I purchased a smartphone, an iPhone 3G last summer, and have since bonded with the device. I am surprised. I was one of the last people I knew to get a cell phone. I waited until I graduated from college in 2004, years after cell phones were in common use, to get one. It was something my parents didn’t pay for, and I was putting myself through school, so I survived by getting a hold of my friends by using my Tel3 phone card at 3.9 cents a minute for those long distance numbers that were their cell phone numbers. Thankfully I lived in the same complex with most of the people I talked to.
A month after I graduated, I got a crappy cell phone that I could afford and didn’t know how to text on it until two months before I dumped the phone for good. My best friend suggested I get an iPhone, but I held out because I thought it was a luxury item. I got a phone that looked like it, but was the worst piece of crap I ever dealt with. It malfunctioned four times from normal use and care, and I kept having to get it replaced.
Last summer ended my crappy cell phone years when my best friend sold me his for cheap when he upgraded. After two crappy phones, I was ready to catch up with the rest of the world. I drove to his house in haste, without even having brushed my teeth, handed him a fistful of cash, and drove straight to the AT&T store. I signed everything they threw at me, asking a few questions, and was delighted to learn that the plan that I thought came at a luxury price was actually $27 cheaper than my current plan.
I fell in love with it at that, but I wouldn’t say I was truly bonded yet. I began to use the “apps” that come with it, like the notepad for keeping grocery lists and logging silly quotes from conversations. I was thrilled to have a camera that worked and had enough resolution to capture usable images.
Almost a year later, I am truly bonded with this device. It wasn’t until I became as busy as I am now that I can say I “need” it. I need everything it does for me. I took on a new job–a 45 hour a week commitment. Tack on a cumulative eight hours spent in the car commuting during the worst parts of rush hour traffic. Add my social time, errands, other excursions, and outside work (writing in bars), and I’m officially mobile (away from home) for 66% of my waking life. That is 119 hours out of the week that I’m “busy” and not sitting at home.
My center of operations for running my life has had to become mobile, staying on my person. I split computer time between approximately 35 hours a week on my work laptop, and 15 hours a week on my home laptop, so I can’t pick only one of those machines on which to organize my life. I no longer pay bills or track them from home or a home computer–gone are the days of writing their due dates on a dry erase board above my computer. When I think up my grocery list, I am not sitting on the couch. When I get ideas for blogs, it often happens during one of the 11 hours per week I spend in the car. When I think of a new idea for my business, I am usually at my day job or again, in the car. When I decide that it’s time to purchase new ink for my printer or that my bathroom does indeed need to be painted or that I need to scan the stack of pictures next to my home computer, I am usually out and about and not conveniently close to a notebook. They nevertheless need to be added to a to-do list, or I am destined to forget one of these many random things that I mentally juggle as my day transitions from bed to shower to car to desk to treadmill to mailbox to store…
This is where I inevitably became a consumer of apps for my phone. I need them. I use them. I do have a few games and photo-editing tools on my phone, but there are a few essentials I can’t live without. I’ve paid for precious few. Most of the versions I’ve downloaded are free. The remaining handful have cost me between $1 and $5. They are valuable solutions to problems I inherit by my busy lifestyle and worth mentioning.
Here are some of the applications that I don’t want to live without:
Name: Weather. (Comes with the iPhone)
Use: I need to know how cold it is before I walk my dogs in the morning and before I pick out my clothes for the day. I use it every morning before I even hit the toilet.
Use: Primarily social. I want to know what my friends are up to, or I check it out when I’m impossibly bored in the car or stuck in some line on an errand.
Name: Clock (Comes with the iPhone)
Use: Laugh at me for mentioning this app like it’s a special feature, but this is the alarm clock I never have to set. Three months ago, I set it to go off twice a morning, monday through friday for work, and I’ve never had to set it again. I don’t have to worry about resetting my alarm before bed. Because it has four settings, I have two leftover to time myself to push through household chores, or to set for a quick nap so I can get back up and keep working.
Use: I have used this to write blogs, keep grocery lists, to-do lists, jot down quotes, jot down mileage and pricing… it is a scrapless, paperless scrap of paper, and you can keep multiple “scraps of paper.”
Use: For around five bucks, I can have twenty scrabble games going at a time with my best friend. Scrabble punctuates my day–a couple of turns in the car, in line, and a handful in bed as I’m waking up or falling asleep. My best friend uses it the same way, and we intermittently share something we both enjoy without having to be in the same room and without having to have coinciding blocks of free time.
Use: A word game identical to Boggle. I lapse in and out of addiction. With a four minute game duration, I can play almost anywhere and not have to stop in the middle. I get my fix and move on with my day.
Use: This temporarily records a bit of music, analyzes it, and comes back with a title and artist’s name. I’ve used it in clubs, the car, in bars, and have even looked up music clips from DVD menus. Sometimes you just want to know what a song is, and you can tell almost instantly with this app.
Use: This is a dictation program that helps me compose my writing. I use it in the car to compose blogs and in bed to record notes for DVD reviews. You speak into the phone, it records your voice, and spells it out for you in editable text. You can email yourself what you just dictated directlyfromthat program without closing out of the app.
Name: Bill Tracker
Use: I keep track of due dates and amounts for all of my bills as I receive them and pay them. It’s intuitive to use, and once again, because I am all over the place, it helps me make sure nothing falls through the cracks or is forgotten among other things. Before I had this, I learned the hard way that keeping track of them on a dry erase board that I was never around anymore didn’t help!
Name: Task PRO
Use: This helps me remember everything I need to do, from people I need to contact, to errands I need to run, to things I need to figure out… All of the loose ends in my life are documented in this app. If I haven’t gotten to it yet, or haven’t decided on something yet, it’s on this one list. When I’m feeling unproductive, I pop this open and pick something small to do. At least I know I’m getting ahead, even if it’s by one tiny task.
Name: Shopping List Lite
Use: Yeah. It’s a shopping list. I’m tired of making a list on a sticky note at work, rummaging through my purse for that note, and realizing it’s still on my desk at work 14 miles away. Then I’m too tired to remember what was on it. With this app, I can make a list a few items at a time, as I think of them and always have it with me.
Name: Running Log
Use: Track distance and time on runs. This isn’t applicable to many people, but this tracks something that 1. I do six days a week, and 2. is very important to me. This helps me quantify my progress and gives me something to do in lieu of patting myself on the back or scribbling down how far and fast I went on a training run, and then losing the paper. I could’ve used the crap out of this ten years ago when I was training for a marathon. I filled up two separate notebooks and had to do my own calculations and averages.
I have assorted games and photo editing tools and other apps, but the aforementioned are the ones that literally enhance and support my life. My goal, like most human beings, is to not just stay on top of things, but to get ahead. This helps me stay on track while I do it.
I’m not trying to sell a phone. There are other smartphones out there other than the iPhone that use apps. I’m not trying to sell apps either. There are ten other “running logs” than the one I chose. I’ve just come to realize in the past few months how vital this thing is to me. It is a healthy use of a device. I need it. I use it. It’s not a luxury item to me. It’s one of the things I’m most reliant on and most thankful for.