Ting Staff Picks: Ben’s top five
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Welcome to Ting Staff Picks, a weekly blog series where Ting employees share their top five apps and explain why they are the best of the bunch.
You’ll be checking out a wide selection of apps that entertain, improve productivity, enhance usability and much more.
The headline above (like most headlines on the Internet), is a lie. Sorry about that. I just can’t pick only five top apps to talk to you about, so after some back and forth with the content peeps, they agreed to let me do five apps under two categories: work and play. I’ve decided to post my top five ‘play’ apps first, and I’ll post the other five at a later date. The other terms of the deal included a photo of me with my dog Drake and his sunglasses.
On with the show…
I’m a big fan of Android, but when it comes to my own personal device, I admit to being just shy of an Apple fanboy. I had the very first iPhone when it came out, and I have mad respect for Apple kickstarting the whole ‘mobile computer in your pocket’ movement. Apple has consistently nailed the needs for me as a consumer and while Android offers more flexibility, I’m ok giving up some the ‘advanced configurability’ of Android in exchange for a tightly integrated hardware / software mobile ecosystem. And if you have something to add… well that’s why we have a comments section, amiright?
Here are my go-to iPhone apps for ‘play’:
Over the years, I’ve probably given thousands of dollars to Garmin and TomTom for the privilege of having the latest and greatest in GPS navigation for my car.
I don’t remember when I started using Waze, but it’s been a long time and it didn’t take long for me to ditch the clunky hardware solutions.
Each day, as more people download and use Waze it becomes even more valuable. Billed as a ‘social GPS’, Waze’s tagline is “outsmarting traffic together”. The app turns each user into mobile data points as they travel the road. This means that when I head home at night, other Wazers have already informed Waze on the actual flow of traffic allowing Waze to make intelligent, realtime routing decisions not just by the shortest route, but by the average speed of travellers ahead of me.
When mobile phones started integrating geolocation with mapping, *this* is the technology I became excited about. It is ridiculously cool.
Other cool features that make this app a must have:
Watch out for the POPOs and hazards: Get alerted before you approach police, accidents, road hazards or traffic jams, all shared by other drivers in real-time. It’s like a personal heads-up from a few million of your friends on the road.
Realtime map updates: An active community of Waze map editors works to constantly improve and update Waze’s maps. That’s why they’re the first to reflect changes happening in your neighborhood, constantly improving routing for everyone.
Save on gas: Navigate to the cheapest station on your route, all powered by community-shared gas prices. By working together to report prices at the pump, Waze drivers can always save some gas money.
The Calm app with the Muse Headband
I think of my Muse headband as a sort of ‘fitbit’ for my mind.
Dubbed as a “brain fitness tool”, Interaxon claims the Muse headband “helps you do more with your mind, and more with your life, by helping you learn to manage stress, stay calm, and stay focused.”
I use the Calm app mostly in the evenings, and I was amazed at how difficult it was to find ‘calmness’. Prior to using Muse, I would have told you that I had a pretty good track record of finding mental calmness. As it turns out, it’s much harder than I thought to ‘switch off’ my brain. The Calm app, and the Muse Headband, are helping me to improve my physical, emotional, and cognitive health and in the short time I’ve used it, I’ve noticed definite improvements in my mental state, with increased focus, composure, productivity, and motivation.
I love seeing technology like this become available for the average consumer, and the Calm app is just the beginning. The Muse Headband was built to be fully-open and there’s an SDK available for software developers looking to build applications to be used with the headband.
Couple is an instant messaging app for monogomous couples. I say monogamous because you can only add one partner. For now, that means all you polyamorous types will need to stick with your current messaging solution.
I love the Couple app. In a single place, I have the ability to communicate with my significant other in a variety of ways: text messaging, photo sharing, live sketching (for drawing), voice memos, and a cute feature called a thumb kiss, where one partner holds their thumb on the screen, and when the other partner does the same, the phone screen turns bright red, and does a short vibration to indicate the deal’s been sealed. Corny? Yep. But you know what, a few months back, we tried it while I was traveling and it was kinda nice.
What’s great about Couple, besides the simple interface, is that I’ll often turn off notifications for other apps on my phone, but leave notifications turned on for Couple. This is especially helpful when I’m traveling and need to conserve data. I’ll enable data usage for Couple, but turn it off for Messages, Facebook, etc. Having an app dedicated to the person I most care about has helped me stay connected, regardless of what’s happening.
If you have a special somebody, I’d highly recommend Couple as a great tool to stay connected. And if you’re single, you could still use the app with your best bro. Although, it might be a bit awkward if you tried to thumb kiss your bro by accident.
A couple years back, I worked hard to lose 40lbs. I learned a lot about healthy eating, exercise and commitment.
You can exercise as much as you want, but if you’re not monitoring what you put in your ‘pie-hole’, chances are you’ll have a difficult time losing weight or eating healthy. To help me keep on track regarding my food intake and exercise, I depend on MyFitnessPal. It’s super easy to use, and has a cool bar code feature that lets you scan a UPC code, and it will tell you what you need to know about calories, carbs, fat, etc. Eating healthy takes a lot of discipline, and using MyFitnessPal has really made it easy.
On the subject of health, MyFitnessPal also integrates perfect with the Withing’s Smart Body Analyzer. A WiFi-capable scale that measures body fat, weight, air quality and more.
Besides simple ‘calorie counting’, MyFitnessPal provides me with a breakdown of my daily nutrient, carbohydrate, fat, protein and vitamin intake, which helps me make smart decisions, not just around calories, but which kind of calories I put in my body.
After I started using MyFitnessPal I noticed a couple of things that happened almost immediately. First, I started making smarter decisions around what I was eating, based on my nutritional needs. Second, I was amazed to see how many extra calories I was eating without realizing it. This app has helped me be much more thoughtful about my eating habits, in a fun, trackable, easy way.
Secret provides an ‘anonymous’ service where your friends and friends-of-friends share ‘secrets’ about themselves, and others can comment.
I’m torn about Secret. It’s an interesting app and I enjoy using it as a commenter, but I almost didn’t include it in my list for a very important reason: I don’t recommend people use Secret to share their secrets.
When my less privacy conscious friends ask me why I feel this way about the Secret app, I ask them to think about one of their deepest secrets that they’ve never shared with anyone. Something highly embarrassing, career-limiting, or perhaps even illegal. Then ask them to imagine how they’d feel if their friends, family, and colleagues found out.
I just don’t believe that Secret can protect their users in a way they’re marketing their service; and if you’re going to position yourself as an anonymous service, you better make darn sure you can back up those claims.
Anyhoo… rant over…
Despite my lack of trust for Secret, it’s still found an interesting ‘niche’ in my day that I never expected. I find it quite rewarding to look for friends, or friends of friends, who are struggling with certain issues and offering positive advice and suggestions. One Secret user just finished school and was bummed about finding work. As somebody who does a lot of hiring, I like to share some of my experience and I’ve found it to be a satisfying outlet for me.
Go ahead and give Secret a try. But never ever, ever assume that you’re anonymous, regardless of any claims made by any app, or service. As great as technology is to encrypt, hide, or otherwise obfuscate your identity online, there are equal technologies that exist that make is possible for ‘bad actors’ to defeat the service that’s meant to protect you. Seriously.
Be safe online, and be kind to others.
Find any of Ben’s suggestions useful? Let us know in the comments!