I’ve been trying out two recent apps for the iPhone — one that helps you shop, and another that helps you play.
ShopWell: personal nutritional advice
ShopWell is a free app that assists in making intelligent choices about food shopping based on your own preferences, dietary restrictions and needs. It also lets you compare similar products to help you make the best choice. If you’ve ever tried choosing between similar products by reading the nutrition chart or ingredient list on the label, you know how confusing it can be. The app’s goal is to make food shopping as effective as if you had a personal nutritionist by your side.
To begin, you enter information into the app, including your lifestyle goals, health conditions, and what nutrients and ingredients you prefer or should avoid. Such choices include low-fat, lactose-free, low-sugar, gluten-free, whole grains, high-protein, low-cholesterol, etc. Knowing your particular preferences lets ShopWell then tell you what best meets your needs and what to avoid.
You can use the app when preparing your shopping list by searching through its huge online database or while shopping by scanning the bar code of a particular food item. Up will come a picture and description, along with a score from 0-100 that rates how closely the item meets your particular needs. You can click on a tab and learn why it has been scored the way it has, and you can view the product’s nutrition label and list of ingredients.
I used ShopWell to search for yogurt to see what scored highest for me, and I found dozens of choices of nonfat yogurts that ranked from less than 50 up to 100. But when I searched for frozen desserts, a frozen nonfat yogurt I usually buy was scored very low, below some ice creams, because of its high sugar content. Now that’s something I could have figured out, but when shopping it’s much easier to scan a product than to read the labels of all the choices.
One of the best uses is to help those with food intolerances or medical conditions (allergies, diabetes, heart disease, etc.) by flagging dangerous foods to avoid. My wife is allergic to corn and often has to read ingredient labels carefully, because corn seems to be in so many products you’d never expect. Unfortunately, ShopWell doesn’t yet offer a no-corn option, but when it does, I’m sure it will help.
According to the Palo Alto-based company, ShopWell has the largest, most accurate, dietitian-screened database. To create the personalized food score, the company uses an algorithm designed by dietitians and software and algorithm engineers. The algorithms evaluate nutritional information and make it easily understandable by assigning foods a numerical score and a color code.
Foods that score in the green are a strong match, so they are OK to eat in normal portions; yellows are a medium match, so read the label carefully; reds are a weak match and should be avoided. And a zero score or a hand symbol indicates an allergenic ingredient in the product.
The design of the app is attractive and uncluttered, yet it brings up a wealth of information quickly with little effort. Even though the app is free, it contains no advertising (shopwell.com).
Time to Enjoy: Find activities that fit your hectic schedule
Time to Enjoy is an app designed to help you find something to do in your free time. Its premise is to search for things to do, based on your available time and location. What makes it unusual is that it searches based on the time that the events occur.
The app collects details of local events including sporting events, movies, concerts, art exhibits and kids' activities. When you open the app, your calendar appears and you tap on the day and time to find something to do. Up pops a scrolling list of activities based on the time and a selectable distance from where you are. You can read about the event and continue searching or add that event to your calendar.
When I tried it, I got a wide selection of choices that included the latest movies, events at the San Diego County Fair, an art fair in Carlsbad and a dive show at a local aquarium. Some of the events allow you to purchase tickets from within the app and share the event with others.
Also among the listings were a few ads mixed in, including one for an electric piano and another for Fleming’s Steakhouse. While that’s to be expected to support this free app, I’d like to see them distinguished from real events with a symbol or different font. Time to Enjoy is available now for Apple’s iOS and for Android later in the year.
Time to Enjoy lets you search for a different location, as well. So if, for example, you're planning a summer vacation, you can search for activities near where you're staying. You can set the distance from as close as 200 feet to 50 miles and can filter out certain categories that are not of interest. Time to Enjoy is free and available at timetoenjoy.com.
Baker is the author of "From Concept to Consumer" published by Financial Times Press and available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon and other booksellers. He has developed and marketed consumer and computer products for Polaroid, Apple, Seiko and others; holds 30 patents; and is an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year. Baker can be heard on KOGO AM the first Sunday of each month. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments may be published as Letters to the Editor. Baker's blog is blog.philipgbaker.com, and his website is philipgbaker.com.