Our guide to apps
Hotcourses Editor

Our guide to apps

First published date February 20 2014 Amended date February 20 2014

In recent years, the breakneck pace of technological developments has heralded the emergence of social media as an all-conquering force, the inexorable rise of mobile internet-powered devices, and (in tandem) the arrival of apps into the nation’s consciousness. For the uninitiated, apps are small applications or programs found on mobile devices like smartphones, tablets and other portable devices. They serve one specific purpose - the BBC News app provides a ticker-tape of news stories that link through to the main BBC News website, while the Hailo app enables people in and around London to order a black cab with real-time updates on its progress. There are apps for shopping, gaming, dating, listening to music, downloading recipes and anything else you can imagine – plus quite a few things you probably can’t.


Money in apps

Despite being cheap to make and cheap to buy (or even free, if they can generate advertising revenue), apps underpin a phenomenally lucrative industry that is expanding by the hour. Correspondingly, an entire employment sector has been created to service the insatiable demand for new apps, alongside improvements to existing ones. Ever-evolving games like Angry Birds and Candy Crush Saga have become global brands purely as a result of their popularity on mobile devices, and most Twitter users now rely on a proprietary app (rather than the original website) for their online activities.


On course for success

Being able to design, code, debug or market apps is a skill many computing and technology professionals are desperate to acquire, and a raft of apps courses have been introduced up and down the land, to service one of the world’s fastest-growing markets. Digital interactive media is an industry crying out for new talent, so apps courses represent an ideal way to join a prosperous and burgeoning employment sector that is very much here to stay, as IT and telecommunications continue their inexorable convergence.


In the frame

Many apps use the same basic frameworks to operate, such as Adobe Flash, Java or HTML5. Learning about these core programs can be invaluable for anyone wishing to become a web designer or a computer programmer. Some apps courses will focus on a specific package, while others will assume a working knowledge of a particular medium, showing how it can be used for developing useful apps. Because mobile devices often incorporate GPS positioning software, cameras, loudspeakers and touchscreens, the infrastructure is in place for developers and programmers to use their imagination when creating new apps. Equally, however, an appreciation of how these systems work is also very useful.


Platform games

One of the biggest challenges for software designers and programmers involves managing the sheer diversity of mobile formats that presently exist. Alongside the obvious market leaders (Google Android and Apple iOS) are Microsoft’s Windows Phone platform and RIM’s BlackBerry format, while apps are increasingly being manufactured for games consoles like the Sony PlayStation as well. This is occurring in tandem with an explosion in apps and software for in-car entertainment systems, with many new models now incorporating a colour monitor in their dashboards. Further complexity is added by the mixture of control methods used in vehicles, including voice activation, touchscreens or built-in mouse-influenced dials, while each games console also has its own proprietary controller. Every operating system and control method requires reprogramming and adjusting, due to the innate incompatibility with its rivals.


There’s an app for that

App stores are full to bursting with weird and wonderful pieces of software. Here are ten of the more obscure apps that have been developed in recent times:

1.      Resistor ID: Ever struggled to identify that pesky resistor? This is the app for you.

2.      StyleShare: An app that tells everyone in your friends network what you’re wearing. Nobody will ever wear ‘your’ dress to a party you’re attending again.

3.      Ride Hopper: Wondering how long the queue for the Big Dipper will take to go down? Ride Hopper has the answers to your funfair-ride waiting-time queries.

4.      GO-21 SciRPN. Recreates the thrills and excitement of using an HP pocket calculator from 1975.

5.      Rando. Send a complete stranger a totally random picture of anything you like, and a different stranger will send you an equally unsolicited and bizarre image in return.

6.      Mulch Calculator. The ideal app for calculating how much mulch or topsoil you need at any given moment.

7.      Hangtime. The only way to accurately gauge how high in the air you can throw your expensive smartphone handset. Warning – may not be covered by insurance policies.

8.      Is It Dark Outside? Using GPS positioning, sunrise/sunset data and time logging, this invaluable app tells you whether it’s dark outside or not.

9.      1 Second Everyday. Record one second of your daily activities every day for a month, and you end up with a 30-second compilation video that will fascinate almost nobody.

10.  Places I’ve Pooped. Every time you evacuate your bowels, use this app to record your GPS position, building up a global map of all your historic defecation venues.


By Neil Cumins