City's best

<p>"Open data" doesn't mean much unless regular people can see the patterns in the data and understand what they mean. Otherwise, the huge spreadsheets many agencies offer in the name of transparency are practically impenetrable. After New York City pledged to make city data publicly available, it tried to also make the data understandable by offering prizes to developers who make Web and mobile apps using city data. The city's annual app contest, called BigApp, is now in its third year. Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced this year's winners on April 17. The city awarded $50,000 in total to 11 winning apps this year.</p> <p>Open New York City data now include 748 datasets, <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/portal/site/nycgov/menuitem.c0935b9a57bb4ef3daf2f1c701c789a0/index.jsp?pageID=mayor_press_release&catID=1194&doc_name=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.nyc.gov%2Fhtml%2Fom%2Fhtml%2F2012a%2Fpr138-12.html&cc=unused1978&rc=1194&ndi=1">according to the April 17 announcement</a>. The sets range from power consumption by zip code to public school math scores to recently-awarded construction contacts. (It's unclear, however, if that count includes duplicate datasets. One of this year's winning apps, NYCFacets, showed that the <a href="https://nycopendata.socrata.com/">NYC Open Data website</a> does host some duplicate sets.)</p> <p>In a statement, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg linked the competition to the city's efforts to foster a technology community, which traditionally centered in other cities, such as the Silicon Valley towns in northern California. "We're making sure New York City has a bright future as a tech capital," he said.</p> <p>Will some of NYC's best new apps help you? Check out this year's winners.</p>

Vacation genie

The "Investor's Choice" prize this year went to a day planner for fun things to do in the city. At the <a href="http://thefundaygenie.com/TheFundayGenie.aspx">Funday Genie website</a>, users answer whether they want a "Popular," "Off-beat" or "Family & Kids" day and select what day, time and meals they're planning for. Then the genie, who looks like the body-building cousin of the lamp-dweller from Disney's Aladdin movie, suggests events and a route. The app takes into account museum hours, the weather and available transportation. "You never have to worry about seeing 'CLOSED TODAY'," the site says.

The meta-app

This year's grand prize went to an app to help other potential app developers navigate the enormous amount of data available from New York City. Every set in the city's open data catalog already includes some information about itself, including keywords, when it was last updated and how many people have downloaded it. The <a href="nycfacets.com">NYCFacets website</a> combines that information with information it automatically finds using its computer algorithms, to offer extra services developers need. For example, unlike on the city website, NYCFacets' keywords are clickable, so people can find related datasets. The app flags duplicate datasets. And it provides each dataset with a quality rating, based on how often it's updated, other developers' reviews and more.

Freelancer's office finder

<p>New Yorkers who work from home often have an encyclopedic knowledge of their neighborhood's coffee shops. The one down the street has good WiFi, but rarely has open tables. The one around the corner only has outlets in one corner. BigApp's second prize went to an iPhone app that does that work for you, no matter where you are in the city.</p> <p>Work+ asks users what they need to work, such as how long they need to stay and whether they want to bring a pet. Then it finds a matching work spot by combining information from the city's WiFi locations dataset and from Foursquare, which offered its capabilities to BigApp developers for free. Users can log how long they work and save favorite spots.</p>

A subway app that works underground

<p>Can anything compete with Hopstop, many New Yorkers' basic, go-to transit app? Embark NYC's trip planner, available for iPhones and Android phones, has a few extra features Hopstop doesn't. Users can see upcoming trains at each subway station and search for nearby landmarks. The app can send users alerts about delays and re-routes. And it works even when it's underground.</p> <p>Embark NYC won "Best Mobility Application" at BigApp and the top prize at the Metropolitan Transit Authority's app contest. The number of downloads and reviews for both Embark NYC and Hopstop suggest Hopstop is about ten times more popular.</p>

Find free land

<p>Five hundred and ninety-six acres is how much publicly-owned but unused land existed in Brooklyn in April 2010. That's about the size of Brooklyn's Prospect Park, 596 Acres programmer Eric Brelsford told InnovationNewsDaily in January. He and three community organizers put together 596acres.org to help people identify that open land, meet with neighbors to agree on a project and lobby to turn that land into a community garden or whatever else neighbors want. As of January, four groups have won control of lots from the city and ten more are in the works.</p> <p>596 Acres won "Best Green App" at BigApps.</p>

