iPhone who? 8 awesome apps you'll find only on Android

Apple iPhone Event

Well, well, whaddya know? It's time once again for Apple's annual iPhone launch extravaganza, when the company magically innovates all sorts of stuff that's been available on Android for ages. Yup, gang -- it's pretty much a drinking-game-worthy tradition at this point.

Since the day will undoubtedly be filled with misleading statistics and jabs at competing platforms (Mr. Jobs may be gone, but the reality distortion field remains strong), I thought it'd be a prime time to step back and look at some awesome apps you'll find only on Android.

We often hear criticisms, after all, about how so many iOS apps aren't available on Google's mobile platform. I don't know about you, but the apps in those lists usually strike me as things that either (a) have equally good counterparts on Android, only by different developers and with different names, or (2) I couldn't care less about.

There are tons of apps on Android, on the other hand, that are completely unavailable and without any equivalent on iOS -- and many of them are apps that make an enormous difference in the day-to-day use of a mobile device. Apps that truly transform the phone-using experience. Apps I couldn't imagine living without.

Maybe I'm just crazy (I'm sure there'll be a few friendly folks who'll tell me as much, though probably in less discerning terms), but here are eight examples of the types of programs I'm talking about:

Android Launchers Google Play

1. Custom launchers

People who haven't taken the time to understand Android don't appreciate how big of a deal a custom launcher can be. A launcher lets you replace your entire home screen setup with a different environment -- one that can be as powerful, intricate, or simplistic as you like.

You can find Android launchers that provide everything from general customization to an innovative reimagining of how a smartphone should work. There are graphic-intensive three-dimensional options and social-stream-centric choices. There's a launcher that adjusts itself contextually based on what you're doing at any given moment. And, yes, there are launchers that make your phone look and act like Windows Phone or even iOS, if that's your cup of tea.

Once you get used to having that sort of power -- to make your phone look and work any way you want -- it's damn near impossible to go back.

2. The Tasker apps

You can't talk about Android power without mentioning Tasker or the variety of other apps that perform similar functions.

These apps let you tap into a huge variety of conditions to create intelligent automation on your devices. I use Tasker to do things like automatically adjust my phone's settings -- turning on Wi-Fi, changing ring behavior and volume settings, connecting to certain networks or Bluetooth devices -- based on my location and the phone's state (the current battery level, for instance, or how the device is oriented). The app even routes my calls to different numbers, like my home or office line, when I'm in specific places.

The possibilities are practically endless.

3. File managers

Android File Manager

Sounds dull, I know, but a file manager empowers you to use your device just like a computer: You can browse through its storage; find specific files; copy, move, or delete stuff as needed; and easily share any file directly from there to any other service you have installed (email, Dropbox, Google Drive, and so on).

Factor in the fact that you can plug any Android device into a PC and browse it like a hard drive -- no bulky and limiting iTunes interface to contend with -- and it's easy to see just how significant this sort of tool can be.

4. Third-party keyboards

With the amount of time you spend inputting text into your device, why shouldn't you be able to pick a keyboard that makes typing easy (and that, you know, features post-2007 technological concepts)?

Android Keyboards

Android has a huge array of third-party keyboard options that offer all sorts of user-friendly ways of typing text. My personal favorite at the moment is SwiftKey, which provides personalized next-word prediction and the option to type by sliding your finger from letter to letter without lifting.

Typing on an iOS device feels like the equivalent of using DOS 5.0 in comparison. And this isn't a silly little once-in-a-while game we're talking about; it's a core utility that affects practically everything you do with your device.

5. Widgets

Folks who never use Android may pooh-pooh their significance, but having elements like power controls, music players, and interactive windows into task lists, inboxes, and social networking accounts right on your home screen is a meaningful and time-saving advantage.

Android's got loads of widgets for every function imaginable -- and there are several I wouldn't ever consider giving up.

6. Custom lock screen tools


From the home screen to the lock screen, Android's full of options that let you turn the first thing you see on your device into an indispensable personalized information hub. Whether they're simple add-ons like DashClock or full-on replacements like WidgetLocker, there are some pretty transformative tools just waiting to be tapped.

7. UI-enhancing tools

A new app called Sidebar Plus is a great example of this next category: It lets you create a favorites bar that's filled with any combination of frequently used apps, settings, bookmarks, contacts, and widgets you want. You can pull up the bar anytime -- regardless of what you're doing on your phone or tablet -- by swiping over from the left side of the screen.

There are plenty of other similar UI-enhancing tools available on Android, and functionality aside, they all have one thing in common: You sure as hell won't find 'em on that other popular mobile platform.

8. Google Now

I'm not talking about the stripped-down, limited-functionality version that's up for grabs in Apple's iOS App Store. I'm talking about the context-sensitive, intelligent service that knows what you want before you ask for it -- and automatically delivers it to you throughout the day.

Android Power Twitter

Google Now in its full form is every bit a "magical and revolutionary" technology, to borrow a phrase I once heard somewhere. It adds an immeasurable amount of value to the smartphone experience, and -- you guessed it -- is available only on Android.

That, my friends, is what we call Android power.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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