Online dictionaries explain that an app, or an application, is a discrete piece of software, a specialised programme that can be downloaded to handheld electronic devices like smartphones and tablets. Apps can be work tools, educational resources, money managers or fun programmes. Some of them come installed in electronic devices as part of the operating system.
I have been a Mac user for several years now, although for office work I also use a Windows computer. From the time Apple introduced the iPad (in April 2010), I have used every edition of iPad (other than the iPad Mini) right up to the recently launched iPad Air. The intensity of use has increased over time. I think this is a function of several things: the iPad is a versatile device—and it offers a wide choice of readily usable and interesting apps.
In contrast, although I’ve had iPhones virtually from the time they were introduced, I started using them far less than I used my workhorses, the solid Nokia phones and, especially, the Blackberry. No device, it seemed, could beat a Blackberry Bold for efficient and relatively secure e-mailing. You could also write on it with two fingers, although browsing on the small screen was a bit of a bother. As for pushmail, using multiple e-mail IDs, the Blackberry just had no competition.
When that changed and iPhones as well as an impressive variety of Android and Windows mobiles offered versatile pushmail, for multiple e-mail IDs, I began to use the iPhone (first the iPhone 4S and then the iPhone 5) as my main phone. Disillusioned with the Blackberry Z10, with its awful battery, I stopped using my favourite mobile device, opting for the excellent HTC One Android device as a back-up.
The apps mattered but I don’t think they were the deciding factor for me when it came to choosing between mobile phones. The apps I use? There are tens of them, and I would rate my use of apps somewhat differently for the iPad and the iPhone and HTC One. I think the apps I like and use the most on my iPad are DocsToGo, Pages, Kindle, iBooks, Newsstand, Magzter, Instapaper, iPhoto, Google Maps, Clear Day, Calculator and Currency.
Among academic resources, I am a fan of the Crea Tamil Dictionary, a unique online and reasonably priced offering conceived and designed by Ramakrishnan Seetharaman; I don’t think any other Indian language has such an advanced, sophisticated, reliable and easy-to-use online dictionary. On the iPad, I prefer to read the Guardian, the New York Times and some other international newspapers in their desktop edition, not on their apps, which I don’t particularly like. I seek out live cricket, career statistics and the like quite often, but on the ESPN Cricinfo website, not its mobile site or through the app, which I find inadequate and annoying. The FT Web App and the New Yorker app are admirable exceptions.
On my iPad, DocsToGo is probably the app I use most, followed by Pages, Kindle, iBooks and Newsstand. And there’s a wonderful new app, Passwords+, which can be bought from Data Viz: it stores and protects pins, passwords, account numbers and so on across iPad, iPhone, Macs and Windows computers.
I use DocsToGo to store and work on MS Word document files and to store PDF files. DocsToGo, especially with its latest interface, which works beautifully on iOS 7, is clearly superior to Quickoffice, a rival app. Apple’s Pages is unsurprisingly prettier and has a better display, offering a more pleasant reading experience, but it is less used than MS Word and the back-and-forth conversion while e-mailing involves unexpected font changes. For storing, reading and e-mailing PDF files, iBooks is excellent, probably better than DocsToGo, and I often use iBooks for reading PDF files. But for a one-stop work bench for word-processing, DocsToGo is hard to beat.
When I travel, I think I use Kindle, Google Maps, Instapaper, and DocsToGo the most, probably in that order, on my iPad. On my iPhone, it’s quite a bit different with apps. Frequently used built-in assets like Camera aside, I find myself using Google Maps a lot, especially when going on foot; also, one of the many varieties of Notes, Clear Weather, Passbook, MyTunesPro—and of course DocsToGo and Pages when I don’t have my iPad in hand.
But then I hardly go anywhere, including to weddings, lunches, and dinners, without my iPad.
(The writer is former editor-in-chief of The Hindu. He is now chairman of Kasturi and Sons Ltd, which publishes the Hindu group of newspapers.)