If Apple deserves credit for one aspect of the tablet/smartphone boom it's the appification of software (that's a word, right?). The concept of small, purpose-built pieces of software programs that are easy on the processor and memory is not new, but Apple's approach to encouraging app development and selling apps through its store — and the quality of their hardware experience as a whole — have unleashed something amazing.
This week or next Apple will celebrate it's 50 billionths app download, which is an impressive milestone given that the first countdown to one billion apps downloads was staged in 2009. In October of 2012 the tally was up to 35 billion, which means almost 15 billion apps have been downloaded since Halloween.
And that's just Apple. Android has taken over the lead in the smart phone market with the biggest install base and the second largest selection of apps, and is already at something like 25 billion app downloads. BlackBerry and Windows Phone probably add another few billion to the total, as well as all the devices from Amazon, Barnes&Noble and other sellers on the fringe.
Last year the Nielsen Company reported that the average American had 41 apps. I've only had my phone since November and I'd say I probably have at least that if I include games and the native apps that Nokia bundles with its phones. Most of them are great, although if I find myself not using an app for any length of time I usually delete it immediately to free up space — I like to keep things simple.
The selection of apps differs from platform, but there are a handful of apps I think everyone should have and take the time to learn.
CBC — The CBC News app is good, but it's the CBC Music app that gets the most use where I live. The ability to stream any CBC radio station and access some 47 playlist-centered stations is awesome. A good percentage of the music I listen to is Canadian anyway, might as well go to the source.
TuneIn Radio — Radio streaming of thousands of stations, broken down by genre. You can also add all of your local stations pretty easily.
Evernote — The ability to synchronize notes, voice memos, photos, To Do lists and other odds and ends over the web so they're accessible anywhere cannot be praised enough. Take some time to view the video tutorials at Evernote.com and read everything you can to get the full benefit of this app — the creative uses for Evernote that people have come up with are life changing.
Dropbox (or any cloud service) — One of the most disappointing things about smartphones is their lack of storage. I have an unlimited music account from Xbox Music that I'm making good use of, so space is something that's constantly on my mind. Having a 7GB SkyDrive account and a Dropbox account have helped solve the space issue, letting me off-load some of the things I don't use every day and access them later.
Avast! Mobile Security — This is basically security software, which allows you to remotely lock or wipe your phone if lost or stolen. (Always make sure you back up regularly.) Avast! also protects you while web browsing and snoops for viruses and other hacks — a growing issue for smartphones.
WhatsApp — This cross-platform messaging service gets better and better. If you don't have unlimited messaging, or can't roam with your phone, make sure everyone you know has this app. It uses the Internet and whatever wifi network you're near to transfer messages, video, images and even audio rather than the cell or SMS network.
Opera Mini/Dolphin/Nokia Xpress — Most of the default browsers out there are pretty good, but there are some third party options you should consider adding to your phone. Opera Mini compresses web pages in a way that uses about a 10th as much bandwith, which is important if you're on a strict plan. Dolphin has advanced support for Flash and HTML5. Nokia Xpress compresses data and offers a magazine feature that essentially takes data from web pages and presents it in an elegant, uniform way.
Pulse — Pulse is a news aggregator that is highly customizable and a must-have for any news junkie.
Wikipedia — The beauty of Wikipedia as a website is that it is so low-tech, which means you can probably use your phone's browser just as well as the app. However, the app does have some added features like History and Favourites if you're a power user.
TED — TEDActive is coming to Whistler in March 2014, bringing some of the world's most innovative designers, technologists and thinkers to the resort. TED is also great at sharing information via their YouTube channel and website, but the app also lets you download videos to watch them offline at your convenience. There are worse ways to pass a flight than watching the latest TED presentations.
This is only a partial list of course. More to come...