The Lighter Side Of Transhumanism: 24 Apps For Your Phone

The Lighter Side Of Transhumanism: 24 Apps For Your Phone

transhumanWhat is it about world-changing nerds that they always insist their childhood was spent reading or watching sci-fi?

I don’t think it was.

Or, if it was, they were rooting for the wrong guy.

How else do you explain Ray Kurzweil’s decision to follow up giving the world its most dangerous ideology ever with a job at Google building the demonic lovechild of HAL 9000 and Skynet?

If he had seen literally a single sci-fi movie surely he’d be a lot less bullish?

Which isn’t to say I’m not in favour of the augmentation of human capacities. Indeed, how else would you describe practical enchantment?

A big part of my former role involved app and mobile strategy; not just the number of downloads (6 million) but the volume of monthly app activations (higher than The Times of London), where and when, what people do with them… and so on.

Comparatively speaking, I was a late convert to the idea of apps. My 90s, Invisibles, ‘information wants to be free’ ideology had me favour an improved mobile web experience over the scale and quality of an app store. To some extent this is true today, but only in the sense of arms-length belief… in the same way I’d be mildly pleased to wake up in a full-blown Socialist utopia but am resigned to the current state of play.

Because the app/open ecosystem horse has bolted. 80% of all mobile web activity is conducted in-app (and I’d say 50% of that is Facestalk).


Behaviourally, this has broad implications for the future of commercial media (and blog discoverability!) because of this and this and this:

useWhen I look at how people use review/local business apps like the one I work for, the single most-used behaviour is the ‘around me’ function. People emerge from tube stations or meet friends in an unfamiliar area, perform a finger movement that aggregates places around them others have enjoyed and let this information inform their decisions.

By almost all definitions, this is an expansion of consciousness. It is an outsourcing of foraging decisions, via a mechanical device, to the tribe. It improves the probability that you will have a pleasant evening, or that you will get the best price for the shoes you are after or whatever. The impact on this probability of using a review app over a quick practical enchantment is orders of magnitude greater. Which one would you use?

Over after work wines, one of the topics my boss and I would frequently refer to is exactly when it is we should consider humans cyborgs. How much of me is my phone, my twitter stream, this blog? My life is certainly vastly improved because of my engagement with all three. (A lot of that is down to you assholes guys. Love you!)

Progressive syllabi around the world are being realigned to account for the fact that future adults will never be without a calculator/access to wikipedia/an ability to book a flight to Bhutan in two swipes. Learning is less important than learning how to learn. (Pause and take a moment to consider that last statement in light of the laws of robotics and AI.)

The tired counterpoint to this is that the hiding behind a plethora of screens reduces your engagement with ‘real life’. Taking a wider historical view, this argument is weak. Before there were screens, there were plenty of things to hide behind, plenty of things that ‘prevented’ you from living a ‘real life’. There was religion, there was family, there was class, there was nationalism. Some of these are political and require(d) a political solution. All of them are fear-based. Don’t blame the screen. Allowing your life to be disintermediated by screens is a cover for the reality that you are afraid to live your life.

Syncterruption: As I finished that last sentence, I got an email from the aforementioned former boss on my phone. Subject: Mos Eisley. Standing at passport control line at Istanbul Ataturk airport, closest place I’ve been to an intergalatic spaceport. Does that sound like he’s hiding behind a screen? (Granted, out of context it may sound a little racist. But I think I’ve established his nerd credentials enough to assuage you of that notion. He’s just humblebragging at another nerd he knows will be well jeal. And I am. Also, fuck you for thinking such a thing. This city has been a crossroads of the world for thousands of years. What else could I reply with except But did you find the droids you were looking for?? Heh. Lawyered.)

trans god

So there are aspects of our digital evolution that I don’t find repugnant. Principally, there is the optimal use of that marvellous little mechanical brain you very occasionally use to speak to people on.

With that in mind, here are a collection of apps that fall into the category of augmenting how I live my life. They’re all iOS apps but the overwhelming majority are multi-OS. Most are free, the rest are low cost. (There are some £20 apps out there. Good luck, fuckers!)

1. G+, 2. Google Local

G+ is a remarkable mobile experience. Far superior to facestalk or twitter. If Google wasn’t such a bastard with its API and lived the social talk it’s talking then it would be the core of my social engagement. (I’ve heard their SVP of publisher partnerships for Europe say “social is at the core of everything we do.” Prove it.)

I include Google Local because I use it to perform business (read:pubs and bars) searches but you have to jump into G+ to check in. Which is retarded but.. hey. See above. I’m deliberately not including my employer on this list because it’s on the nose however this is the space we operate in. And if I wanted to, I could make the case that we are kings of it. (Hey, what’s that on my nose?)

3. Camera+

Okay, so I think my phone photography is improving. I can leave my DSLR at home with confidence because of this app. If you’re looking for the next step up in having an ‘always with you’ photographic device then look no further.

It is to on-board cameras what smart phones are to landlines.

4. Snapseed

Snapseed is currently free so give it a crack. Definitely get it if you’re getting Camera+. It’s the post-production platform you want for a phone. Quick, intuitive, plugged into your social media profiles.

5. CloudOn

Full disclosure, I’ve only used this in a business setting once. That was at the insistence of a client from India who swore black and blue they go nuts for it in Bangalore. Basically, you can share data like photos or LinkedIn connections by bumping your phone together. It was pretty cool.

You can also use it to transfer photos to your computer by bumping it, apparently.

6. Chrome

Look… if you have an iPhone and you’re using their stupid mobile browser then you’re drink-driving around the mobile web. Just get this. If you have an Android device then pat yourself on the back for your awesomeness. If you have a Windows 8 device then congratulations on buying the Nokia Lumia 920. I’m jealous. (Windows 8 is unequivocally the best mobile OS in the world.)

An old-timey fire engine viewed from my local on Saturday. Enjoy the irony of me taking a phone photo of it and sharing that with the internet.

An old-timey fire engine viewed from my local on Saturday. Enjoy the irony of me taking a phone photo of it and sharing that with the internet.

7. Google Drive

Much as I dislike the new name -and I do- Google Drive is a must for bloggers. This post began as a list in a Google Doc on the way home from work. It’s golden.

8. Associated Press, 9. BBC News

These are the lightest news apps… or at least they seem to load the fastest. And what shows up on AP shows up on the rest of them eventually anyway because there are approximately 3 journalists left in the entire world.

10. Square

I don’t actually have Square but then I have very little use for your credit card details. However, I have used Square at an antiques show (to buy cupcakes). If you sell crap, get Square.

11. WhatsApp

There are a bunch of free messaging services out there however this seems to be the most popular one in Europe and so I use it. The double-tick indicator that lets you know the other person has received your message is especially helpful for fellow creep/stalkers out there.

12. SocialCam

The closest I have come to a viral video has been this little number on SocialCam. I get about five likes a day in-app. It’s brilliant at adding a few little details to your videos before plugging into your social profile.

13. Spotify

Spotify is listed rather than Nokia Music because of the previous stipulation that all these apps must be available via iOS. It’s essentially the same thing but you don’t currently have to pay for it. Anyway… if you exercise regularly or commute via public transport… get yourself a streaming music service.

14. Shazam

Speaking of music… this is a rather fun pub app. If you’ve ever wondered or been asked “hey, what’s this song that’s playing?” Shazam will tell you. Shazam!

15. MyFitnessPal

Do I use this app for personal fitness reasons? HA! