Let's get one thing straight: Senior citizens are becoming more computer-savvy all the time. Newly minted seniors have been using cell phones, digital cameras, MP3 players and computers since they hit middle age. Although they may not be as quick on the keyboard as their kids and grandkids, or as anxious to own the latest generation of a product, they are embracing technology and its many benefits.
Cell phones and handheld communication devices are no longer just gadgets, as indicated by the overwhelming number -- 84 percent -- of adults who own a cell phone and use them to text, e-mail, browse the Web and download apps [source: Purcell, Rainie, Rosenstiel, Mitchell]. Not surprisingly, the over-65 age group has downloaded half as many apps as people half their age [source: Kuncman], but if the trend toward tablet computers continues at its current rate, the number is bound to increase as well.
Tablet computers, among the most quickly adopted consumer goods to hit the market, are lightweight and versatile, with a senior-friendly screen measuring almost 10 inches, as opposed to smartphone screens a fraction of the size. Not only are the tablet's touch screen features easier to manipulate, it's easier to see -- and there's so much to see, thanks to the ever-increasing number of apps available for both tablets and smartphones.
You've heard "there's an app for that," but how do you know which to add? Keep reading to discover some of the more popular and useful senior-friendly apps.
10. Word Game Apps
Among the first apps many people add to their phones or tablets are word games. Perfect for the app novice, they are both familiar and fun -- and many are free. What do you have to lose, except maybe a competition?
Words With Friends, one of the most popular word games available on both Apple and Android platforms, is similar to the traditional board game Scrabble, but players compete against people online. It takes full advantage of the phone or tablet's ability to connect to other people as opposed to playing against the computer. Not only can players challenge each other, this app enables them to chat with each other while playing, and it doesn't penalize players for trying out dubious words.
Scrabble is also available in app form and enables players to have multiple games going at the same time, which is useful in filling time while waiting for an opponent to make their move -- which could be a minute, an hour or more than a day.
If you prefer a fast-moving word game, Wurdle may be the app for you, as the game only runs 2 to 5 minutes in length. Players are presented with a grid of letters and are challenged to find as many words as possible. Similar to a word search, players simply glide their fingers over lettered tiles to spell out words without skipping over or repeating a letter. Players who are stuck and have time left can shake the phone or tablet causing the letters to rearrange themselves and more words to become apparent.
9. Travel Apps
Travel is made increasingly easy thanks to apps. Searching for the best prices and booking airline tickets, hotels and car rental may be done with apps such as Kayak and Priceline. At their destinations, travelers will appreciate apps that help them translate, navigate and serve as personal tour guides.
The Google Earth app enables users to get directions, establish where things are located and understand their location from an overhead perspective including a satellite view, while the HopStop app stands ready to help users determine the best way to get from point A to point B without a car. With its turn-by-turn directions for pedestrians and users of public transportation, HopStop is invaluable for those new to a city.
For travelers in need of translation of the written word, the World Lens app is perfect. Simply open the app and point your phone at the foreign words on a sign or menu, and the translation will appear on the screen. Translating the spoken word to another language, with or without a corresponding written translation, can be handled by the Google Translate app.
There are also apps that eliminate the need to lug along guidebooks or pay for guided tours when sightseeing. Popular travel writer Rick Steves recently launched a series of apps that mirror his books, providing practical information as well as narrated surveys of the highlights of Europe.
8. News Apps
While many seniors still rely on the daily paper, TV and radio as primary sources for breaking news and information, news-focused apps are becoming more appealing.
News junkies can load their devices with apps from the major television networks, newspapers and news bureaus. Most of them are free, but you often get what you pay for, in the form of an abbreviated version of the news. For access to the full broadcast or paper, users often will have to pay for the app. General news aggregator apps such as News Addict, Tap News and Easy News allow users to select reports from a number of media outlets. These apps are convenient as they house multiple sources that you may only want to visit occasionally, saving valuable real estate on your phone or tablet.
Apps such as the Onion and Guess the News can tide you over during slow news days. Similar to "Wheel of Fortune," Guess the News users are challenged to fill in letters that make up the words of today's headlines; if you're interested in reading the actual story, simply tap the screen to see the full article. The Onion app, like its print and Web site siblings, contains all the hilarious fake news that no one else will print, but everyone wants to read.
