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'Wired' Editor Discusses 2011's Best Apps


It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary.


I'm Robert Siegel, and it's time now for All Tech Considered.


SIEGEL: In Wired magazine's "App Guide," we read that the phenomenal proliferation of apps for your smartphone is something understandable. A Wired contributor writes that at the start of a war for control of a new platform, quantity typically trumps quality. As of a couple of months ago, the Apple store was offering 425,000 apps. The Android market was estimated to be a mere 250,000.

The Wired "App Guide" itself is a measure of that wartime abundance. The magazine reviews no less than 400 apps. And here to talk about that effort is John Bradley. He is a senior editor at Wired, and editor of the "App Guide." Welcome to the program.

JOHN BRADLEY: Thanks for having me.

SIEGEL: According to Wired's notes from the editor, your experts will brave the app stores so that we don't have to.

BRADLEY: Yes. Yeah, the app store experience is not always a pleasant one, for sure. It can be a little bit overwhelming.

SIEGEL: Have your experts actually taken a few hundred-thousand apps for a test drive?

BRADLEY: No. No, nowhere near that much and gosh, I hope that nobody has had to do that.


BRADLEY: You know, we always go back to - the cereal aisle is sort of an example of capitalism gone awry. I think the app store is a better example of that. It's complete anarchy in there.

SIEGEL: The app review lumps apps into categories. In the health area, for one, you've observed that there is now a whole body of apps that amount to a work in progress called the Quantified Self.

BRADLEY: Yeah, the Quantified Self is a bigger movement in kind of technology and health right now, and apps are certainly a part of that. But it's just the idea that, you know, we talk about the Internet of things, which is all of our devices are connected and talking to each other. And through apps and various hardware devices, we can become a part of that Internet of things where we are measuring our heart rate 24 hours a day, seven days a week; our sleep patterns; calories in, calories out - really quantifying what's happening with your body.

And the idea there is that you, you know, if you're in a tight feedback loop and getting constant feedback, you'll respond and adjust your behaviors a lot more quickly than if you're checking it once a day or once a week or, you know, once a year when you're going to the doctor.

SIEGEL: Photography is category for which there are a lot of apps. And I know that you're a big fan of one called Instagram. What's so good about Instagram?

BRADLEY: You know, I think it's the best example of what mobile phones have done for photography, which is that they've really closed the gap - I mean, I think there are a lot more people in the world who have a really good eye than have good technical photographic knowledge.

And with Instagram, you can take a picture, scroll through all these different filters, and apply them to the images. And even if you were starting out with kind of a lousy original image, you can create something that is artistic and interesting and compelling. And I consider it - it's a social app as much as a photography app.

SIEGEL: Does it strike you as peculiar that nearly all of the 400 apps that you review in the Wired "App Guide" cost substantially less than the guide itself? These are things that costs 99 cents, $2.99 - they're remarkably cheap.

BRADLEY: They are. It's shocking. I mean, I think that our idea of value in this space has gotten a little skewed. I mean, I thought it was kind of entertaining seeing what happened with Netflix when they changed their pricing model, and people were complaining about $8 a month for unlimited streaming. I just - I think that we severely undervalue what these things are giving us. I'm still in awe of what I can get for 99 cents on my phone.

SIEGEL: If you were to direct us to one, great app that we've likely not heard of and is just fantastic, and can do something that we hadn't thought of, which one would you send me to right now?

BRADLEY: I think one that is uniquely addictive - it's an Android app called Sleep as An Droid.

SIEGEL: Sleep as An Droid?

BRADLEY: Yeah, and Android is two words: A-N space Droid. There's an external bit of hardware that you wear when you go to sleep, and it tracks your sleep patterns. And this goes back to what we were talking about with the Quantified Self. You know, you've got your rhythms as you're sleeping, and there are points where it's much easier to wake up than others. And so this app tracks your sleep cycles and make sure that your alarm goes off at a point where it's easier for you to wake up. Which is...

SIEGEL: You are kidding.

BRADLEY: No, it's wonderful. But, you know, it also quantifies your quality of sleep, which I found could be kind of counterproductive because you look at your data and you think, oh man, I could've slept so much better last night. You know, I'm going to do better tonight. And then you're lying there in bed, really concentrating on having a good night sleep. And it makes it even harder to get to sleep.


BRADLEY: So there's a dark side to that app.

SIEGEL: Well, John Bradley, thanks a lot for talking with us.

BRADLEY: Thank you.

SIEGEL: John Bradley, of Wired, is the editor of Wired's "App Guide: 400 Reviews of Essential Tools." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.