As recently as a decade ago, the term ‘applications’ was still mostly confined to the world of software programmers and the back-room techies who we reached out to when our desktop systems failed to work properly.
But, where installing a desktop application used to require a boxed DVD-ROM disk and a potentially serious mental workout for many of us, installing a app on a smartphone or tablet is generally now a one to two-click affair - and uninstalling is just as simple.
Across a variety of operating systems - from Windows to Android to Apple’s mobile platform - we now have the option to download apps for every conceivable user requirement: from online ‘marketplace’ websites featuring games, books, movies, social media tools and so-called work productivity applications.
Devices themselves are now in a state of flux because of still-developing touch and speech input technology and users now dictate which are the apps that we can’t do without. But, for now, here is a list of apps that should be on every smart phone:
When it comes to browsing the web, users have a wide choice on almost all devices; Internet Explorer is still an option, Firefox is very customisable and Opera is interesting. But when it comes down to it, Google Chrome really is the most functional, the fastest and the most pleasing means of searching the web on a mobile device today. It has been built to require only a bare minimum of your device’s memory, yet it syncs with your Google account and carries your bookmarks, tabs and settings across to any other machine you use it on. Listed on some devices as simply “Google”, it’s also free, so what’s not to like?
The ubiquitous presence of mobile devices in our pockets is replacing the paper and pen notepad technique by the day. So a digital traveling notepad that acts as a personal assistant with a to-do list and much more besides was inevitable. Evernote is available across most platforms as a personal digital assistant that synchronises with your desktop to help you control your life. You can take photos, record voice memos or jot down notes on your mobile device so that they also appear on your desktop machine once synchronised. There is a paid version with an annual subscription fee, but the free version allow for a reasonable amount of data storage without you having to get your credit card out.
Games: Angry Birds
Everybody needs a little childish distraction now and again, especially when you are stuck with an airport delay or the need to switch off from the world for a little while. Angry Birds is available for just about every device available and is free for the basic version with limited play options. Its appeal lies in the simple yet complex task of knocking cartoon pigs off of infuriatingly straightforward looking blocks and columns. Nothing falls or bounces quite the way you would like it to as you catapult a variety of angry birds towards the targets. The paid versions present many more hundreds of levels and scenarios, so be careful if you think you’re getting hooked.
There are recipe apps, specialist food apps and cooking tutorial apps in just about every shape and flavour you can think of, but sometimes you just want a straightforward means of finding something to eat. Urbanspoon allows you to search for your favourite style of international cuisine wherever you are in the world. If you want Lebanese food in London with a map and directions you can get it, if you want Chinese food in Beirut then it is all there. You can even select inexpensive food options to get the best deals in local eateries depending upon your location.
If you have taken ownership of a new smartphone and are trying to decide what settings and personal options to install or bring to the ‘desktop’ homescreen, then YouTube should probably be one of your default apps. Although it might sound like an obvious bread and butter suggestion, the Google-owned video player service is truly cross-platform compatible on any device and now features many sizeable TV segments and even complete programmes in some cases. With video content available in Arabic, English and many other languages this is TV in your pocket as long as you have an online connection.
Utilities: The Weather Channel
Recommending a weather application is a tough job as they are all pretty good and mostly free. Given the wide availability of international weather information, the Weather Channel’s app is probably one of the most appealing simply because of the length of time that the organisation behind the service has been presenting its weather information. Starting as an American cable and satellite television channel back in the very early eighties and owned by NBC Universal, the maps, images and clickable buttons for extra information are among the most user-friendly you can find anywhere. If the Gulf’s weather systems are a little too stable and regular for you to think that you need a weather app, then consider this a window on the world to help you plan your next trip outside of the Emirates.
Social media: Twitter and Facebook
If you haven’t stepped into the social media universe yet then a mobile device is a perfect passport to a world of connected information sharing. Not simply a stream of useless babbling if you build your network of social contacts carefully, both Twitter and Facebook have their own dedicated cross-platform apps available for free download. Both services support Arabic and English language text and offer the option to upload comments, video and images. As more of our world news is impacted by social media, it is worth dipping your toe in here.
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Other notable applications that should feature in any user’s core ‘must have’ list will also include a world clock plus and/or alarm clock application, a dictionary, a currency converter, a translation app and a perhaps even a QRcode reader (there are several, they all work) could be considered a necessity. As our use of mobile devices now proliferates, users of all types should also think about installing online security protection, but that’s another story.
The writer is a freelance technology journalist.