7. Health and Fitness Apps
The app marketplace is filled with applications promoting health and fitness. Needless to say, no matter how smart it may be, an iPhone, Blackberry or tablet is no substitute for a medical professional -- but it can come in handy. Fans of the popular site WebMD can now self-diagnose on-the-go with the WebMD app. The first aid and treatment tabs are this app's most useful features for users who need immediate answers to emergency situations or information about the side effects of medications. If keeping track of heath records is becoming increasingly difficult, the Mayo Clinic Health Manager app is the place to store your health information so you can provide doctors with accurate, up-to-date facts when needed.
The health and fitness app market is saturated with heart rate monitors intended to track fitness levels, and developers have recently released an app that turns an iPhone into an ECG (Electrocardiogram) monitor. By attaching a slim case to the phone and placing the device on your chest or holding your thumbs on the probes, it will record a heart rate and transmit the results to a healthcare provider. It can also be used for biofeedback, aiding users in lowering their heart rates in stressful situations.
Active app users hoping to improve their golf game should check out My Swing, an app that provides video swing analysis allowing golfers to compare their swings to those of their friends or even the pros. Tiger Woods is the name behind this app that enables users to take a video of their swing and receive instruction from a pro. Want to catch the pros in action and analyze their swings? The Masters Golf Tournament app provides more live coverage and stats than you'd see if you were actually at the tournament.
6. Apps That Organize
Clutter and disorganization -- if they are parts of your real life they may also affect your virtual life. Even in the world of smartphones and tablets there are people whose workspace is a mess. Users can organize their apps by category and place them in folders labeled for the type of apps they contain.
When it comes to organizing true life, there are apps for that, and they are not just intended for people with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Imagine a place where all your lists, coupons, Post-it note reminders, fleeting thoughts, recipes, books you want to read and gift ideas were not only stored but organized. Springpad is one such app. It gathers all those things you want to remember in an accessible place and then provides more information about them, all within the palm of your hand. It's like having a reliable and efficient personal assistant with you always.
Perhaps in your retirement, you no longer require a personal assistant, but a reminder to grab groceries would be useful. In this case the free Remember the Milk app will not only remind you to pick up milk, but will also direct you to the nearest supermarket.
5. Music and Entertainment Apps
Smartphones and tablets have revolutionized the way people access entertainment in this increasingly mobile world. Music choices are uniquely personalized, books can be accessed instantaneously and movies are not limited to theaters, television or computer screens. Apps enable it all.
The Pandora app plays a variety of music simply based on an initial song preference. It develops playlists based on your like or dislike of songs the app chooses for you. Users can have playlists for different occasions, from peppy songs for a workout to relaxing music for a stressful subway ride. Conversely, Soundhound and Shazam are clever music apps that will listen to a song you hear playing, and tell you its title and recording artist, among other details.
Smartphone and tablet users pining for vintage Jack Benny or Jack Webb's "Dragnet" may want to tune into the free Old Time Radio (OTR) app for a dose of the early days of broadcast media. This app features programming including comedies, dramas, Westerns and music from the golden age of radio.
When you are ready to return to the 21st century, just open the Netflix app to instantly watch the TV show or movie of your choice, or choose the free Kindle app, which gives you access to more than 800,000 e-books available through Amazon, no Kindle necessary.
4. Cooking and Dining Apps
Now that the kids are out of the house, it's time to prepare the meals you want. Apps such as Epicurious and In the Kitchen by Food Network add to the joy of cooking. With bold pictures, cooking tips from experts and shopping lists, it's easy to become the chef you've dreamed of being. If the recipes on these apps feed too many, or you want to make modifications, visit the Ratio app, which not only scales down the ingredients, but also provides instructions for basic recipes.
If cooking is not your thing, or you simply want someone else to make the meal, the Urbanspoon app organizes restaurant options in cities across the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia. It sorts options by neighborhood, cuisine and price, allows you to check out the menu and helps you get there via Google maps. If you want to make a restaurant reservation you can do it through Urbanspoon or the Open Table app, which also covers restaurants around the world.
