We all have one, some of us have more than one. These days it seems hard to imagine NOT having one. I am, of course, talking about mobile phones. Whether it’s just to be able to contact friends and family members, or to listen to music and podcasts (I love podcasts, and yes, I’ll be doing a blog about them soon too) or to take photos and videos, today’s mobile phones are so much more than just a phone that the name almost doesn’t fit. They have become soo much more than just a mobile means of making a call, they should be called a mobile media platform.
Today I wanted to talk about ‘apps’ short for ‘applications’ which is the software package you can (in this instance) install on a mobile phone. Technically, the programs you install on your computer could also be called an app as well, but we usually call those ‘programs.’
Lets quickly list some of the things you can do with these modern marvels before we continue;
– Make and receive calls and text messages via the mobile phone tower network OR via a connection to the Internet (either WiFi or Mobile Data, more on that later)
– Take high-quality photos and movies, in particular on the more recent generations of phones, the quality is almost mind-blowing. Some of Google’s latest phones (Pixel 3) perform computational possessing to make your photos look their best.
– Record audio by its self turns your phone into a Dictaphone, useful for recording meetings or mental notes.
– Listen to music, audiobooks and podcasts, all of which fall into the audio category, many new phones have boosted internals designed to give audiophiles (lovers of sound quality) something to appreciate.
There are a few more that I could, and probably some I’m not even aware of, but I think that the list serves as a good starting point. A lot of these features are built into the phones we use these days, but we have Steve Jobs to thank for many of the modern innovation of mobile devices, because, on January 9, 2007, he announced the original iPhone. Up until this point people had carried a phone (flip phone style probably) and a digital camera and an MP3 player, and this was normal. But the iPhone had all of these and more.
Since then, the rise of the smartphone has been steep and fast. There are many companies producing them but only two main systems that run on them. Apple (who own iPhone) have their own operating system for their phones (iOS) whereas Google provides the Android operating system for any of the phone makers to modify and add to their phones. This means that you can ONLY get iOS on an Apple phone from Apple, but Android is found on pretty much every other phone, whether it’s LG, Samsung, Google, Nokia, and so on.
Although most of the features we discussed come ready to use out of the box, you will also often need to install an ‘application’ or ‘app’ for short, to get the most from your phone. For the rest of this post, we will be focusing on Android phones, mostly because that is what I own and use, and I’ve not had much exposure to Apple phones, having never owned one. I feel that it would be disingenuous
to speak about the Apple Store and Apple apps if I’ve not used them before.
Before we start installing apps on our Android phones though, we should talk about some of the things that can go wrong. As we mentioned, smartphones are essentially computers, more powerful than the computers that put humans on the moon and therefore are susceptible to the same problems as personal computers. The potentially scary thing about phones though is the fact that they are also able to track your monuments with GPS and have built-in microphones and cameras. If your phone was compromised with a bad app, you would be exposing a lot of personals information.
So with that in mind, what do we need to look out for when we are thinking of adding a new app to our phones? Here is my list, it’s one my kids have to go through and discuss with me before they add anything new to their phones or tablets;
1)What is it rated? This is more an issue for under 18’s, many apps are not kid or work friendly, whether through violence or other adult content
2)How many stars and how many reviews? This is an indicator of what people think about the app, these numbers can be skewed with a bit of effort for bad actors, but it’s good to look at. 5 stars are the maximum, but it would suspicion for an app to have a full 5 stars. Look for apps with higher than 3.5, in my book anyway, this helps to ensure an app is of at least adequate quality. Also check how many reviews it has if an app is 4 stars but only 10 people have rated it, this should raise suspicion
3)What permissions does it ask for? Some apps WILL need permission to access certain features on your phone to work. Example; a Flashlight app will need access to your camera in order to turn your flashlight on, but does NOT need access to your location or contacts. Never give ‘contact’ permission for an app, this is a great way to expose all of the people you have entered on your phone to a random third-party (the app maker.) Note: You phone has a built-in flashlight feature if you dig around in the setting you should find it.
