I meant both “happy” and “app-y,” the app referring to applications software for very specific purposes, made popular by Apple (as in apps for Apple) through its iPhones and iPads. Today there are thousands of apps for every imaginable purpose, and for all kinds of smartphones and tablets. Many are free, others offer a “lite” version for you to try before you buy, with low prices ranging from 99 cents (in the United States) to fancy stuff that go for almost $10.
I’m going to be sharing info on the most useful apps I found in the past year but first, a background on why I decided to choose the apps for a new year topic. I intended to write about the techie Filipino in 2013 but gave up on that idea on New Year’s Eve. The fireworks seemed worse this year and it was a major feat calming down the kids, then the pets, while worrying about having to wake up early the next morning to pick up my balikbayan sister from the airport.
To calm myself down, I decided to surf the Internet and stumbled on rave reviews for an app called Night Sky, which is a guide for stargazing, and I don’t mean telling the future. I downloaded the free version and, with the dogs huddled next to me, I held the phone up to the sky. The haze from firecrackers blocked most of the celestial objects but I still got a visual treat. The technology, which relies on your phone GPS, was so impressive: I aimed the phone toward the moon and the moon appeared on the screen, together with nearby constellations.
After about half an hour, I purchased the app which, for 99 cents, gives you a whole lot more treats, including meteors and meteorite showers and enhanced views which make sky-watching even more enchanting. For $4.99 you get an information pack which allows you to point at a planet, or a star, and get more information about it. Hoping against hope, maybe someday there will be enough Filipinos who will want to spend New Year’s Eve looking at a quiet, clear night sky with this app.
Now to the most useful apps, which means no games for this column. The apps I mention here are available both for the iPhone and iPad, as well as Android phones. Do note that for each app that I name, there are probably a dozen others, maybe some better ones, but my review today is also intended to convince my fellow Filipino Internet migrants to explore the world of apps. (Internet migrants is a term for older users of the Internet, to differentiate us from our younger Internet natives).
Let’s start with apps to help road warriors in our battles with traffic. I don’t know what I’d do without TuneIn Radio, which allows you to surf and tune into the world’s radio stations. You can program your favorites and a Pro version allows you to record what you’re listening to.
To navigate your way around, Apple has its own map app now, but some of my friends prefer Google Maps, which you can still download. You can search for a particular street, sometimes even an establishment, and find alternative routes to your destination. These map apps also show where you are, so you actually see if you’re getting close to your destination, or driving in the wrong direction, which is what used to happen to me all the time.
Now the best of maps are still useless without knowing the road conditions. Enter MMDA, a free app from the Metro Manila Development Authority. MMDA has its own map of Metro Manila, with additional information on some of the public works constructions that might slow down traffic. Its best feature though is “Line View” which tells you whether traffic is light, medium or heavy for major junctions along Edsa, C5, Ortigas, Commonwealth, Quezon Avenue and España. The developers of MMDA should get an award for public service.
As should the ones who did iTyphoon, another free app, which issues updates three times a day to track storms from the time they start as a tropical disturbance even if they’ re still several thousand kilometers away from the Philippines, until they enter the Philippine area of responsibility, all the way until they leave us. The information is extensive, telling you where a storm is, where it will be in the next 12 hours, how strong the winds and rain will be and which parts of the Philippines will be affected.
Pair off iTyphoon with TidesApp, also for free. You choose from a global selection of cities and then get updated on sunrise, sunset and the times of low and high tide. Knowing the high tide can be important if you’re in a coastal area because even if a storm seems mild, the rains can quickly turn into floods if they come during high tide.
You finally get to your destination, only to find out you’re in for a long wait for the doctor, or the dean who has to sign thousands of other documents. I prefer a tablet for reading e-books, but sometimes a smartphone will do for reading the world’s periodicals. There’s an app called Newsstand, which is an electronic store that allows you to get specific apps for the world’s major newspapers and magazines. You can subscribe or go for free versions which allow you to read only the major stories. I have The New York Times, International Herald Tribune and The Economist in here.
Outside of Newsstand, you can search as well for other publications’ apps. For a more balanced view of the world, I have two British papers (The Guardian and The Independent) as well as a French one, Le Monde Diplomatique (in English since my French is pitifully un petite peu).
Then there’s the Philippine Daily Inquirer. The free version allows you to download 14 complete issues, including photographs and opinion columns. I have to admit I haven’t really probed into the Inquirer app, or its tablet… something to do for the future.
Tired of reading those old magazines in the dentist’s office? Download Pulse which allows you to browse through current issues of several magazines and e-zines (for example PC Guide), or Zite which sends you articles from all kinds of magazines, depending on your particular interests.
Forgot your reading glasses? You can listen to the news, or watch videos, using apps from BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera. There’s an app for Bloomberg, which allows you to tune in to TV as well as read business news and monitor prices on every stock and mutual fund in the world.
Then there’s my favorite National Public Radio (NPR), which has an app for news, and a specialized NPR Music, which gives you news and samplers for new releases in all kinds of musical genres: jazz, classical, R&B, Latin, etc. And yes, there’s a YouTube app, which my kids love, having figured out what kiddie stuff to open even as I cast a watchful eye to make sure they haven’t been searching on sex or guns. Do note that the reception for videos as well as radio broadcasts can be choppy if you don’t have a good Internet connection.
There’s much more out there catering to all kinds of needs. My sister promises to tell me about some apps to help the elderly (ouch!), so this won’t be the last column on apps. Happy New Year!