If you can dream it, there is an app for that. There are approximately 1.2 million apps in the Apple store and, interestingly, just about the same number in the Google Play store that powers Android gadgets.
Much like any other crowd, there are certain ones that stand out. They challenge the norm. People who think outside the box created them. I've created list of the latest apps that use your smartphone or tablet in a way you can hardly believe.
One of the biggest obstacles to travel is the language barrier. I've often wished for the universal translator from "Star Trek." Amazingly, we're almost there.
The free Google Translate app for iOS and Android can translate 80 languages. That covers the Americas, the Caribbean, Europe, much of Asia, major African dialects, the Middle East and even countries in the South Pacific such as Indonesia.
The app is very versatile. You can speak, type or handwrite a phrase and then choose the language to translate to. In the Android version, it can even translate text in photos, so figuring out menu items is as easy as taking a picture.
The app does require an Internet connection, so if you are traveling abroad, make sure you have a working data plan or a Wi-Fi connection. Find free Wi-Fi anywhere with this cool app; learn more at bit.ly/1rUhpWQ.
The Android version does allow you to download language packs for offline use, but the results are pretty limited. There is an alternative way to communicate. On both Apple and Android you can save translations to the phrasebook so you can pull them up quickly, even offline. So helpful when you are in the jungle and need to locate the nearest restroom!
Encrypted phone calls
Want to keep snoops and the NSA out of your phone conversations? You'd need a way to encrypt your calls, and now you can. The best part is it's absolutely free.
Signal is an iOS app developed by Open Whisper Systems that uses ZRTP and AES 128 encryption to create a secure connection with another phone.
Both callers must have the app for it to work, but it shouldn't be too hard to persuade your friends and family to download it since it doesn't cost a dime. Text messaging services are also coming to the app soon.
Don't worry, Android users; ZRTP technology has been available on Android phones for a while with Open Whisper Systems' Redphone app. It also creates an encrypted connection between phones so no one can eavesdrop.
Mosquitoes are a fact of life in many parts of the country. If you want to have a picnic, a barbecue or just hang out by the pool, you have to deal with them.
Try some anti-mosquito apps instead. They claim to produce a unique, high frequency sound that keeps mosquitoes and other bugs away. The human ear can't hear the frequency, so it won't bother you.
iPhone users can try Anti Mosquito - Sonic Repeller to keep pesky mosquitoes at bay. There's a similar app for Android called Mosquito Go Away. Have to warn you that the reviews are mixed. Some people claim they work; others say the worthless apps just bugged them.
Get better sleep
If you're having trouble getting a good night's sleep, then Sleep Cycle Alarm may be the app for you. It starts by figuring out your sleep patterns.
Just put your phone loaded with the app on the bed next to you and it can tell when you enter deep sleep, if you toss and turn, and how long you sleep. Then it gives you colorful charts with the results and grades your overall sleep quality.
Once Sleep Cycle Alarm has this information, it can wake you up at just the right time each morning so you're feeling refreshed. This app works best when used over a long period of time, but you should start seeing results almost immediately.
One warning: Recently, a 13-year-old girl in Texas fell asleep with her phone in her bed. She woke up to the smell of smoke and fire, as her Galaxy S4 phone melted away while underneath her pillow. Go to http://bit.ly/1pbpng2 to make sure it does not happen to you.
One of the most valuable things in an emergency is real-time information. You can plan and strategize all you want, but unless you have up-to-date information, it doesn't do you any good. Scanner Radio can get you the real-time information you need.
Get access to live police, fire, weather and radio repeaters from around the world. You can add local stations to a favorites list and see the Top 50 list of the most-listened stations. This app is free and available for Apple and Android smartphones.
The term "Police Scanner" can sometimes be a misnomer. Most police scanner apps actually pick up a wide spectrum of police, fire, commercial and ham radio feeds.
Emergency Radio is no different. You'll gain access to thousands of live feeds including EMS, air traffic, NOAA and more.
Bonus: Save a life
OK, this isn't technically an app, but it is meant for phones and it is amazing. The service is called Kitestring and it's all about safety. A computer science graduate in San Francisco invented this service to keep his girlfriend safe in a dangerous neighborhood.
Basically, you send Kite-string a text with time period like "30m." In 30 minutes, Kitestring will send you a check-up text and you have five minutes to respond with an "OK."
If you don't reply, Kitestring sends an alert to an emergency contact you set up beforehand. It's handy to set before blind dates, parties, walking or traveling alone, or going into sketchy situations. Because it's based on text messages, it works with any cellphone, not just smartphones. It also does not rely on an Internet connection.
The basic service is free and gives you eight uses a month with one emergency contact. There's a paid version that gives you unlimited uses and contacts, along with a recurring check-in mode and customized response period.
The recurring check-in mode makes it useful for people with medical conditions who live alone. You can have it check in on you every few hours. If you have kids going off to college, be sure to tell them about this service.
Kim Komando hosts the nation's largest talk radio show about consumer electronics, computers and the Internet. Hear it locally at 94.3 WSC News Radio noon-3 p.m. Sundays. For more information, go to www.komando.com.
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