I’ve been writing this column for sometime now and I often get asked which are my favorite freebie apps. That question isn’t as easy to answer as it might seem, but the reason for its minor complication is easy to see once I explain it.
For me, favored apps, in general, fall into two buckets: most used and most liked.
The most used apps tend to be those I need, but I may not like something about them. I continue to use them because there are few or no good alternatives. A good example of these type of apps are those that let you access your bank account or other user-exclusive functions. These are very useful, but they sometimes can be a pain to use.
My most liked apps may not be the most used, but I like them so much that I won’t remove them from my devices, even though they may take up megabytes of precious memory. Often I’ll pay the premium to get rid of the ads or other annoyances. Theodolite was one such app. It is so well executed that it’s almost criminal to remove even the free version. Unfortunately the free version no longer exists for this app. Get it anyway, but you are here for free apps. Not to worry, I have other apps that are just as good and still free. So, onward to my Five Fabulous Favorite Freebies.
NYPL Biblion: World’s Fair - When I first talked about this app I literally gushed over the interface, drooled over the content, and was extremely nonplussed that the app was free. But then, it is the New York Public Library that produced it, so free is in their DNA. Still, one has to wonder, especially after looking at all the other apps issued by entities serving the greater public, how it is that this public organization could produce such a beautiful product and not charge a dime for it.
NYPL Biblion: New York World’s Fair
I feel like I’ve stolen it and keep looking over my shoulder for NYPD to taze me into paying. Be that as it may, if you haven’t downloaded this app onto your iPad, do so. Now. You won’t regret it. The subject is the New York World’s Fair: 1939 - 1940.
In keeping with the theme of the fair -The World of Tomorrow- the interface is innovative and futuristic. The very front end is displayed as clusters of photos that you can tap or swipe to get to, each represents major topics of discussion. Tap one and it expands to reveal more details. There are hundreds of photos and stories to browse through, each filled with surprising details about the subject at hand.
For instance, they even show the handwritten notes on the back of photographs, which offers a personal glimpse into the lives and thought processes of the people who created or attended the fair.
NYPL Biblion makes for an excellent companion for a lazy Summer afternoon. If you’re still guilty about grabbing it for free you can always donate to the library.
McSweeney’s - If you have plans to travel this Summer and want something in addition to NYPL’s offering then I highly recommend McSweeney’s.
McSweeney’s gathers interesting tidbits from all over and presents them in a compendium for mobile consumption. The app is free as is some of the content. If you want more stuff to look through then you can buy different offerings a la carte, but check out the free stuff first.
A good example of the free stuff on McSweeney’s is Internet Tendency, where you’ll find odds and ends from around the Web. The content isn’t just text, you’ll likely find photos and other media as well.
While the interface isn’t as elaborate as NYPL Biblion’s it is more than adequate to get you what you want. It’s a great app with fun content, and is a must for readers with short attention spans.
PlainText - If your goal is to write rather than read then you could do with a decent text editor. PlainText is such an editor.
With auto-save to DropBox and TextExpander features, PlainText will easily become your default typing tool. It sports a simple interface, uses iOS’s built-in dictionary, and has a good number of customizable options including full page editing and document folders.
PlainText with WiFi
PlainText without WiFi
The free version is ad supported, but there’s a trick to it; ads are only active when you are connected to the Internet. If you really need to bang the keys undisturbed turn off your Net connect to type ad-free.
PlainText is good to have.
X With Friends - Word games can be boring, and slow, and tedious, and snooze inducing, and… you get the idea. So you’d have to wonder why anyone would bother producing apps based on them, let alone several.
Zynga figured out that word games are boring if you play them on a board. If done right on a mobile device they can be a hoot to play. The company has used that formula to create a stable of word games that are familiar yet different in the best ways. Best of all they offer them for free!
The list include the seemingly ubiquitous Scrabble clone, Words with Friends, the Boggle-like Scramble with Friends, and the Hangman on steroids game Hanging with Friends. All are one-on-one games where you challenge friends or random players. Each has its own charm, and each “play” only requires a minute or two of your attention. Perfect for those looking to fill those duller moments in an otherwise hectic life.
Words With Friends
Words with Friends is my favorite, but Scramble with Friends is quickly moving up as I become use to looking at the letters differently. It’s faster paced and I like the -highest score after three round wins- gameplay.
Each are ad supported but you can pay two bucks for a cleaner screen. Check them out then challenge me (my handle is Verngzr).
Instagram -Yeah, Facebook bought them, but Instagram hasn’t changed much since, and that’s a good thing.
Simplicity is the key with Instagram, it’s how it was able to capture millions of users seemingly overnight. Yet, behind that minimalistic exterior lies the heart of an artist.
It’s true that people use Instagram to show the world anything and everything, including their breakfast and pretty flowers, but there are true artists out there who use the iPhone, and now Android devices, to capture beauty in a square canvas. It’s an intimate look at the world through everyone’s eyes.
Even if you never post a shot of your own take a look at what others are putting out there. It’s very impressive.
That’s a wrap. More free apps below with direct links.