Recently, I’ve found myself lingering over the back-to-school displays in the pharmacies and office supply stores. In this day of laptops and mobile tablets, the aisles are nonetheless stuffed with pens of many colors, binders featuring popular superheroes, plastic rulers and, my favorite, various brands of correction fluid and tape.
It’s been years since I’ve experienced the excitement of starting school, but for me this time of year always signals a new beginning. I clean up my desk and do some maintenance on my desktop computer and mobile devices.
Here’s where I confess I’m an app-freak. I usually have over 120 on my phone, so my fall-freshening routine includes deleting ones I never use. I also add a few and move all my “back-to-school” apps to my first screen for a bit. So here you have it: 11 top apps you need for autumn:
Platforms: iPhone, Android
Consider this: Studies suggest that walking about 10,000 steps a day is a key to keeping healthy. Several gadgets on the market (some excellent) can help measure our fitness level, but here’s the thing: Moves is free, and you’re carrying your phone around everywhere anyway. You don’t need to fork out moolah for another gadget.
Moves works whether you’re cycling, walking or running and it “learns” your routine, so eventually it figures out whether your mode of transport is on foot or wheels. Knowing that the first thing I’ll see every morning is a count of steps from the previous day helps motivate me to take the stairs and park at the far end of the mall.
Platforms: iPhone, Android
Cost: Free (but ad-free version is $3.99)
Let’s say you’re in the supermarket and you’re wondering how healthy an item is. Check into Fooducate. This app includes information on over 200,000 packaged food items. Scan the barcode, and much to your surprise, you may discover that a low-calorie snack that seemed healthy is full of chemicals and other junk your body doesn’t need. Fooducate grades each item from A to F (and there’s a reporting system if you don’t agree with a grade).
You can also search by food category in case you’re looking for the healthiest, say, whole wheat bread (Arnold’s Whole Grains 100% Whole Wheat Bread garners an A+) or ketchup (Heinz Tomato Ketchup gets a D+, proving once again that it is not a vegetable). Letter grades? Now that sounds like the school I remember.
Apps to Organize Your Life
Platform: iPhone, Android
Cost: Free (pro subscriptions from $2.99)
This to-do list is easy to use and syncs easily with your computer. You can either type or dictate your tasks into AnyDo and sort your list of items easily by dragging and dropping. The intuitive and fun interface tamps down the “I’m overwhelmed” factor by showing only what you need to do “today,” “tomorrow,” “later” and, my favorite, “someday.”
Terrific features include reminders to phone people whose calls you have missed and sending text messages to those you can’t speak with at the moment. Finished your to-dos? Shake your phone and they disappear.
Platform: iPhone, Android, iPad, OSX
When I first became aware of Mailbox, the waiting list was in the hundreds of thousands. When I finally got the app, I didn’t use it. I mean, I flunk email. Technically, I have about 30K messages in my Gmail inbox because I haven’t archived much.
That all changed when Mailbox came to OSX, so the app on my desktop now syncs with the one on my iPad and iPhone. I can choose when to deal with an email — later today, next week or someday are all options. (On mobile, this takes a simple swipe.) The chat-like view for conversation threads makes an ongoing series of emails sensible and easy on your eyes. Best of all, Mailbox learns from a user’s actions. It will, for instance, learn where to put those emails full of stupid jokes that your uncle sends weekly.
Buy Me a Pie
Platforms: iPhone, iPad, Android
Cost: Free (Account syncing version is $2.99 and worth every penny)
App-fiends like me are forever downloading and trying out apps, and in the two years I’ve been using this grocery list, I haven’t found anything better. The ease of use is a big plus for me — especially because the person with whom I share lists (that would be the husband) is not particularly mobile phone savvy (and please don’t repeat that).
I love being able to have multiple lists going at the same time, so there’s one for the grocery store, one for the pharmacy and one for the wine merchant. The app fills in items as you begin to type, and if you need to enter a number for the items, you use a colon (:) — peaches:6.
Apps to Organize Your Digital Life
Platform: iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry, Windows; also on OSX, Windows Desktop, Windows 8
Cost: Free (offline access and other upgrades available for $5 a month and up)
My life is in my Evernote. Last year when I was planning my daughter’s wedding, I did not merely use a mother-of-the-bride binder to store all information. I also kept notes, pictures, emails and scans of bills and receipts in an Evernote “notebook.” I make an Evernote notebook for every project I do, and I even send emails that relate to projects into the notebooks. It all syncs from my computer to my tablet and even my phone. So everywhere I go, I have my notebooks.
One great adjunct to Evernote is the photo mark-up app Skitch, which I use to take screenshots with its terrific “crosshairs” tool and then mark them up with arrows and text. I can then save these into my Evernote notebooks. The word processing aspects of Evernote do not equal those of Word or Google Docs, but the tools are fairly powerful.
Platform: iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry, Kindle Fire
Cost: Free, but additional storage (in the “cloud”) can be purchased.
This was my introduction to Dropbox: My daughter’s close friend, who lives in New York City, had a baby. Her parents were on the West Coast. So my husband and I went to the hospital to visit the newborn. We took pictures and shared them with her parents via Dropbox — I could move dozens with a single drag and drop. Your Dropbox folders can be shared or private, and Dropbox syncing sure beats emailing documents you’re working on to yourself so you can pick them up on another device.
Platform: iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry, Windows; OSX, Windows
Cost: Free, with upgrades
You only need to remember one password. LastPass does the rest. This app is safe and highly recommended. That is all.
Apps for Lifelong Learning
Platforms: iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry, Windows
Imagine: Information from thousands of sources at your fingertips. Literally. The way Flipboard works, you “subscribe” to RSS feeds and media outlets that interest you (i.e., Vanity Fair or People), and you swipe (at the sides on a tablet, bottom to top on a phone) to get from article to article. When you sign up, Flipboard suggests certain sections, such as news, and then you add your own.
I begin each day with my iPad, checking out my Flipboard subscriptions, so I know what’s happening in the world before I leave my bed. This amazing app (which works with a computer browser-based component) also gives people the ability to “curate” their own magazines. As you read, you can press the “flip” button (the + sign) to save articles into magazines you create. The “flip it” bookmarklet on your computer browser gives you more options for gathering stories and pictures from the Internet.
Platform: iPhone, iPad, Android, Kindle Fire (and other Amazon devices)
Get ready to be inspired. More than 1,000 videos of speakers as famous as Bill Gates and surprising as a 12-year-old kid with some good ideas are now available on your mobile device. In this version of the popular TED Talk series, you can search for your interests, or use the “discover” option to hear about things you never knew interested you.
Platform: iPhone, iPad
And just in case you feel like learning a new skill … Piano Tutor teaches music basics, such as reading notes, rhythm and ear training. “I’m 64 and I’m finally beginning to read music,” one satisfied customer wrote.
Get ready; get set; download! I’ll be here on Next Avenue, and you can send me (your app advisor) virtual apples. Other apps you think are great for the new “school” year? Let us know in comments.