We all have them: those half a dozen apps on our smartphones that we use day in and day out, and which we simply can’t do without.
The TechCentral editorial team put together 20 apps (five each) that have become integral to our daily lives.
From on-demand grocery delivery app Checkers Sixty60 to smart home automation software in the form of Home Assistant, these are the apps we use actively every day — but excluding obvious picks like WhatsApp and Instagram. What are yours?
Are you building a smart home? Many people choose a solution from one of the big tech companies – Alexa from Amazon, for example, or Google Home. But should you really be giving up the detail produced by your smart home to commercial entities whose primary motivation is to get personalised advertising in front of you, or to sell you more stuff from a marketplace? If the answer to this question is an emphatic “no”, then you’ll want to check out Home Assistant, an open-source project for building smart homes using commodity hardware such as the ever-popular Raspberry Pi. It requires a bit of tinkering – and you’ll need to be reasonably tech savvy, but the reward of a bit of effort is that all your personal data can be kept local, putting you in control of your smart home, not a trillion-dollar mega-corporation with a built-in profit motive. From switching lights on or off remotely to getting a notification, with a photo, of who’s at the front door, you can control your entire smart home directly from Home Assistant. Be warned, though: this tech is a veritable rabbit hole, and you may not emerge for weeks once you get started.
IFTTT is an app that does what its (full) name suggests: IF This happens, Then That must happen. It difficult to describe the app to someone who hasn’t used it before, but once you’ve started to delve into IFTTT’s endless routines, you may never be able to go back. The basic tier is free, allowing you to experiment without incurring any costs, but you’ll likely soon want to upgrade to the Pro plan (R46/month at the time of writing). If you’re planning to build a smart home, IFTTT could be integral to keeping it running like clockwork. Want to receive a message, with a CCTV camera-captured photo, in the Telegram app on your phone when someone rings your doorbell and simultaneously have the smart speaker in your kitchen announce that there is someone there? IFTTT can help you do it. Indeed, your imagination is the only limit to the automations you can create using IFTTT.
This brilliant little app makes running a (smaller) business a bit easier. Have a receipt for a business expense? Simply fire up Dext Prepare, take a photo of the receipt, and it’s uploaded to the cloud for processing – and further interrogation by your accounts team. You can also e-mail your invoices directly to Dext, meaning less administrative hassles – plus, everything is stored in the cloud and is readily available for your regular business tax filings or even that dreaded Sars audit. The app does a lot more, too, but it is worth getting just so you no longer have the pain of capturing receipts manually. Plans start at US$24/month.
Are you tired of carrying around a bulky wallet, stuffed full of retailers’ loyalty cards, half of which you barely use? Stocard is the answer. Simply scan the barcode printed on your loyalty cards to add them (you can add them manually, too, if needed), and next time you’re in a store, open the app and scan the barcode at the point of sale. There is no need to carry plastic cards around anymore. If you’re prepared to give Stocard access to your location, it can even present the correct card to you at the till point, without you having to search the app for it (not that it’s really an inconvenience). Use Stocard in conjunction with a smartphone payment solution such as Samsung Pay or Apple Pay and you can ditch your wallet entirely. I haven’t carried a physical wallet in at least six months, and I haven’t once needed a physical loyalty card or bank card. Best of all, Stocard is free to use.
I don’t remember why I started using Microsoft Launcher, which replaces the default application launcher on Android-powered smartphones and tablets, but I do know I have no intention of going back. Meant to provide tighter integration between Android (owned by Google) and Windows (owned by Microsoft), Launcher is highly configurable and looks great from a design perspective. If you’re already in the Microsoft ecosystem – perhaps you subscribe to Microsoft 365 (previously Office 365) – then Launcher is well worth checking out. You may, however, want to change the default search engine, which – this being Microsoft software – is Bing. But do keep the daily Bing wallpapers – they are a big feature of Microsoft Launcher, and the daily images are gorgeous.
Yousician can be likened to a sophisticated evolution of Guitar Hero. The app involves a dynamic stream of notes presented in tablature form, where your task is to play the correct note at the precise moment. Each note is colour coded, corresponding to a specific finger, providing an intuitive learning experience. The tactile sensation from hitting the right notes is immediately gratifying. While sharing similarities with Guitar Hero, Yousician distinguishes itself by focusing on guitar instruction. In addition to an extensive song catalogue, the platform offers a comprehensive series of lessons, covering both practical and theoretical aspects. The lessons are thoughtfully interspersed with a variety of songs to maintain engagement, providing users with a well-rounded and immersive learning experience. Yousician offers two subscription options: a single account plan priced at R910/year, or a family plan catering to up to four accounts, available at R1 365/year.
Momondo is a free platform that will help you save some money on your next holiday. The app compares different prices for flights, hotels, car rentals and package holidays, making it easy for you to find the cheapest deal. Momondo is mainly known for finding cheap flights and I’ve been using it for years for its reliability in finding great travel deals. It’s available for both Android and iPhone.
The Sky Tonight app is an excellent augmented reality app for identifying objects in the night sky. The app offers a range of features for stargazing enthusiasts, including identifying constellations and tracking planets and meteor showers. I have found it particularly useful to determine what planet I’m looking at, and if it’s a planet at all or a star — or something else entirely.
Merlin Bird ID
The free Merlin Bird ID app from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is “Shazam for birds”. It can identify some 1 200 bird species by their song alone. It also uses deep learning to identify birds based on images. Merlin invites you to answer a few straightforward questions. After a touch of enchantment, it unveils a curated list of birds that closely aligns with your description. Take your pick from the assortment and explore an array of photos, sounds and identification tips about your chosen bird. Merlin makes bird identification enjoyable and user-friendly, whether you’re intrigued by a bird you’ve glimpsed briefly or you are aiming to recognise every feathered visitor to your garden bird feeder.
