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12/8/2011
02:27 PM
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10 Cool iPad Apps From Uncle Sam

The federal government has embraced mobile applications with enthusiasm, creating dozens of iPhone and Android smartphone apps. More recently, agencies have begun developing iPad apps. These 10 stand out for their visual appeal and functionality.




Federal agencies have begun to develop apps for the Apple iPad, a growing number of which are available to the public. These include a field guide to trees from the Smithsonian, another for tracking contracts awarded under the federal stimulus package, several apps by NASA, and others.

There are currently fewer than two dozen government-developed or sponsored apps in the Apple AppStore that have been designed for the iPad, and most come from a just handful of agencies. We're at the beginning of what is likely to be a fast-growing trend.

Agencies have designed many other apps to work with both iPhones and iPads, such as the Department of State's Smart Traveler app and the FEMA App. Numerous other iPad apps have been developed by private sector developers using government data. For example, various weather and climate apps pull data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

App developer NIC has developed a series of iPad apps to prepare student drivers for state license exams. A few foreign governments, including Canada and China, have also developed iPad apps.

The growth in iPad apps comes as agencies build more mobile apps in general. In the past few months, the number of apps available in the Apple AppStore has increased noticably, and they're coming from a growing number of agencies.

One of the more visually compelling government iPad apps is the interactive Marines Magazine, which publishes quarterly. Touch screen navigation lets users move from page to page with a flick of the wrist, and articles sometimes come with embedded video.

The most recent issue of Marines Magazine (pictured above) includes video of a Medal of Honor ceremony that accompanies an article about a marine who repeatedly returned to the line of fire to rescue fallen comrades, even after being wounded himself.


Some of the government's iPad apps have been built in collaboration with other organizations. The Smithsonian Institution worked with Columbia University and the University of Maryland to develop Leafsnap, a field guide to American trees. Leafsnap's coolest feature is visual recognition that analyzes photos of leaves taken with the iPad and matches them up with images in its database. The field guide includes photos of leaves, bark, seeds, flowers, and fruit.

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The iPad version of NASA's mobile app is richer than the smartphone version and includes video. Developed by NASA's Ames Research Center, it's one of the more popular government iPad apps, having been reviewed by thousands of users. NASA App HD includes thousands of images and videos, live streaming NASA TV, current NASA mission information, and more.

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The iPad version of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board's Recovery.gov app lets citizens track the progress of projects funded by the estimated $787 billion 2009 economic stimulus package. In addition to a searchable map where users can find nearby Recovery Act projects, the app provides details on project awards, including cost, description, and number of jobs created. The screen capture above shows a project by CSC to modernize the Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency’s IT systems

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The Federal Register app, designed by University of Central Florida's Institute for Simulation and Training, Allogy Interactive, and Mobilegov with input from the Government Printing Office and the White House, is a tablet version of the government's newspaper of record, the Federal Register. Users can scroll through the table of contents by department and view summaries or full versions of the articles.

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The Army OneSource Services Locator lets users search for local Army programs, services, and resources, such as youth centers, community agencies, health benefits offices, and assistance with transitioning back into civilian life. Developed by the Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command, the app displays results in a list or as a Google Maps mashup.

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The official app of the Federal Reserve System, designed by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, provides information on top Federal Reserve officials and the various banks in the system. Users can tap on the various districts in the federal reserve system and see press releases, speeches, and social media posts associated with the federal reserve banks.

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Set in Style guides you through a digital jewelry exhibit at the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York City. The app showcases jewelry by Van Cleef & Arpels, which has adorned well-to-do clients for decades. You can zoom in on pieces of jewelry and view video clips of museum curators and others.

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NASA Visualization Explorer presents gorgeous graphics and animations of geological and astronomical processes, including weather, climate, auroras, and the formation of deserts. One animation traces the development of Hurricane Irene in August, while another shows the waxing and waning of Antarctic sea ice.

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The National Library of Medicine's Turning the Pages app is the start of a digital collection of historic medical and biological texts, including an illustrated 19th century surgical case book, a 16th century German guidebook for manufacturing pharmaceuticals, and a 13th century natural history text from the Middle East. Each is annotated with comments from the National Library.

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