Tapping this app gives special-needs users a voice

At $189.99, Proloquo2Go is far from the cheapest App Store offering. Believe it or not, though, that price is actually a bargain--one a certain market is seriously happy to pay.

The target market? Parents of kids with special needs--specifically those with autism, apraxia, and other disabilities that affect their communication. Many of these kids can't speak, or can't speak as fluently as their peers, but they understand what's going on around them, and they do have things they'd like to say.

Augmentative and alternative communication, or AAC, devices can supplement existing speech or replace speech that is not functional to improve social interaction, school performance, and--not for nothing--to give the kids a better sense of self-worth. Electronic AAC aids use picture symbols, letters, and/or words and phrases to create messages. Equipped with an AAC device, a child with cerebral palsy whose speech is limited suddenly has a way to tell you, "I want to go to Grandma's house this weekend!" or "I ate cake!"

Proloque2Go is just one of a growing number of AAC apps quickly gaining ground in the special-needs community. The reason is hardly surprising: before these apps came along, AAC devices could cost upward of $10,000--a cost many insurance companies would not cover. And for that hefty price, you got a heavy, clunky device that screamed, "I am different!" You would have looked cooler lugging an actual Commodore 64 around--though, at least then, you could have rocked the whole retro-chic look.

Kids aren't the only ones benefiting from these apps, of course--stroke and accident victims, as well as adults with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease) and other progressive degenerative diseases are also tapping into this growing market. … Read more

Essential free apps for back-to-school laptops

Heading off to class with a shiny new laptop is one of the best things about the back-to-school season, but we have yet to find a laptop that's perfectly set up out of the box. The typical first-time-use experience for a new laptop owner can be a frustrating one, with pop-up warnings from your free antivirus trial software; annoying settings to go through the first time you launch Internet Explorer (likely the only browser preinstalled on your machine); and missing or crippled apps for burning DVDs, opening ZIP files, or playing videos.

Unboxing and setting up a couple of … Read more

The 404 654: Where Jeff is elbow deep in Poutine (podcast)

Mark Licea fills in for Jeff, who's on vacation in Montreal reenacting "The Hangover," so get ready for a hate-free show. On today's episode of The 404, we're chatting about the new Netflix app for the Apple iPhone, Sumo wrestlers using iPads, "character amnesia" hitting China, and the first of many expired movie reviews from yours truly in a new segment we're calling Yu Ain't Seen That?! First film to scratch off the bucket list: "Raiders of the Lost Ark."

It's been a long time coming, but you … Read more

Netflix debuts on the iPhone

Netflix has hit the iPhone.

The popular video subscription service just updated its Apple app to support the iPhone and iPod Touch, which now join the iPad in offering streaming videos. Netflix members can download the free 1.1.0 version to watch their favorite TV shows and movies.

The Netflix app lets you access your Instant Queue to view videos you've already saved. You can browse by genre or search for specific titles from the service's growing library of streaming content. You can also stop a video and then resume where you left off, whether you're … Read more

Microsoft updates Office Web Apps, Facebook Docs

Although officially only two months old, Microsoft's Office Web Apps is already growing up a bit.

To satisfy just some of the many user requests for new features, Microsoft this week updated its online version of Office with enhancements to Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.

One of the most requested features, according to a company blog post, was the ability to print from the Word editor. Previously, you could only print from the Word viewer. Clicking on the File menu in the Word Web App editor now displays a Print command that lets you send a document to your local … Read more

RIM buys Cellmania, app store software maker

Research In Motion may be getting ready to jump-start the BlackBerry App World with the purchase of a mobile infrastructure software company Tuesday.

Cellmania, which makes software that wireless carriers and software developers can use to distribute applications, has agreed to join forces with RIM, it announced Tuesday afternoon on its home page. Unsurprisingly, financial terms of the deal were not disclosed on that same home page.

RIM may be the leading smartphone maker in North American, but its mobile application store does not get nearly as much love as Apple's App Store or Google's Android Market. Cellmania … Read more

Google's Goggles headed to iPhones this year

Good news for iPhone users who had lusted over the Android-only app Goggles from Google. It's set to hit the App Store sometime in the next three months.

A report by The Register, which was covering the Hot Chips conference at Stanford University on Monday, makes note of Google staff engineer David Petrou's keynote, wherein Petrou said the application was, in fact, still in the works. Better yet: pending Apple's approval, it's scheduled for release by the end of 2010.

Goggles was unveiled by Google last December as a way for users to search the Web … Read more

Pinpoint your location with Point Inside

I'm a big fan of mapping apps, particularly if they involve airports. Though I've covered them in the past, I didn't find one I really liked until I downloaded Point Inside, which is available free for the iPhone, iPad, and Android handsets running OS 1.6 or above.

As it covers both airports and shopping malls nationwide, Point Inside can be useful for frequent travelers and shopaholics. The maps aren't cribbed from Web sites, but are designed by Point Inside. That's a good thing, since all the maps that I viewed, from San Francisco International AirportRead more

An iPhone app for history buffs

Truth be told, the Ford House app doesn't have much--if anything--to do with cars, at least not directly. It focuses on the life and dream home of Henry Ford's son, Edsel, and Edsel's wife, Elanor, with a little bit of automotive history thrown in for color. In fact, those with a particular fascination with architecture are likely to find the content more enthralling than car enthusiasts, although we know the most die-hard Ford fans will at least find it interesting.

The app features over 60 minutes of exclusive video, many of it exploring the grounds of the … Read more

Get fit with your Android device

As the name suggests, MyFitnessPal is a community-oriented site designed to help you lose weight and track fitness goals. The mobile apps let you keep these features at your fingertips wherever you are. You can input or edit your goals, enter your caloric intake (food) and output (exercise) on the go, and add new food data to the library if it doesn't already exist. There's also a progress screen that lets you track your weight and view a graphical representation of how well--or poorly--you're doing.

To test the mobile bent of the service, we downloaded the associated … Read more