Saturday, February 17, 2024

11 Apps I Use Almost Every Day


 Icons shown: Google Home, Gmail, Google Drive, Google Maps, Spiral Player, Pocket, Keep Notes, Brave Browser, Pluto TV, Google News, AntennaPod

So... What's an app, anyway?

It's easy to take apps for granted. Typically they are tight, highly-focused applications (i.e., "apps") that help us accomplish particular chores in a user-friendly way. Wikipedia defines an app as, "...  a software program that's designed to perform a specific function directly for the user or, in some cases, for another software program." Mobile apps are often hardware-specific and designed to run on particular mobile devices while web apps are designed to run inside web browsers that might be working anywhere on the web. 

The key: While we may sometimes experiment with apps that seem interesting or perform exotic functions, the apps that matter most to us are the ones we rely on every day to achieve specific goals. In other words, we don't run apps for the sake of running apps; we run apps to get stuff done that is important to us. 

My Everyday Essential Apps

I just asked my smart phone's "Settings" to list my installed apps. It replied: "List all 161 apps?" Yikes! I only use about a dozen on a regular basis! Apparently my habit of installing apps to "check them out" should be matched with a habit of uninstalling ones I don't use. (Note to self: Scanning this list, I see a bunch I don't remember ever using. Time to do an "app inventory/sort/remove!")

In any case, I'm here to share the apps that I find indispensable and use almost everyday... sometimes many times a day. These are

Google Home - The Google Home app is the command center to keep all our smart devices coordinated. We have eight Google Home (now called "Nest Audio") smart speakers arranged all over our house, so we can pretty much yell "Hey, Google..." from wherever we happen to be and activate one of them to do work for us. My wife and I both use these smart speakers many times per hour to set timers, give us weather reports for anywhere on the planet, answer all sorts of search queries, play news reports/podcasts and carry out verbal instructions to control our 40 plus Smart Home devices such as smart plugs, WiFi-enabled light bulbs and TV.   (Here's a deep dive into how we control and use all our smart home devices:  Smart speaker not useful? Give it more smart things to control! )

Google News feed - This one is addictive! A simple swipe right on my Android phone continually refreshes a never ending bunch of news articles. So I have to be careful with this, since it can suck me into hours of news consumption! What makes it so addictive is that over the years Google has learned what my interests are. So most of the articles the feed shows me are likely to capture my time and attention. (For more info, see: Apple version. Android/Google Play store version.)

Brave Browser - It blocks ads! Period. I repeat: the Brave browser blocks ads! So your browsing experience with Brave is fast and private and uninterrupted by annoying ads. According to the Brave Community, "Brave is fully open source, unlike other Chromium browsers that are managed by a company: Chrome, Edge, Vivaldi, Opera." And it's available on all your devices: Windows, macOS, Linux, Android and iOS.  Learn more here at the Brave browser website.  

Keep Notes - Think "yellow stickies" or note cards. Keep Notes allows you to take notes, make lists and attach links, photos and other files to each of them. Keep Notes can be color-coded and are synchronized and easily searchable across all your devices. So when you make a change in a note on your tablet it's immediately reflected on your phone or computer. My wife and I have a shared Keep note that is our shopping list. When we run out of something we either add it directly to the Shopping list on one of our phones or tablets or simply yell at one of our Google Home (Nest) smart speakers or tap our phone's Google Assistant, telling it to add the item to the Shopping list. Then when we're out shopping we simply check off items as we put them in our cart. Since the list is updated immediately, we both know what's left on our shopping scavenger hunt! I also have Keep Notes which track my car and other home maintenance chores, noting the dates that I completed them, dated reminders to perform them again next time and any relevant details like the service person phone number, serial numbers, etc. Finally, all of my documents, including this blog post, start out as rough ideas dictated into a Keep Note using Google's voice typing keyboard

AntennaPod - There are currently millions of podcasts available on all kinds of topics. I use AntennaPod to search for and subscribe to those that are of interest to me. The app collects the published titles of available episodes and allows me to pick and choose which ones I stream immediately or download for offline use. Listings include audio or video podcasts. But I almost always choose audio so I can do chores or exercise while listening.

Gmail -  It's been nearly 20 years since Google introduced this powerful free email service. Over the years it has become more flexible and powerful, allowing tagging, sorting, forwarding, message chaining, blocking and many other options to help you manage your email.  If you're not using it you really should consider trying it. In fact, many people have several Gmail accounts, using one with family and friends, one with vendors and one for professional contacts. After all, it's free to get an account and, at minimum, you can use it with all those product registration sites which require an email address and could potentially bomb you with Spam. Gmail has wonderful spam guards that will keep most of that stuff out of your sight. (See: "What's So Great About Gmail?" wherein Lifewire explains...  - )

Pocket - If you're like me, there are times when you run across an article that looks interesting but you don't have the time to read it immediately. This is where Pocket comes in. In fact, I use it to help me sort my Google News feed. If it's an article I want to read later, I pop it open from the news feed, click the share option and send it to Pocket. Later, when I have the time, I can either read the article in text form or listen to it as Pocket's automated voice reads it aloud while my hands and eyes are busy doing other things.

Google Drive - If you have Gmail (see above), you automatically have 15 GBs of free storage space available on all your devices, in the cloud, from Google. And by using Google Docs or Sheets or Slides (available online via your Google Drive) you can create documents that can be shared with other people. I use my Google Drive to share all sorts of personal documents, business documents and agendas, etc. created by my fellow Indivisible activists. Because it's in the cloud, anyone can collaborate with you on a document and edit from anywhere on the planet. This kind of collaboration can actually change history. (See "How Google Docs Became a Key Tool for Social Justice" )

Google Maps - Just look at this feature-laden description from WikiPedia, "Google Maps is a web mapping platform and consumer application offered by Google. It offers satellite imagery, aerial photography, street maps, 360° interactive panoramic views of streets (Street View), real-time traffic conditions, and route planning for traveling by foot, car, bike, air (in beta) and public transportation. As of 2020, Google Maps was being used by over one billion people every month around the world." I use Google Maps to analyze all my trips to unfamiliar locations, to check out traffic and alternate routes and to navigate, in real time, while driving. It's my constant travel companion!

Pluto TV - With Pluto TV you can watch a zillion streaming TV channels on your smart phone, tablet, Roku box or simply via your web browser on your PC. Think of it as a giant, free cable service with shows constantly streaming for you to watch. Some shows are also available on demand. 

Spiral Player - "Spiral Player is a cloud & offline music player..." Long ago I ripped a zillion MP3 files from my favorite CDs and uploaded some of them to Google Drive, some to the New Zealand-based Mega online drive, and other cloud storage locations. I use Spiral Player to access and play them all. Sometimes it streams from the cloud and sometimes it plays stuff directly from my device. It plays from folders, albums, or your own custom-made playlists. 

BONUS: YouTube without Ads! - Want to watch YouTube without ads? Then open your Brave Browser (above), make sure you have "Shields Up..." [top right, orange icon/image of lion in Brave Browser] then go to: -- Lotsa videos, No ads!


So these are my everyday, "go to" apps. If you aren't familiar with some of these, I hope you check them out. You may just find, like I have, that they soon become indispensable!