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It’s a staggering number — 8.9 million. There are over 8.9 million apps to choose from; how many will there be a year from now?
In our last column, Ed shared some of his “must-have” apps. We all have a few favorites, but what are sound strategies for choosing new ones to download to our mobile devices when there are so many choices?
I have a couple of ways I make decisions about apps, and I was curious how others determined what to download. I decided to embark on a mini research project and asked friends and family as well as did some internet search on what tech experts had to say. Many of my strategies were validated by others, but I also discovered some new approaches.
One expert suggested that before adding a new app, review your old ones. If you haven’t used it in the past two weeks, delete it. That timeline sounded a bit draconian to me; however, I am thinking if one hasn’t used an app in the past year, it might be time to tap the delete option.
Ed mentioned in our last column that WhatsApp was a favorite of his. Many of my friends have it because it uses the internet rather than a cellular network to communicate. I have it but never use it because I’m not communicating with anyone overseas at this point. Should I delete it because it’s taking up GBs on my phone? Maybe, but what if one of my family members moves to Istanbul? I would want it then. My inability to delete apps harkens back to my teaching days when I couldn’t toss old resources because I never knew when I might need them again. Hopefully, you don’t suffer from this malady and can divest yourself of outdated apps.
I found two suggestions from a business writer that I thought made a lot of sense. First, think through what you want the app to be able to do; then, generate a list of must-have options for the app. Here’s an example: I wanted a bird identification app and downloaded the Merlin Bird ID app. I was just interested in seeing bird images so I could match them to the birds in my yard. I never thought about the app having the capacity to identify a bird by its song or being able to search by type of bird. Fortunately, Merlin Bird ID has all of those capabilities, so I lucked out. The experience did remind me to be a bit more thoughtful about how I wanted to use an app.
The second suggestion is to remember that apps come and go, and there is always a newer app with better features coming along that might make more money for the owner/developer. Sometimes an app allows us to create a video or montage of images or original music. All of the data is stored in their cloud. If the business fails, then all of that data is lost. You may remember the Vine app that allowed the user to make very short, fun, looping videos. It debuted in 2012, and even though there were 200 million users, the app was discontinued in 2019. So, if you are storing data in a trendy app’s cloud and you wish to hold onto it, best you figure out how to download it to your device.
Many of us get suggestions from friends. I was sitting with a group when a plane flew overhead. The teenager in the group started tapping buttons on her phone and then announced that the plane was a Delta flight from London to New York City. I was fascinated and asked for the details of the app, and now I track what is flying over my head. Did you know a flight from New York to Doha, Qatar, flies over the Brunswick area most nights?
Ask your friends about their favorite apps and you will probably get some terrific suggestions. Try to be specific. What’s your favorite app for editing images? What’s your favorite travel app? That is how I found out about Rome2rio, a travel app that will get me anywhere by plane, bus, train, boat or walking.
Some people get recommendations from either the App Store (Apple) or Google’s Play Store (Android). For example, the App Store has something called Editor’s Choice. These suggestions are for innovative apps and entertaining games. The Play Store also will make recommendations based on the users’ past purchases.
Another way to find a good app, I have found, is to do an internet search. Being very specific in your keywords helps narrow the field. What are the 10 best free apps for identifying wildflowers? Keywords being free, best, identifying and wildflowers. Within seconds I had a list of apps to check out.
Then comes the next step — checking online reviews. Often, they will give you a rating of 0-5, plus comments. The comments sometimes alert you to possible issues like security or exaggerated advertising. Just type in the name of the app and “+ reviews.” You are sure to get some helpful information.
I think it’s really important to check the reviews of the various travel booking apps; there seem to be new ones weekly. Having heard some horror stories of scams and lost reservations, it is prudent to verify you are booking through a reputable company that guarantees their work.
Next, I go to the App Store and search for the specific app. Both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store provide potential buyers with helpful information:
• Description of the app.
• When it was last updated.
• Reviews on a 0-5 scale along with an average score.
• Comments from users.
• What devices are compatible.
• Data protection information — how the developer uses data belonging to the purchasers.
Read the small print. It is possible that a newer app won’t work on your older phone. You want to know that information before you install the app, especially if you are paying money for it.
Also, remember that sometimes friends and family members are writing reviews. If there are only two or three comments and they are glowing, you might want to be a tad suspicious.
Do take time to read the data safety information. Depending on your level of concern about your privacy, you may have a decision to make about using a particular app. Here’s what Google Play Store says about the Rome2rio app I mentioned: The app may share app activity and performance with third parties. The app may collect data related to location and app activity. Data is encrypted in transit, and data cannot be deleted. Is any of this information about collecting and sharing data a concern? Best to know these details before installing.
One last thing to think about: Who is the developer of the app? Apple usually will not let you install an app unless you get it through the App Store, which provides a basic level of security against a suspect app. Even so, you might be surprised by the origins of an app. Remember, there was controversy about TikTok because it came out of China, and folks were concerned about how the data was being used. Another example reported by Insider relates to the Internet Research Agency (Russian Troll Farm): “The breadth of the attack included games, browser extensions, and music apps created by the IRA and pushed to targeted groups … ” A little checking may keep you from being on the receiving end of a disinformation campaign.
Apps provide information, entertainment, intellectual stimulation and creative expression. There are millions to choose from; however, like anything else related to our online activities, we need to be savvy consumers. Take the time to check out the pluses and minuses of an app before installing it on your device.
For more tips and information to make your digital life easier, visit BoomerTECH Adventures at boomertechadventures.com. Subscribe to their YouTube Channel for lots of free video tutorials at youtube.com/channel/UC1rS22ccn11gtOXY2yp1yRw.
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