Smartphones and tablets have revolutionized American culture and simplified the lives of thousands of people around the world. Indeed, it has never been easier for Alec Baldwin to get himself kicked off a plane.
Now, with instant access to the Internet, it is possible to instantly silence that guy from the next cubicle over who insists that the Paranormal Activity films are true stories. These are happy times to be alive, my friends!
Their potential for distraction notwithstanding, smart phones and tablets are powerful tools for students and teachers. The iOS App Store is crowded with education and productivity apps. With the sheer size of the App Store in mind, here’s a bit of guidance for your digital safari:
1. Don’t pay too much attention to the description of the app written by the developer. Developers write apps for money. Every time someone downloads an app, the developers of that app make money from ads, or royalties, or both. Thus, it is in the developers’ interest to write compelling, persuasive descriptions that promise success, riches, and Kung Fu mastery to the people who download the app.
2. Read reviews from customers, paying special attention to the ones that are specific. General praise or disdain for an app doesn’t mean much.
3. Sample size is crucial. If three people give an app a five-star rating, rest assured, the developer has a mom, a girlfriend, and a grandmother. If one hundred people give an app a five-star rating, it’s probably a really great app.
4. Use free trials and lite versions to test drive paid apps. Many developers offer free versions of their paid apps, but even those who don’t will occasionally give free copies of their apps to customers who contact them asking for trials. It can’t hurt to ask.
5. Make sure your data can move easily from the app to your PC or Mac. If your paper is a heartbreaking work of staggering genius that would move Shakespeare himself to tears, but your professor can’t access it, what good is it? With the proliferation of cloud-based storage, the Internet has become a tool for easy access to your data on a variety of platforms. Thus, it is not necessary to carry flash drives for storage or worry that the projector in the lecture hall will have a connection your computer can use. To start using the cloud today, consider the free app Evernote, or Apple’s iWork productivity suite, which allow users to open and edit Microsoft Office documents and save their work on the cloud, on their iOS device,s and on their computers. For those who also own Android devices, Dropbox is a powerful cloud-based storage option that is broadly compatible. Dropbox offers users 2 GB of storage for free. Heavy users can pay for more storage.
6. Don’t neglect e-books. Users of iPads, iPhone,s and iPod touches can read books from the Kindle store, the Nook store, and Apple’s own iBooks store. High textbook prices are a significant problem for students. With e-books, you can spend less on books and more on things that really matter—like pizza. As an added bonus, digital books weigh a lot less than their analog counterparts. For books unavailable electronically, consider the Amazon Student app. It uses barcodes to price books on Amazon. What’s more, students who register for a free membership in the Amazon student program get free two-day shipping on all purchases.
These guidelines will serve you well as you search the App Store. Study hard, learn much, and when it’s time for a study break, Alec Baldwin is probably up for a game of Words With Friends.