3 Free iOS Apps That Will Smarten You Up

There are some really smart people out there. I mean walking encyclopedias, calculus czars, history hercules. These folks can perform feats of mental might that make us mere mortals appear meaningless, minute, or merely minor.

I'm comfortable with my intelligence (or lack thereof), but whenever I encounter these mental giants, I am at once awed, envious, and humbled.

Awed by the absolute wonder that is the human brain and its ability to perform at levels that just don't seem human at all.

Envious of the person who possesses what can easily be considered an honest to goodness super power. Something he or she can tap into at will and do things in seconds I'd struggle to do in weeks or months.

Humbled, especially in the presences of those who use their ability for the greater good. These people are the epitome of altruism because they can and do make a real and significant difference in people's lives.

Free on iTunes

But what makes exceptionally smart people exceptionally smart?

You'll get a lot of answers to that question, but I think most experts will agree that it isn't just the ability to regurgitate information. Smart folks are able to use the info at their disposal to glean new insights into a problem, make connections that just are not apparent to the rest of us, and then use these new connections and insight to answer a problem or create something new.

So, where do smart folks get their knowledge? The same place everyone else does, through exploring, reading, listening, and seeing. That's what schools are supposed to be about, but they are not the only avenues of info. Today we have the Internet and we get tap into what has to be the largest database of knowledge ever created. And we can do it at anytime and anywhere.

In this week's Free on iTunes I'm pointing out three apps that could help you find out nearly anything about nearly everything. So let's get to it.

Duck Duck Go [1.7 MB, all iOS devices capable of running iOS 6.1 or later, Maker: Duck Duck Go, Inc.]

Duck Duck GoDuck Duck Go is Good to Go!

There is a distinct difference between what passes for news these days and info that highlights the expansion of knowledge and it amazes me that many find the antics of Justin Bieber far more interesting than, say, the evolving "Internet of Things" (IoT) environment where potentially even the most mundane item we use is connected. While the former is of no interest to me the latter raises both an eyebrow in interest and concern.

But how do you keep up with new info about IoT and other more newsworthy topics? One way is to grab Duck Duck Go.

No, it isn't an app that'll get you the inside poop on Duck Dynasty episodes. Duck Duck Go (DDG) is a news outlet that focuses on stuff that seldom make front page headlines at CNN, but are nonetheless important bits of info that we all can use.

Duck Duck GoIt keeps track of what you read and search for later reference

New food labels are on the way? I didn't know that. Less expensive glasses that reduce computer screen induced eyestrain? I wanna know more! I'll soon be able to use my iPhone as my work phone because of new security protocols in iOS? Hmm. Wassup with that?

These are stories found on the Internet and often buried under mountains of other stories that may inform less. DDG points out the good stuff and present them in an easy to digest format.

Tag an article to read later. Search for info about any subject and DDG scours the web and presents you will relevant articles. Your searches and recently read articles are captured for later reference, in case it comes up in a conversation or you have a late night brainstorm.

I like that the app isn't convoluted or complicated. It just works. Grab it and see for yourself.

Merlin Bird ID [476 MB, all iOS devices capable of running iOS 7.0 or later, Maker: Cornell University]

Merlin Bird IDMerlin Bird ID is a must have

You're walking along a park path when you notice a bit of color flitting about in a nearby tree. You've never seen a bird quite like that before and you wonder what it is. You could go through an exhausting search on the Internet in hopes of finding a photo similar to the creature you are seeing, or you could fire up your copy of Merlin Bird ID and get a more focused search and likely better results.

Developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Merlin Bird ID let almost anyone become a birder instantly. All you do is answer a few questions about size, and habit (in a tree or on the ground?). The app then uses your location, time of day, and date info from your phone and presents you with a list of likely candidates.

The list contains beautiful photos and each expands to give better views and more details about the bird in question.

Merlin Bird IDThe birds you find helps Cornell science

And it gets even better. Once you've found the bird you've spied the app sends the info to Cornell where it is used to help track the habits of the more than 200 species of birds commonly found in North America. So, not only are you gaining bird smarts, but performing scientific research!

This is a sizable app at 476 MB, but its worth the space.

Learnist [9.3 MB, all iOS devices capable of running iOS 7.0 or later, Maker: Learnist, Inc.]

LearnistLearnist is a crowd sourced reference

Here's an app that answers question you've likely never thought to ask, and the answers are all crowd sourced from experts on the topics at hand. Learnist gathers articles from folks who should know what they are talking about, on any subject, and presents them for everyone to read, digest, and enjoy.

Why do we laugh? How does one solve a Rubik's Cube? What's a solar Flare? If you have the curiosity Learnist can sate it.

Articles are presented in an iTunes-like interface with great photos and a synopsis of the info inside. Read the ones you like or tag it for later enjoyment.

LearnistYou'll find something on almost any subject

NOTE: Some articles are labeled "Premium" and must be purchased, but you're given the synopsis so you'll know if it's really worth your buck.

Search for topics or browse categories. There's so much info here that you're bound to find something that'll pique your interest.

This one is a definite keeper.

And that's a wrap for this week, but there's more freebies to be had. Lake Street Dive's Bad Self Portraits is this week's Free Song of the Week, and Tiny Firefighters is the free App of the Week that's a really good an interactive kid's book.