A 21st century phenomenon: Got apps?
Car companies are crashing, banks are bailing, farms are failing, but grant this to American entrepreneurs: they sure know how to make apps.
Since the launch of Apple's iPad, over a million apps have already been sold. There seems to be no limit to America's fascination with apps that simulate the sound of bubble wrap or -- a real favorite -- flatulence.
A guy was showing me the new apps on his iPhone. He seemed unable to put down the device, even for a moment, preferring to poke away with both thumbs while explaining the process.
He said one app could show exactly where we were. Sure enough, after waggling his thumbs he brought up an aerial view of the parking lot in which we were standing. Another thumb roll and the image became a street map, showing how we could walk from where we were standing to some other place.
"Get this," he said, as he waggled his way to a list of nearby pizza places.
A venture capital firm in Silicon Valley, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, now has a $200 million kitty for would-be apps inventors like me. So I figured the best way to cash in was to invent an app that computes the market for apps.
Turns out there are already several of those, including a site called 148apps.biz, which reports that Apple's App Store has 175,855 active apps available for downloading. There are 34,614 people and businesses "publishing" these apps -- with roughly 650 new apps submitted to Apple every day.
About a quarter of Apple's apps are free; about a third cost 99 cents, and there are 13 apps out there selling for over $450. Apple was in the app business for less than a year when it reached the 1 billion download mark, and the current total exceeds 3 billion, so you do the math.
The app known as BubbleWrap allows users to press images of bubble wrap and hear a digitally-created popping sound, which to many consumers is a real gas. Speaking of which, when it comes to app sounds fart noises are among the most popular, starting with the renowned iFart. This app allows users to "Select randomly from 18 digitally mastered fart sounds for the ultimate in poop gas."
Another big seller is iSteam, called "genius" by a critic at The New York Times, who must have been fiddling with his iPhone while sitting through a four-hour performance at Carnegie Hall. The app creates virtual condensation on your screen that you can "wipe" with your finger. Over 2 million have been downloaded at 99 cents.
A favorite free app is The Shut Up Button. You press it and your iPhone shouts "shut up." Another is called Have2P, which directs the user to nearest public toilet and provides details about what each facility offers.
For reasons that escape me, Hold On! is a popular app with which you press an on-screen button while a timer keeps track of how long you can keep your finger on the button.
Full disclosure: I don't have the faintest idea how to go about inventing an app. My plan for this column was to acknowledge the phenomenal app market (all cited here are real), then come up with my own humorous concepts for fake apps. That was before I read about a real app called The AcneApp, which uses blue and red lights to supposedly kill skin bacteria. This scientifically unproven app is sold to iPhone users for $1.99.
Recalling the storyline from "Seinfeld," I planned to end my app spoof with an app about nothing. Then I learned that a fellow named Paul Perry actually sells a 99-cent app called Nothing. Its ad says, "Nothing is everything you ever wanted in an application - except much, much less."
So I've decided not to invent apps for a living. With real-life products like these, the business is simply too serious for me.
Peter Funt is a writer and public speaker, and long-time host of "Candid Camera."