With more than a million apps available for Apple products alone, the world of mobile applications is ever expanding, and can even change your life, writes Adrienne Kohler

Learning the ukulele? Can't remember what that song playing on the radio is? Trying to find the wine you liked at a party? There are apps for all that.

When Apple launched the iPhone in 2007, its touch screen, high-resolution camera and GPS capability was considered revolutionary.

Early users delighted in showing off their navigation maps, text messaging and video games. Software developers were quick to recognise the potential and in 2008 Apple launched its App store with 500 apps available.

Since then, the growth has been phenomenal. Today there are more than a million apps for Apple products alone.


In 2013, Apple customers spent $10 billion on apps, and in May 2013 the company celebrated the download of the 50 billionth app. And this doesn't take into account the other platforms.

As smartphone adoption has accelerated over the past seven years, so has the market for apps, creating a multi-billion dollar industry.

According to research firm Gartner's latest figures, consumers downloaded 103 billion mobile apps across all the available platforms last year. Of these, 91 per cent are estimated to be free.

The sheer volume of apps — programs designed for smartphones and tablets — is daunting. A bewildering array is available in a wide range of categories that includes games, social networks, maps, health and fitness, music streaming and image sharing.

They are now so ubiquitous that no self-respecting TV show, movie, or newspaper would be without an accompanying app. The All Blacks, the White House and, of course, Kim Kardashian have their own.

With literally millions on at least seven platforms, including Google, Windows, Samsung and Amazon, how does a discerning consumer find the best app — be it for gaming, shopping or dieting?

Say, for example, you are learning the ukulele and need to tune your instrument. Is there an app for that? A search in Apple's App store reveals more than 30 apps, ranging in price from free to $6. How do you work out which is the best?

A bit of research is needed, and this applies to just about every app. Google the name, read the customer reviews, read other online reviews, ask someone for their recommendations. A number of websites review apps for money, but sites such as PCMag, Wired and Macworld are reliable sources.

Free vs paid

Not all apps are created equal — the drawback of free apps is that they can be buggy — freezing your device, crammed with pop-up ads and a major drain on your data.

Often it is worth paying a few dollars for an ad-free and well-constructed app. A free app does not necessarily mean it comes to you without a cost. Free apps can be a front to download personal content such as social networking information and location so that data can be on-sold to advertisers.

Recently, the US Federal Trade Commission found that makers of the Android Brightest Flashlight app had "deceptively failed to disclose that the app transmitted users' precise location and unique device identifier to third parties, including advertising networks".

Your privacy is valuable, so it is important to consider how much information you want to give away when downloading a free app and if that amount of information is appropriate to its function.

Turn off in-app purchases

Many apps have in-app purchases that allow you to buy additional features. However, parents have been stung by children unwittingly running up massive bills buying games, expansions, in-game resources, or character upgrades.

This can be turned off in your phone or tablet settings so make sure to do so before allowing your child access.

Here we help you navigate the app store and gather a selection of apps to ensure you have what you need at your fingertips.

Telling the story

Barrett took 18 months to create his first story. Photo / Getty Images

Nick Barrett is an unlikely creator of an app to help children read. To start with, he's not a teacher, admits he's not overly tech savvy and has never aspired to be an author.

But that hasn't stopped the entrepreneurial 24-year-old Aucklander developing an app for children that is helping youngsters enjoy the art of storytelling well before they can read and write.

Imagistory is a colourful storyboard app for iPads featuring a series of linked scenes allowing children to create their own story based on the pictures.

The stories can also be recorded and shared as video on social media.

Barrett, a business honours graduate at Auckland University of Technology, says the development of the app is largely thanks to a chance encounter with a young relative who was enjoying a book she was too young to understand.

"That one little moment ended up changing a lot of things," says Barrett. He recalled seeing the three-year-old sitting in adjacent room at his grandmother's home reading a picture book out loud to herself.

"My first thought was, 'How could she possibly be reading a book, she's too young?' "And then my next thought was: 'She's most probably making it up and just using the pictures as a guide.'

"I thought, what a great idea for a creative tool. Why not make picture books with no words and design them that way?"

It took 18 months to create his first story, The Little Red Bucket.

The 17-page wordless story book was initially rejected by the Apple app store, forcing the innovative Kiwi to do something different.

Barrett's answer was to redesign the app so it could record voices reading the story, which made it more than just a book.

The app, which now features four titles, has attracted users from around the globe.

The first two titles are free, then they cost $2.59 each.

He plans to have two more titles for sale in the coming weeks and then produce one new title a month thereafter.

Each story is constructed collaboratively between Barrett and an illustrator and is intended to have wide universal appeal.

Barrett said the books had been trialled successfully in some Auckland public libraries.

"They absolutely love it," he said. "The kids all seemed to love being involved telling the story."

Some Auckland schools have started using the app. Rita Langston, year one and two teacher at St Joseph's School, Orakei, said it was a great tool for giving children enthusiasm and confidence.

"I have noticed a significant improvement in all my students — not only in reading but in writing as well."