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5 Holiday Smartphone Apps I Wish Existed

My favorite holiday has come and gone. Yes, for reasons neither religious nor political nor controversial in any way, I like Thanksgiving better than Christmas -- although I do celebrate Christmas. Really, what's better than a holiday that's all about gluttony and football? It's as though the day was created just for me.

With Thanksgiving in the books for 2011, though, the real holiday grind is setting in. The holidays -- whether you celebrate one, several or none of them -- are inescapable. Every time you turn on the TV, there they are. Going online doesn't provide much respite, either. Did you realize that today is Cyber Monday? Yes, you'd heard about that? And, really, we're still using the word "cyber"? Where's the next exit off this information superhighway? Where's Al Gore when we need him? Actually, never mind. We don't need him.

(On a related note, here is a real, verbatim line from an e-mail I got today about a new patient-doctor communication Web site I started using this week: "When you receive your password, use your Internet connection and a web browser to go to [the URL]." Oh, I'm supposed to use my Internet connection and a Web browser? Do you mean like Netscape or something? My 1991 self is baffled by this, but my 2011 self finds it pretty funny.)

Here in the Boston area, one sadistic radio station plays nothing but Christmas music for something like six weeks this time of year. And forget going out of the house at all to escape the holidays; every retail establishment is decked out in holiday "cheer" in a desperate attempt to get you to pull it out of the terrible economy by shopping there, and even cities and towns put holiday decorations up on lampposts and what not. If there really is a war on Christmas, then Christmas -- or, at least, the "holiday season" -- is winning. Big time.

So, what would a good blogger do in this situation? I don't know, actually, but I've decided to pile on with a holiday entry of my own. Granted, this is a stretch topic-wise even for this blog, but I've come up with a list of smartphone apps I wish existed (and might, for all I know) for the holidays. If you want to pretend that this entry is relevant to Microsoft or partners somehow, just imagine these apps exist for Windows Phone 7. See, I told you it was a stretch. Anyway, to the apps:

1. The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Music Killer
It's too late for this year, but somebody needs to get to work on this for 2012. I tried to watch the Macy's parade on Thanksgiving with my 14-month-old son, who has an inordinate fascination with balloons. (Seriously, we just got his Boston Bruins balloon refilled. Yes, refilled. He wakes up in the morning pointing to the living room and saying, "Balloon, balloon!")

So, I turn on this parade for the first time in years, and what do I see? No parade, no balloons -- just mediocre Broadway numbers and sappy "holiday" songs being performed by people I'd never heard of (other than Bette Midler, and I kind of wish I'd never heard of her). What's the deal, Macy's? Haven't you ever seen a proper parade, like the Rose Parade or the Stock Show Parade in Fort Worth? Parades are supposed to move with bands and floats and balloons and such, not bore us with costume dance numbers performed by the spares of the "entertainment industry."

So, my app for Thanksgiving 2012 would allow the viewer to eliminate all musical performances from the Macy's parade TV coverage and watch only the fun stuff. Mainly, the balloons. This would make the parade about four minutes long (bringing it down from the current 19 hours or so), so it would be perfect for YouTube viewing year-round. Oh, and a Matt Lauer-elimination app would also be handy, especially since he called the Bruins the "Brewers" while hyping NBC's coverage of Thanksgiving Friday hockey. Mr. Lauer, Mr. Lucic would like a word. (Wait through the ad. It's worth it, if only for Jack Edwards' classic call.)

2. The Christmas Song Converter
OK, so there is some beautiful Christmas music, and even holiday music, out there. But the stuff we get subjected to in stores and restaurants this time of year -- you know, the easy-listening pop-star stuff and the 1950s stuff for kids -- that's just auditory murder. And let's not even get started on Bing Crosby or that lightweight Mel Torme.

This is why this holiday app would come in so handy. It would let a user's phone change every lame Christmas song to "Father Christmas" by the Kinks, the greatest Christmas song ever. What's that you say? "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" is on the PA system at Chili's? I'm just getting "Father Christmas." Sting is singing some criminal version of a holiday song at JC Penney? All I can hear is the Kinks. "White Christmas" is getting its billionth public playing at the Natick Mall? Not for me. I've got "Father Christmas," again. And I'm happy about it. Very happy.

3. The Christmas Tree De-Sapper
Those of you who have artificial Christmas trees or no trees at all should consider yourselves lucky. As a lad, I was pretty violently allergic to most types of Christmas trees, so my dad and I had the pleasure of getting "Mr. Christmas" (our artificial tree -- that's really what it was called) out of the garage every year and "trimming" its shimmering plastic branches. Good times.

However, thanks to advances in allergy treatment and a wife with a bent for authenticity, I now have to endure having a real tree in my house for a month or so every year. It's not the smell that bothers me anymore. It's not even the needles, although I complain about them relentlessly. No, the worst part is the sap.

Have you ever tried to get sap out of your clothes, out of a rug, off your skin? Once sap is with you, it's with you forever, the glue that holds your very worst holiday memories together. My smartphone app, though, would de-sap live trees so that they would only be a hassle by stinking up the house and dropping needles everywhere, not by gluing themselves to everything they touch. Somebody must surely be at work on this one.

4. The Sincerity Translator
December is the one month of the year when people who hardly know or like each other suddenly decide to get all sappy and hug and wish each other "happy holidays" with tears welling in their eyes. Why? In my world, cynicism never takes a holiday. Larry David's mantra for Seinfeld -- "no hugging, no learning" -- is one I try to live by.

So, not unlike the Christmas Song Converter, the Sincerity Translator app would convert other people's half-heartfelt wishes toward me to sarcastic comments and would, in return, make my nasty responses into half-heartfelt wishes for them. It would be kind of like one of those apps that translates phrases into other languages, except way more useful.

5. The Office Christmas Party Endrunkenizer
The awkwardness of an office Christmas party is often better experienced after a few hits of eggnog spiked with so much brandy that the liquid actually burns through the glass that's trying to hold it. But getting hammered at the office Christmas party is generally a bad idea. For one, there's a strong chance that you'll end up saying something you'll regret. On top of that, office parties usually involve a drive to and from the venue, so heavy drinking is out of the question.

Or is it? The Office Christmas Party Endrunkenizer would let cubicle workers experience the office party as though they were three sheets to the wind even if they'd never taken a drink. All the ridiculousness of office frivolity would be viewable through lenses ranging from A Couple of Beers to A Bottle of Vodka, no actual alcohol required. At the end of the party, sobriety would return just in time for the drive home. An adapted Sincerity Translator would also change all your sarcastic remarks and inappropriate language to warm, lovely holiday sentiments, so you wouldn't have to wonder whether you had a job the next day. Oh, and every lame Christmas song would be "Father Christmas," in the deluxe package, of course.

Seriously, though, I really do wish you all a blessed and wonderful holiday season. Peace on earth. (Yup, it looks as though the beta of the Translator is working.)

Have some holiday hassle you'd like to see eliminated with an app? Leave your ideas in the comments section below, or send them to [email protected].

Posted by Lee Pender on November 28, 2011