Hungry for more? Most dining apps offer the opportunity to read and write reviews. Yelp's extensive list of critiques goes beyond restaurants and can be very helpful in finding a gem or avoiding a dud. Written by regular folks, it's like having a friend make a recommendation.
3. Connect with Family Apps
In today's world, where families live on opposite coasts or other countries, apps for mobile devices are bringing people closer together. Skype video chat, which once seemed like the stuff of science fiction, is one of the most well-known and commonly used apps communication. It can be used as effectively for business as for connecting friends and family both near and far.
The Story Before Bed app is another comforting way to make the distance between parents, grandparents, and children seem closer. Using a webcam, the parent or grandparent reads and records a story from the Story Before Bedtime library. The story is then sent to the child who can read it over and over, turning the pages at his or her own pace. Best used on an iPad (not currently available in other formats), an image of the reader appears in the corner of the screen, and the rest of the area is filled with the pages of the book.
2. Gadget apps
Just when you thought your everyday needs were taken care of with sophisticated, multi-functional apps, you discover a whole new category: gadgets. Not to be confused with widgets, those little icons that sit on your smartphone or tablet screen representing your apps, gadgets are like the handy things that sometimes sit in a junk drawer and sometimes turn out to be quite useful.
If you can remember thinking the Flashlight app was silly until you needed it to hunt for your keys in the deep, dark depths of a handbag, then you will appreciate the Magnifying Glass app. As the name implies, this app will magnify text up to four times its original size, which could come in useful for reading the phone book, if anyone does that anymore -- you're probably using the White Pages app.
Sleep is something that eludes many seniors, and counting sheep is no longer the only answer, especially for someone well versed in the world of apps. Apps such as Long Deep Breathing and Relax & Rest guide you to sleep, and others including eSleep and aSleep offer restful background noise to lull you into dreamland. The aSleep app also has a snore detector and an alarm to wake you up in the morning.
1. Best Deal Apps
Everyone loves a bargain, though finding the best deal can be time-consuming. There are a number of apps that make the process both easy and fun. Planning a day of yard sale shopping? First, using the Gas Buddy app, find the best price for gas in your area and fill up the tank. Then, using the Garage Sale Locator or Yard Sale Mapper apps, with information populated by Craigslist and local newspapers, plan your morning. Without even doing a drive-by of a yard sale you'll know in advance if the seller has tools, furniture or mostly baby clothes. Apps such as these allow shoppers to avoid sales that don't meet their needs and pinpoint the more desirable sales on a Google map.
Shoppers who prefer the store can ensure they are getting the best prices on items by using the ShopSavvy app, which scans bar codes and finds the best prices in your area or online. Similarly, the RepairPal app alerts consumers of the right price to pay for a car repair. Meanwhile, Android offers an app for finding the most cost-effective apps -- in a market saturated with thousands of apps, App Hunter helps ferret out deals.
Finally, the tried-and-true money saving method of using coupons is now available in app form -- no clipping necessary. Popular apps such as Coupon Sherpa and MobiQpons feature deals for popular stores and can be accessed while you are waiting in the checkout line.
Lots More Information
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More Great Links
- "50 Best iPhone appa 2011." Time. 2011. (April 9, 2011) http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/0,28757,2044480,00.html.
- Kuncman, Stefanie. "Mobile Applications Revolutionize Television Viewing." The JLS Agency Lowdown. January 19, 2011. (April 11, 2011). http://www.thejlsagency.com/mobile-applications-revolutionize-television-viewing/
- Purcell, Kristen, Rainie, Lee, Rosenstiel, Tom, Mitchell, Amy. "How mobile devices are changing community information environments." Pew Internet. March 14, 2011. (April 7, 2011). http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2011/Local-mobile-news/Part-1/Introduction.aspx
- Schramm, Mike. "Average iPad app price is $1 more than iPhone apps." TUAW. May 4, 2010. (April 6, 2011 0. http://www.tuaw.com/2010/05/04/average-ipad-app-price-is-1-more-than-iphone-apps/.