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6/22/2011
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14 Cool Mobile Apps From Uncle Sam

From a NASA app that keeps you up to date on space news to a Smithsonian app that shows what you'd look like as a caveman, federal agencies have cooked up innovative mobile apps for iPhone, Android and BlackBerry users. Here are 14 of the most popular.




Federal agencies are increasingly developing mobile applications for the iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry, as well as websites compatible with mobile browsers: they now number several dozen, with more likely on the way.

In a recent executive order mandating that federal agencies draw up plans to improve government services, President Obama himself cited mobile services as one such path to cheaper, self-service ways for citizens to interact with government. Several federal agencies, including the ATF and the Army, are building application repositories for their own enterprise mobile apps.

The dozens of current mobile applications come from any number of agencies. There are apps from NASA, the National Institutes of Health, the Smithsonian, the Army, the Federal Communications Commission, the Internal Revenue Service, the Transportation Security Administration, and numerous other agencies.

Many government apps have only been downloaded a small number of times on the Android market, or have only a few ratings in the iPhone's AppStore. However, some have been downloaded tens or hundreds of thousands of times, with thousands of iPhone ratings and dozens of reviews.

Among these are apps to keep up to date with news from the White House and NASA, an app to track packages in the mail and find the nearest post office, an app that lets users see what they would look like as prehistoric humans, and an app that provides current information about flight delays, airport wait times, and weather.

NASA's first app is the most-rated government app on iTunes, and includes a number of features to keep users up-to-date with the latest news and info on the space agency. The app includes NASA mission info, a live stream of NASA's TV channel, launch countdowns, sighting opportunities for the space station and shuttle missions, images and archived videos, and links to NASA's social media feeds.

Download NASA App

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The FBI's Most Wanted app shows users the most wanted terrorists and criminals, as well as missing children. It also includes links to the FBI's Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook pages, and lets users submit tips directly from the app. While one of the most popular apps, it hasn't been recently updated: Osama bin Laden is still on the list.

Download FBI Most Wanted

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The official app of the Obama White House is mostly a vehicle for White House news, and provides users with news, blogs, photos, and both live streaming and archived video of White House events. The app also lets users share the news and multimedia on their favorite social networking sites.

Download White House App

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The U.S. Postal Service's app includes a number of services, including maps of nearby post offices, zip code lookup, shipping price checking, and package tracking. Users can get the distance and directions to the nearest post office (plus the office's hours) and label packages being tracked with tags like "Mom's present" or "textbooks."

Download USPS Mobile

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The Smithsonian's MEanderthal app is like a number of other iPhone apps that modifies photographs of people, but this app specifically morphs users' faces onto those of prehistoric humans. Users take photos of themselves or others, select the photo they want to use and the species of early human they "want to become," and images are crafted of the users as Neanderthals or other species.

Download MEanderthal

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The Army's News & Information app provides users with details on U.S. Army vehicles, weapons, uniforms, and ranks. It also includes photos, news, social features, and downloads of Army podcasts, and it helps users find nearby recruiters.

Download U.S. Army News & Information

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NASA's Lunar Electric Rover Simulator is an edutainment-style game that lets users drive a virtual moon rover over a virtual lunar landscape, measuring their power usage and commenting on their driving skills. The game requires users to navigate to certain areas on the virtual moon, awarding successful drivers with an arcade mode that allows them to drive anywhere they've already driven.

Download NASA Lunar Electric Rover Simulator

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The FCC Mobile Broadband Test is a simple app that lets users test their mobile broadband connection's download and upload speed, as well as network latency. The app stores results of old tests, and differentiates between Wi-Fi and cellular signals.

Download FCC Mobile Broadband Test

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This app, developed by Smithsonian Networks, a joint venture between Showtime Networks and the Smithsonian Institution, gives viewers access to "full episodes and hundreds of video clips" from Smithsonian Channel shows. Users can also browse the channel's schedule and play an educational trivia game.

Download Smithsonian Channel

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The Transportation Security Agency's My TSA app gives travelers and their families, friends, and colleagues access to information about flight delays, checkpoint wait times, what flyers can bring through the checkpoint, and how to move quickly through security. The latest version, released in June, also includes the latest official forecasts from the National Weather Service and meets strict compliance requirements for disabled users.

Download My TSA

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The Library of Congress' Virtual Tour app highlights the library's exhibitions, collections, and architecture with photos, video, and audio. The Library calls it "an ideal companion to an on-site tour," though it's more of an introduction to the Library than a deep dive.

Download Library of Congress Virtual Tour

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The Department of Health and Human Services' Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality's Electronic Preventive Services Selector aids primary care clinicians in identifying the best treatment for their patients based on an array of patient characteristics. Despite the app's limited targeted audience, it's available on multiple platforms and has among the most ratings of any government-developed app.

Download AHRQ Electronic Preventive Services Selector

RECOMMENDED READING:

50 Most Influential Government CIOs

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IRS2go, launched earlier this year, lets taxpayers check their refund status, follow the IRS' social media feeds, contact the IRS for support, and sign up for tax hints. Available for both the iPhone and Android, IRS2go was designed to give taxpayers access to information on their taxes when and where they want it.

Download IRS2go

RECOMMENDED READING:

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The National Institutes of Health's National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's BMI Calculator aims to help users determine whether their weight may lead to health problems. Users enter their height and weight, click a Calculate BMI button, and then receive in return their body mass index and whether their BMI indicates that they are underweight, normal, overweight, or obese.

Download BMI Calculator

RECOMMENDED READING:

50 Most Influential Government CIOs

Obama's TechTools

12 Best Government Web Sites

Government Innovators

12 Hot Mobile Medical Apps

Top 10 Mobile Apps For Business Collaboration

Best Mobile Apps For Busy Professionals

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