One of the smartest apps we've encountered is Android developers Katzoft’s Underground Alarm / Getty Images


Most media outlets – and The Ideas Factory is equally guilty of this – concentrate a lot of energy on apps for the iPhone. But Android phones have been the world's biggest smartphone platform since January.

One of the smartest apps we've encountered is Android developers Katzoft's Underground Alarm which uses open data from Transport for London combined with a basic alarm clock to warn commuters that their line is delayed. The thinking is that, with an earlier warning that their line has delays, travellers can either get up earlier to factor the delay into their journey or else plan accordingly. (Such as press the snooze button and go back to sleep knowing that you won't get into work on time anyway – or perhaps that's just me.)

We asked an Android-owning Ideas Factory employee to test the app and, handily for us (if not for her), the next day her line of choice (the Victoria) was severely delayed. Something her phone woke her up half an hour early to tell her.

So why just London? Developer Claudius Golumbina explained that National Rail data is paid-for (but he's looking into it), whereas TFL's open policy gives developers the freedom to innovate with London's transport information (take a look, for instance, at the Live Tube Google Map hack).

Android apps such as Underground Alarm and the similar Tube Alarm seem as good a way to use that data as any. Just remember to mind the nap.

See more:

Who are the most 'read later' journalists?

One of the best tech innovations for journalism in the smartphone/tablet era is the "read it later" website – in which readers, sent links to great articles on Facebook or Twitter can then save them on an app to read out of the office or on the journey home. The best ones, like Marco Arment's Instapaper, even allow for offline reading.

One popular "read it later" site, called – get this –Read It Later, released data last week revealing the journalists most saved by readers. And the journalists whose work people actually came back to read, after having it saved.

The first set of results (thanks to the tech geek demographics of people who "read later" is dominated by blogs, especially the Gawker-owned Lifehacker, which boasted nine of the 10 most saved links.

The good news for long-form fans is that many of the links that readers actually went back to and read belonged to writers producing longer pieces like Hitflix's Alan Sepinwall and Grantland and Esquire's Chuck Klosterman.

See the results:

A new focus for digital photos

What price a lack of focus? About £250 on pre-order.

That's the cost of the new Lytro camera – a telescopic looking device that uses digital light-field technology to produce images so full of detail (it captures every ray of light in an image) you can choose which element on which to focus after you've taken it.

Lytro was founded by a former Stanford graduate student, Dr Ren Ng, a few years ago – his initial prototypes caught a bit of buzz in 2005, but it was in June this year, when the firm announced it had made a camera, that interest spiked. The firm recently announced prices and shipping dates (early 2012). The cheapest Lytro starts at $399 (£255) for a 8GB model (which holds 350 pictures). Good news for every amateur. Not so much for in-focus professionals.

Walk this way... actually walk this way

We're big fans of things that make walking easier at the Factory, which is why we can recommend WalkIt, a website/app that acts as an AA-routefinder for pedestrians.

It was originally designed to stop people from using the Tube for short journeys in London but now it offers direct, less busy (ie through parks) and low-pollution routes in 42 towns and cities around the UK – from places as big as Leeds and Liverpool to those like Rochdale and Aylesbury.

About a million people used the site to create routes last year and WalkIt is expected to expand to every urban centre in the UK. But how is it any different from putting a walking route into Google Maps?

I asked co-creator Martin Parretti how the site's routes work.

"One of the big differences is that traditional routefinding is about getting cars around," he says. "Everything that a pedestrian might take for granted – parks, towpaths – that info isn't out there. We go out and capture data. The others treat you as a 4mph car. We capture it using aerial photography and on-the-ground surveys."

Plan your walk home:

Send us your Ideas Factory fuel

The Ideas Factory is a weekly round-up of the best, weirdest and most interesting new discoveries, theories and experiments from around the world. If you have an idea you'd like to share, I'd love to hear from you. You can email me at or tweet me at @willydean.