Those are the big three, it can also be useful to know who the ‘publisher’ of the app is, for example, if you are downloading the Brave browser for Android, it should be by ‘Brave Software.’ It’s not always easy to know who the publisher should be, but if you know, it’s worth noting.
So let’s go get an app! On your android phone, you’ll need to open the ‘Play Store’ app. You’ll be shown a screen similar to the one below. Your recommended apps will look different to mine, if you know what you are looking for you can use the search box at the top, or have a look in the different categories of; Home, Games, Movies & TV, Books and Music. For this example let’s install Brave browser. We spoke about Brave in a previous blog post, and how it is a privacy-focused browser for your home computer. Well, you can also get it for your mobile device as well, cool! Search the Google App store for ‘Brave’ and look for the orange lion head icon. Note: it’s best if you can be connected to your home WiFi as some mobile plans do not allow for large amounts of data downloads.
Click on the icon, review the first two things we talked about the age rating and stars (ages 3+ and 4.3 stars, with over 100k reviews) looks good, right? Simply click the [Install] button, wait for it to finish, an icon will be placed on your phone’s home screen, but don’t click on it to just yet. Something that I like to do it double check what permissions an app already has or might be about out to ask for. ‘Long-press’ on the ‘Brave’ icon on your phone’s home screen. A ‘long-press’ can be achieved by folding your finger down on an app for about 1-2 full seconds when you do so, a menu should come up. IF it does not, you might have either not help it long enough or you might have moved your finder, just take your finger off and try again.
Once your long-press has worked, touch the (i) information button, this opened up the “behind the scene” screen for the app. Here you can see things like who made it, what version it is and, for our needs, display a button called [Permissions], touch this once to see what permissions it has listed, which once are on and which ones are off. For the example of Brave, we want to turn off ‘Camera, Microphone, Storage and Your Location. NOTE: Storage might be needed to download thing through Brave, but you will be prompted to do so if needed. Additionally, if you were to want to use a website that for some unforeseen reason wanted to record your voice or take a photo, you would need to enable the microphone or camera respectively. Consider turning it back off when it’s no longer needed.
It’s a great idea to follow these steps to do a checkup on all of your apps. Before you are aware of these setting, it’s common to just allow everything when you install an app, often they will ask for more than they need to run. This is done, most of the time, in order to collect information on you and sell it on to third-parties.
Finally, what about a few app suggestions from me? Well apart from Brave, I love an app called “Automatic Call Recorder” by ‘Appliqato’ which will record incoming and outgoing calls and save them to your phone. I tried a few apps like this but none of them was as good as this one. For the permissions; Contacts can be off, but it will need permission to use your Microphone (to record your voice), Storage (to save the files) and Telephone (to record what the other person is saying.) I’m not going to be going into the legalities of recording phone conversations, that’s for you to check up on. I use it mostly to check facts, dates and people’s email address when they tell me them over the phone (no need for pen and paper)
A fun game you can get is “Board Games” by ‘minkusoft’ which has a collection of classic board games including Chinese checkers, Backgammon, Snakes and ladders and a few more. This one does not ask for any permission at all, nice!
Finally, if you are looking for an app that turns your phone into a scientific device, accessing some of your phone interesting internal hardware sensors, you might find “phyphox” by ‘RWTH Aachen University’ to be of interest. You can get data from internal sensors in your phones such as the magnetometer, barometer, accelerometer and light sensor to name just a few. Depending on your usage, you might need to turn on one or more of the three permission settings, Microphone, Storage and Location, but I leave them off until I need it.
That’s all for now everyone. I hope you found this post educational. Let me know down in the comments if you need clarification on any of the points covered, or if you have your own app suggestion to share. Make sure you say why you like/ use the app you recommend.
Advanced tips and tricks to come in the post next week. So keep an eye out for part 2.