Load up on your apps, but be choosy about which ones

John Gushue
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Merry Christmas! By now, I expect many of you have had a carbohydrate overload, if not an excess amount of protein and even alcohol.
I also expect that Santa tucked new devices in the stockings of a great many of you. After all, some industry analysts expect this Christmas season to be the tipping point when sales of tablets exceed desktop PCs.

It’s been a transformation that has been both astonishingly fast and yet also inevitable. After all, the iPad made its Christmas debut just three years ago. Android had a bit of a head start, but the version that kickstarted things appeared early in 2011.

That’s really not that long ago, and yet when industry research firm IDC forecast in September that tablets were about to overtake PCs in terms of numbers shipped, I can’t say I was surprised.

That’s largely because the iPad enabled the tablet to have one of the fastest consumer adoption rates in history, ahead (out of the gate, too) of DVD players and older items like dishwashers.

Enough of that, though. Last year around this time, I offered some advice to new tablet owners. In that spirit, I have a set of suggestions.

First, pig out on the apps. Chances are you already went to the Apple or Google Play store and downloaded some stuff to get you started. But don’t stop now. The best time to sample apps is when you’re most curious.

A key tip: stick largely to the free stuff for now. You’re going to fill up storage space on your baby faster than you might think, and ultimately will need to get rid of unnecessary things. Make it easier on yourself by committing to things that don’t cost you a cent.

Paid apps are indeed wonderful (everyone should splurge for a premium version of Angry Birds), but pinch your pennies … for now. If you were lucky enough to get a gift card, think a bit before you spend. You can an awful lot for $1 each, you know!

Meanwhile, with free apps, be mindful of the extra charges that can come — and make sure your tablet is set up to never download any paid content without your consent, every time. A popular free app, Candy Crush Saga, is also the highest-grossing app, because of in-app purchases.

In the meantime, here are some downloads you may want to consider. Most are free; because I’m an iPad user, my choices are based on that platform.

Social apps. Twitter and Facebook rely on mobile devices for much of their traffic, and are continually upgrading their apps. If you’re serious about Twitter, consider either the HootSuite or TweetDeck apps, which (like the web-based versions) allow you to manage multiple accounts but more importantly find more needles in a very large haystack. LinkedIn, one of the largest social networks, is essential for working adults, and it works well on a tablet. Pinterest, which has taken hobbies to social media, is tailor-made for how and when we use tablets to relax.

Book apps. My iPad comes preloaded for buying books from Apple, but I like the Kindle app better for reading. I also regularly use OverDrive. I’m a card-carrying member of the public library system, but I’ve also greatly enjoyed being able to check an e-book out of the library, without having to leave the comfort of my couch; OverDrive is the app that makes this possible

Podcasts. The in-house app from Apple is a pleasure to use and has pushed new life into my audio downloads. For live radio, many of your favourite providers (like CBC and VOCM) have apps; to find feeds everywhere, try TuneIn Radio, whose features include creating presets of your favourites.

News apps. Most news apps are free, although the content inside may not be. I use Newsstand to subscribe to several magazines (the fees seem reasonable to me) and some news publishers have various models splitting up what’s free and what’s not. For a dynamic way to read news and much more from many sources, give Flipboard a try.

Photos. My go-to app for photo editing is Camera+. It costs a little, but it does a lot, even on an iPad. I use my phone to generate content on my Instagram account, but I love looking at what others have done in the clearer resolution of an iPad. I use the Flickr photo-sharing app, but I’m wishing for a spiffier upgrade soon.

NFB. The National Film Board has opened up its vault and produced an app that makes the Crown agency relevant to a new generation.

Live video. Thanks to FaceTime and Skype, our tablets have become phones. We’re surely not the only family to stay in touch with relatives and friends away through these easy-to-use tools!

Netflix. We have an account in the household, and while we use it most on the TV, I’ve continued a binge-watch on my iPad even while unloading the dishwasher or the dryer.

A couple of things before I finish up. First, if you really get into the habit of using your tablet a lot, you’re going to have power issues. Get in the habit of charging it up when it’s not in use … or even when you’re reading.

Popular visual apps, especially games, drain a battery in seemingly no time. I have two charging stations for mine: one in my living room, the other on my desk.

Second, consider a keyboard for your tablet. My wife and my son each have a Bluetooth-powered keyboard/case attached to theirs, which turns an iPad into a small laptop and makes typing simple. They’re not the cheapest attachment, but they’re very useful.

Finally, be curious. Ask your friends and family what they like. Learn how to control your settings. Consider picking up one of those ubiquitous how-to manuals. Discover your favourites. Relax, and enjoy it.

John Gushue is a digital producer with CBC News in St. John’s. Get in touch on Twitter: @johngushue

Organizations: Apple, IDC, CBC News National Film Board Crown agency Bluetooth

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