AllTrails is an app for finding hiking trails, checking trail conditions and keeping others updated on your progress. It’s intuitive and user friendly, with many South African trails to choose from along with up-to-date reviews. It’s a great tool for creating your own routes and sharing them with your hiking (or trail running) buddies.
Microsoft To Do
Making to-do lists is one of the most effective ways to manage day-to-day productivity, for both individuals and teams. Traditionally, these lists are written down in a diary, on multiple Post-it notes or up on a whiteboard. Microsoft’s To Do app simplifies task list management using several features that take advantage of having the data in digital format. Users can create categories to separate different departments and projects, or work-related activities from personal errands. A “My Day” category helps put the day’s tasks into focus, while a scheduling feature supports planning ahead time. Tasks can be dragged and dropped between categories at will. Shared lists allow invited participants to create, edit and update tasks as they are executed, while notifications are used to update the group of changes to the task’s status. Subtasks are used to break big tasks into smaller steps, while a drag-and-drop feature allows for Word, PDF files and other types of complex documents to be included as notes.
Sixteen years of load shedding have taught South Africans to schedule their lives around Eskom’s power outages so they get the most out an intermittent electricity supply. EskomSePush helps South Africans make important scheduling decisions quickly, helping reduce the disruptive impact of load shedding on their lives. Will dinner a be home-cooked meal or takeaways again? Is playing another hour of Candy Crush Saga a better idea than plugging all devices in to charge them before the next outage? Is it a good time to start the washing machine? Also, an in-app, forum-like chat feature is often helpful in helping users get to the bottom of sudden power outages outside of the load shedding schedule and a safe space for venting pent up frustrations. Ironically, reading these comments clearly shows that nobody on EskomSePush wants to be on EskomSeKant.
The upcoming 2024 national election is one of many reasons why caller identification is important. Not only is automated spam calling on the rise, but more traditional spammers including fraudsters, telemarketers and, yes, politicians, are also a constant problem. The efficacy of Truecaller and other apps like it relies on the honesty and enthusiastic participation of its user community. The more diligent users are about reporting unknown call data to the platform, the better the app gets at identifying all types of unknown callers to others in the community, whether those entities are individuals, legitimate businesses or unwanted spammers.
Two-factor authentication is the way to go if you are serious about securing your life online. But that requires a great authenticator app. Luckily, these ones, from two of the world’s largest tech companies, do the job well. Microsoft Authenticator and Google Authenticator help prevent unauthorised access to sensitive information, even if your username and password have been compromised. Both apps support passkeys, which allow users to authenticate themselves on various platforms without using passwords. Passkeys use public key encryption, where a public key is stored on a website and the private key is stored securely in the authenticator app. When a user sends a login request to a website, the website responds by challenging the requesting entity to unencrypt some data that was encrypted using the public key. Since only one entity has the private key, the website can safely grant access to the user if the data is successfully unencrypted. Since the private key is used to unlock the door, if the website is compromised and a user’s public key is stolen, the user need not worry about their data being breached.
Managing credit and maintaining a healthy credit score is a key component on the path to financial freedom. In the past, individual credit reports were only available on request from credit bureaux. Only one credit report a year was free, with any subsequent requests attracting a fee. The turnaround time for these reports was anything but immediate. ClearScore allows users to keep track of their credit rating and the various factors affecting it using one simple app, the data is updated monthly. Users can see their entire credit history, how well they score compared to others in the same area/region, and what they can do to help improve their credit rating.
Waze is a free, community-driven navigation app that helps millions of users reach their destinations using real-time road alerts and an up-to-the-moment map. Waze saves time by instantly alerting drivers to traffic, construction, crashes, police and diversions. It includes real-time safety updates and “best routes”, although it’s probably best used in urban spaces. Recently it suggested a route on the way back from the Kruger National Park that was very scenic but also took us on dirt roads and through rural villages – but it was quicker.
StepsApp is a free pedometer that turns your phone into a simple step and calorie counter. Just put your phone in your pocket and off you go … the app analyses your daily activity data and converts it into a monthly and annual view. It records your most active days and identifies activity patterns and can be synced with an Apple watch from your iPhone. You just have to remember to put your phone in your pocket when you go walking.
Sasol eBirds Southern Africa
Buying this app means you no longer have to lug along heavy reference books when you’re out in the field on bird-watching trips. It helps identify all 1 001 bird species in South Africa, with over 1 170 bird calls on Quick-Play right from the menu. There are some 3 600 photographs and the app is updated regularly to improve on the content, features and functionality, free of charge. Sasol eBirds Southern Africa costs R380 on the App Store and Google Play.
It’s the new year and I’m sure every year, many of us resolve to learn a new language. The Duolingo app is one of the best ways to do this – it claims to be the world’s most-downloaded free education app, and certainly offers quick, bite-sized daily lessons in some 40 languages. Music has recently been added, meaning you can learn how to read music and play familiar songs on your device in Duolingo’s music course – with no instrument required.
What would we do without Checkers Sixty60? Who wants to stand in queues in crowded grocery stores when this app provides a range of goods that grows weekly, backed by real-time shoppers in-store, a simple billing system and a reliable delivery crew? The store’s claim to deliver within 60 minutes rarely fails, and if the time slot you chose for delivery (which costs R35) is unavailable, the app alerts you at checkout. There’s also the recently launched Xtra Savings Plus programme. Costing R99/month, members get additional discounts and unlimited free deliveries (minimum order: R350). Its competitors are scrambling to play catch-up, but for now, Sixty60 remains the champion of real-time grocery deliveries. – © 2024 NewsCentral Media