iPhone apps that foretell the future

More than just useful or fun, these iPhone apps point the way toward the future -- of the iPhone and smartphones in general.

Ah, the Apple App Store. Since July 2008, the month when Apple opened its wildly popular library of applications for the iPhone and iPod Touch, the world has been treated to more than 20,000 apps, with some 500 million downloaded as of February 2009.

Programs run the gamut from necessary, useful and a ton of fun all the way through to "none of the above."

And then there's another class of software -- iPhone apps that foretell the future.

These are the applications that offer clues as to how mobile users are likely to use their smartphones -- whether it's an iPhone or one of the iPhone's rivals -- in the months and years to come. (Just today, Amazon.com released a Kindle e-reader app for the iPhone.) While I focus specifically on the iPhone here, it's likely that other smartphone platforms will take a similar course as well.

iphone

With an eye on what's out there now in the App Store -- and what that inventory indicates about what could be coming next -- I've sorted through thousands of programs to pick a few apps that indicate the direction we could see the iPhone and other future mobile devices take.

Ready for a little reading of the tea leaves? Here's my personal list of iPhone apps that best exemplify the future of mobile applications.

iPhone + computer

Apps: Remote, NumberKey Connect, Mocha VNC Lite

In the future, we will definitely see a higher degree of interaction between the iPhone and the computer, and there a few popular products out right now that point the way.

Remote from Apple
Use Remote to access your tunes from afar, particularly if your computer or AirPort Express station is hooked up to a sound system.

Since the beginning, Apple has offered Remote, which has become a very popular app (and the price is right -- it's free). For the two of you who have never tried it, Remote allows the iPhone to access and control, via local Wi-Fi, iTunes content stored on a computer, which is incredibly useful if your computer or AirPort Express station is hooked up to a sound system.

The app offers an impressive amount of control, supporting nearly as many features remotely as you'd get if the content were stored on the iPhone itself.

In fact, the single thing that I found missing is the inability to view lyrics within music tracks.

Despite that one shortcoming, it's simple to set up, simple to manage and extraordinarily useful. This free app is a perfect example of cross-device interactivity.

NumberKey Connect from Balmuda

NumberKey Connect lets your iPhone act as the Mac's number pad.

Click to view larger image

Another excellent example of computer-to-iPhone interaction is NumberKey Connect ($1.99) from Balmuda, which allows the iPhone to act as a Mac's number pad.

The software works in tandem with a small program running on your Mac (this computer-specific software is Mac-only as of press time, supporting both Intel- and PPC-based Macs) and like Remote, it utilizes Apple's Bonjour service-discovery networking protocol.

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