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Best App Deployments of 2011

Google+ Hangouts enable free audio/visual conference calling with a group of up to 10 people. There's a 45-minute timer on the hangouts, so if you intend to be on it for longer than that, be sure there's a warm body who can let the app know that you're still around even when you're busy cooking up a holiday dinner. Check out the "Hangouts with extras" beta features. 

Amazon's Price Check lets shoppers at brick and mortar retailers use a smart device (iPhone, Android O/S) to enter the barcode of an item and purchase it from Amazon.com with a $5-off incentive. This takes comparison shopping to a whole new handheld level.

Move over iPen. Wacom has you beat with its Bamboo Paper app (for desktop or iPad) and its ergonomically-designed stylus for the iPad. Not only does it handle notetaking with handwriting recognition, it can also be used for sketching and presenting notes, ideas and sketches with others. Download these from Wacom's Bamboo Dock.

JPM Chase and Wells Fargo are among the front runners of the banking industry that are creating apps to make it easier for customers to transact with them using smartphone apps. Wells Fargo's Mobile Banking app allows users to check their available balances, view account activity, pay bills, make transfers between accounts or to other Wells Fargo customers, and locate the nearest Wells Fargo or Wachovia ATMs and office locations from an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad. Chase QuickDeposit allows customers to deposit checks with an iPhone, iPad or Android device with just two camera clicks. Whatever online banking features customers already use to manage their finances with desktop systems, the momentum within the banking industry for secure, mobile banking apps is bound to increase significantly.

Happy Star Rewards (available on iPhone and Android platforms), a location-based rewards app by parent company CKE Restaurants, invites users to check in when they dine at either Carl's Jr or Hardee's. The first check in earns the user a spin on the "Wheel of Awesome" for a chance to win free or discounted food, gift cards, and merchandise from participating partners. Winners can immediately redeem the prize or within seven days. While the location-based app released early last year, it still totally one-ups Foursquare, Facebook Places, and other check in apps. File this one under retention marketing.

Runner-ups:

Unable to sell off its mobile operating system webOS and no longer a manufacturer of the tabletware that houses this code, HP's webOS and its support resources are now part of the open source community where devs can use and modify freely.

Popplet, a web-based collaborative mindmapping tool. Think of popples as little buckets containing text, photos, and whatever else people share online. Free version only allows you to edit one popplet and the paid version allows you to create unlimited popplet. Downsides: Flash-based for desktop computers, still in beta, clunky interface.

CarrierIQ's hidden app collects device performance data from millions of Android, Blackberry, and Nokia mobile phones. Is that really a bad thing? What R&D entity wouldn't want to know more about their users and how their devices are being used? It is a gray area in US wire tapping laws since CarrierIQ's app engages in passive wiretapping for monitoring/recording data traffic. Unless these class action lawsuits can prove that CarrierIQ deliberately altered the traffic with the app, there's really not much that any user can do about it besides buy a mobile phone that doesn't have CarrierIQ's rootkit installed such as a Windows 7 Phone. So it tracks location data, big deal. How else would a mobile device be able to triangulate the best celltower reception or allow a user to check into their favorite retail shop?
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