School finder

We at InnovationNewsDaily don't have kids, but just getting kids into a school in New York City sounds pretty terrifying to us. The New York Times has <a href="http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=4&ved=0CD0QFjAD&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.nytimes.com%2Fschoolbook%2F2011%2F09%2F07%2Fcoming-soon-to-manhattan-more-preschools%2F&ei=2hCgT4vqMsTFgAfx7dCODg&usg=AFQjCNHlDFCoUHJXelM2ijE9PAzmCZrylA">called city kindergarten applications</a> a "blood sport." Perhaps Sage can offer some small comfort? The app helps parents find public preschools and kindergartens they're zoned for and other schools nearby. The app, available on iPhone and Android, shows each school's state exam results and city progress report grades and offers admissions tips. Sage won "Best Education App" from BigApp's judges. Maybe they're terrified, too.

Help button

<p>The final product of this app is simple: One big, red, square emergency button. When users press the button, it can send an automated message to the nearest police precinct, a phone number users specify and an email address users specify. When they're setting up the button, users choose what the message will say and which of the three choices they want the button to contact.</p> <p>Right now, only a <a href="http://testflip.applicationcraft.com/live.php?formId=4517424f-ffb7-4503-af41-a196dd740b51#/4517424f-ffb7-4503-af41-a196dd740b51/Main">demo is available</a> for Web browsers. In the demo, the police-calling function is disabled. The app won "Best Health & Safety Application" from BigApps.</p>

Parking exchange

<p>Finding parking in a crowded city may be a relatively new problem, but ParkAlly hopes to tap a very old system to solve it: bartering. The app isn't available yet, but its developers say it will open a chat that will let people coordinate a parking trade. Users who are about to leave a parking spot can earn between $5 and $20 from nearby users who want their spot. Users who really want a spot just have to pay. The two people can exchange cash when they meet at the parking spot or pay each other through Paypal. ParkAlly also includes a little bonus for parkers, with alerts to remind users to move their cars before street cleaning.</p> <p>By making parking more efficient, the developers hope the app will reduce the need to drive around, looking for a spot, and thus reduce carbon emissions. Their idea won the "Best Student Award."</p>

Maintenance check

<p>An apartment may look pristine when potential renters visit, but tenants may soon find themselves battling mice, leaks or faulty heaters after they move in. Uhpartments lets apartment-hunters call up reports while they're visiting places. The reports show grades for nearby buildings based on vermin, leaks and heating complaints called into 311 and routed to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. They also include nearby rental listings from StreetEasy, Foursquare-recommended businesses, laundromats that are registered with the city and subway stations.</p> <p>Uhpartments won BigApp's "City Talent Award." To use the app, people need to visit Uhpartments.com on their devices.</p>

One for the tourists

<p>This app still seems a little rough around the edges, but it won the popular choice award from BigApps. The New York Trip Builder website lets visitors enter their arrival and departure times and check up to nine destinations from a list of popular attractions. Then it plans a route.</p> <p>The trip builder stacks all of the user's choices one after another, however, so that even if users indicate they'll be in New York for a week, the builder offers a jam-packed 10-hour block of activity all in the first day. As far as InnovationNewsDaily could see, there is no way to make the app automatically spread out activities over several days. To work with the app, users will have split up the route themselves or use it only for a single day's planning and decide for themselves what to see each day of their trip. Tourists will probably want guidance on how to efficiently cluster the landmarks they want to see, however.</p> <p>Upgrades are in the works, according to the trip builder's entry on BigApps' website.</p>

Movie tour

This simple and fun-sounding app tracks users' locations and send them text messages when they're near a place where a movie was filmed in New York City. Clicking on a link in the text message takes users to a page with basic information about the movie. Right now, it looks like users will need to connect to the app through <a href="\\10.207.52.123\userfiles\fdiep\My Documents\scenenearme.com">SceneNearMe's website</a>. Scene Near Me won second-place popular choice award at BigApps. The developers plan to add scene descriptions and movie clips, they said in their video demonstration.

11 Best New Apps For New Yorkers and Visitors