It all starts next week. First the political masses will head to Tampa for the 2012 Republican National Convention and then on Sep. 4, they will head to Charlotte for the 2012 Democratic National Convention. But this year -- more than in any previous election year -- you'll be able to feel as if you're experiencing the conventions even if you're not on the ground there. That's because you have a smartphone in your pocket, and the Android and Apple app stores are stocked with a number of election apps.
Sure, Romney and Obama have their own campaign apps, but there's a whole lot more out there that you'll want to make sure you have downloaded before the conventions kick off. These are some of the mobile must-haves.
|Tampa 2012: Official RNC App|
Both the RNC and the DNC have their own free, official apps for the conventions. The RNC app is called Tampa 2012, and is available for iOS and Android. There is even an iPad-optimized version.
There are two parts of the app: one for those in Tampa and one for those who weren't invited. Tap the "Convention Without Walls" button and you will be able to watch live video from the convention or recorded highlights. There's also a tab to see the schedule and another to see tweets from key Republican leaders at the event. There are also photos from the floor.
If you happen to be in Tampa Bay, you'll care about weather information, local news, and maybe the section on fun Florida facts.
There are a lot of similarities between the official Republican and Democratic apps. The Democratic version is available for iOS and Android, has streaming video, a list of tweets from key Democratic leaders, a schedule of the events, and a list of news stories. It also has information about Charlotte, including maps and good places to eat and drink.
But the key difference between the apps is in the look and feel. The DNC app is brighter, and we'll let you judge whether you like it more. It includes an option to mark content you see in the app as a "favorite." Those favorites are added to a favorites bulletin board and you can scroll through your favorites from previous days.
|Facebook and Twitter|
Both the RNC and DNC apps bring in Twitter and Facebook updates from key leaders, but the actual Twitter and Facebook apps or sites are must-haves for following updates directly from politicians at the conventions. Twitter has a landing page for the election, and a political index that shows if Romney or Obama is ahead in the race based on the sentiment of tweets.
The GOP and DNC accounts also have full lists of people you'll want to follow at the respective conventions. ABC News has put together its own list of key people to follow at the convention. Facebook will also have updates on its U.S. Politics Page. And there's the RNC's Convention Without Walls Facebook app, which will stream video right on Facebook.
|Super PAC App|
Let's not forget about that other screen: the television screen. If you happen to watch some of the convention coverage on TV you won't be able to avoid the political attack ads this year, but if you grab the Super PAC App you can find out who paid for those ads. Hold the app up to the TV and it will use audio fingerprinting to find out who is behind the ad. It will tell you what super PAC paid for it, how much money it has raised, how much the super PAC has spent, and information about the claims in the ad. You can then vote on the ad yourself. It's just like the Shazam music app but for political ad junkies.
|Obama vs. Romney: The Games|
And if at that point you actually feel like attacking, you won't have a hard time coming up with games that let you have Obama and Romney face off. The "Obama vs. Romney Fight for the White House" game lets you throw the candidates into the actual ring; you pick who you want to control and you throw the punches.
The app, made by Top City Apps, is available for iOS and Android. And if you are looking for some higher-end graphics, try "Vote!!!" It's a game by the maker of the popular "Infinity Blade." You select a candidate and a weapon, including a microphone or ice cream cone, and then have them face off in different levels.
An app roundup from ABC News wouldn't be complete without a mention of our own ABC app. You will be able to get up-to-the-minute convention and election coverage right on our site and with our iPad, iPhone, Android, and Kindle Fire apps. But the ABC News iPad app in particular has just been updated to let you stream three videos simultaneously on one page. You will also be able to watch ABC's streaming video from the conventions at YouTube's new election hub channel, which includes video from lots of other news outlets as well.