picture of your parking spot so you won't get lost trying to find your car after the big concert.

Note that even here, the wow factor has a down side — the app is going to be collecting a lot of information about your driving habits, which could end up being part of an accident or insurance investigation. The free version of this app is only available on Android smartphones.

Email Kim Komando at techcomments@usatoday.com.

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