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Downloading Fun

Catapulting bizarre birds or watching a time-lapse movie of the stars—what’s your favorite app?

The smartphone has been called the Swiss Army knife of the digital age. If the smartphone is the tool, then the applications are the tweezers, the toothpick, the corkscrew, the scissors and the blade. Apple’s iPhone App Store alone offers an incredible 350,000 options to choose from. The Android Market isn’t far behind as Google CEO Eric Schmidt announced at the Mobile World in February in Barcelona, Spain that there are currently over 150,000 applications available for Android phones.

A proliferation of applications allow users to carry around tomes of reference material, TV, music, current weather, news and even a detailed map of the globe. For every application that helps users find restaurants or play Sudoku there are countless more that simply exist to provide entertainment, such as the BubbleWrap App or the Paranormal State EMF Meter. BubbleWrap allows users to pop a simulated sheet of bubble wrap and the EMF meter supposedly enables the user to detect electromagnetic fields that might indicate the presence of either a spirit from the beyond or a nearby power line.

Which ones belong on your phone? I’ve been scouring the App Store nonstop, soliciting the advice of friends and coworkers, and putting my own phone to work as a test machine to create a list of top 10 favorite applications.

Angry Birds: This wildly popular game tests user’s ability to use trial-and-error trajectory plotting to catapult bizarre birds into the barricades of fortified structures that are protecting green pigs that have stolen their eggs. The game might sound odd, but after having close to 100 million downloads and a flourishing line of merchandise, it has definitely proven itself as an app powerhouse. When asked why it was a favorite, Marc Shecter says it was because “it is challenging for me and my 7-year-old and I love the sounds the birds make when they soar through the air on their course to destroy the evil bird cages.”

Google Maps: Asked about favorite apps, Ryan Curtright simply says, “Google Maps, need I explain?” This application has made paper maps a tool of the past, and is one of the most useful apps on the market. Google Maps can be used to find nearby restaurants and businesses, as well as to look up their contact numbers and dial them up straight from the app. When you’re done making reservations, you can get directions from your current location. You don’t need a separate GPS device if you lose your way. 

The Weather Channel App: The Weather Channel takes your weather experience to the next level with full screen maps, extended forecasts, severe weather alerts, and more. By default, this geo-location app gives you information based on your current locale. If you want info on another city or location, simply type in the city, state or zip code. When living in a city where the weather changes as fast as you can blink, this comes in handy when considering whether to take a hike in the woods or to stay inside with a movie.

ShopSavvy: Ever stood in line at the department store and wondered if you could find that toy/book/watch/video game/thing-you-must-have cheaper somewhere else? ShopSavvy app touches the deal-seeker in all of us. As Shecter explains, “The app allows the user to ensure that the thing that they are buying at a store is a good deal. The app quickly scans the product’s bar code and tells the user how much it costs at other stores near them and at online outlets.” Saving money? Yes, please!

Find My iPhone: This is an instant favorite for anyone who has trouble remembering where their phone is. This iPhone app doesn’t require a special account, and allows the user to see where their phone is on an online map, display a message, play a sound (even if silenced), lock the phone, or even completely wipe it if you fear that it has fallen into the wrong hands. Thieves, beware!

Rhapsody: The all-you-can-eat music listening service, which started the streaming music revolution in 2001, has continued to draw users through its mobile app. The new and improved version allows users to store subscription music in the phone’s memory so that you don’t need to rely on your phone’s data connection to stream music. Sean Wood listed this as his top app because it allowed him to take all his favorite music to work with him each day. Working as a chef, he enjoys being able to listen to all his favorite playlists and artists at work, “since the radio becomes repetitive and doesn’t always play music that I like.”

YouTube: This app allows the user to gain access to all the YouTube goodness of the online version. Users can watch and share their favorite YouTube videos and even post videos that they have created on their phone. Want to watch the music video for “Teenage Dream” by Katy Perry or the trailer for the next “Twilight” movie? Simply pull out your phone and push play.

Facebook: By far the most common time-waster favorite of everyone I talked to regarding their favorite apps. Eric Torres uses it during breaks or when he has any down time. “It is a great way to see what all my friends are up to.” This app allows the user to stay connected with their online social network by looking at photos and making status updates.

StarWalk: Point your phone to the sky and this app will identify all that you can or can’t see—constellations, planets, stars and satellites—in real-time and amazing clarity. This app allows the user to search the map by stars, constellations or planets and then select an object to see more information on it. All of this is pretty awesome already, but the time-lapse function is what makes StarWalk truly great. Selecting the time button on the screen will show the current date and time and the corresponding picture of the stars and planets. Using a scroll bar, the user can go through different times, causing the image of the sky to change accordingly. This looks like a time-lapse movie of the stars, going through day and night mode and changing star positions.

CardioTrainer: Arguably the best fitness app on the market. This Android-only program allows users to track their fitness regimen and calorie consumption. This was a favorite of personal trainer John Harris who says that “it was difficult recording all the information on paper before. This cool app makes it easy to track all my work-outs and what I eat, and it allows me to visibly see the change over time. I tell my clients about this free app all the time, and really think it is a great tool for anyone who wants to get in shape.”


Kaitlin McVey is a writer living in Seattle, Washington.