It’s a sad fact, but my reliance on my iPhone has infantilised me to a degree I never could have imagined. I’ve turned from a thoroughly self-reliant ex-boy scout into a shapeless fool whenever I’m separated from it for more than a moment.
Much has been written about how this tiny device will reduce human capacity for retaining facts, interacting face-to-face, or any number of other imagined evils, but the fact remains that this invention is up there with Gutenberg’s press when it comes to its impact on civilisation.
As powerful pocket computers, iPhones do a gazillion things, but apps are the number one way we access their power.
Apps such as Google, Facebook and Twitter barely seem separable from the function of the phone itself, so ingrained are they into our habits.
So what I want to do here is explain my feelings about apps that deliver value over and above what the web can provide.
Which is a tall order, as the mobile browser experience is now so good, that there’s little reason to downloading something which doesn’t work as well as on Safari.
Content apps are often the worst offenders. Time Inc USA’s Real Simple, for example, has done an admirable job in boiling its entire brand proposition down to No Time To Cook. However, after the time spent downloading the free app, you have to spend some more time deciding whether to subscribe to actually get more than three recipes.
And it’s not just a one-off payment they’re after here, it’s an ongoing commitment which I’ll then have to spend more time undoing when I don’t want it anymore.
In the time it took me to work through all those options, I could have either gone to jamieoliver.com (excellent and free) or boiled an egg.
I appreciate that No Time To Cook has neat functionality. But without being able to test that across all their content, it requires real brand commitment to make the leap.
So what app do I like?
Well, it’s too obvious, so I cannot possibly make Google Maps my choice. Tempting though. Compared with the rubbish that is Apple Maps, it just feels effortless, making you realise just how brilliant Google’s engineers really are.
Aside from the functionality, my favourite part is that when you open it up with location disabled, by default the user is placed in the middle of Stonehenge. A map with sense of humour, who knew!
A successful app has to offer some measure of functionality that the browser just cannot match, but without compromising connectability.
Mr Murdoch may well regard the web as a place where people are willing to pay just to stroll around his tiny walled garden, but I just don’t buy it. Unless it’s Sun+ of course, where watching all the Premiership goals in my white van of a frosty early morning is probably worth the money.
No, if I’m in a digital space, I want either to share, or have an experience that’s completely personal. Which is why The App I Like is Wunderlist.
The back of an envelope list has served man well since the dawn of stationery. But life is now so much more complex, and lived at such a pace, that our capacity to retain the endlessly shifting sands of obligation and opportunity has gone right out the window.
Like paper, the Wunderlist interface is insanely easy to use. But unlike Facebook, for example, its visual brevity delivers instant appeal.
For me, the number one benefit is that lists can be shared. In my case, I do this with my wife Emma, who runs her own, much longer set of lists.
The triumph of this functionality is that when you’ve actually done something, and tick it off, those who share the list know about it. ‘Honey-do’, no longer!
I don’t share my work lists, although I can see the benefit of doing so within a department or small business. Because my phone is with me all the time, it’s genuinely easy to note stuff down, prioritise later, and then work through it. That’s why I’m writing this article today, three days before my copy deadline.
I might use Wunderlist in a very basic way, but it can add due dates, reminders, assignees, subtasks, comments, files and all the rest of it. Apparently I can send an email to email@example.com to add even more stuff to my lists, but I haven’t felt the need for that just yet.
Wunderlist was created in 2011 by startup 6Wunderkinder, based in Berlin. As of a year ago, it has 6 million users, many of whom seem to really like it. The universally positive reviews in the App Store are as gushy as West End play plugs: ‘Brilliant, almost perfect, the best, etc, etc.’
It’s won a bunch of awards too, culminating in Apple's Best App of 2014. Nice!
Wunderlist can be downloaded from the App Store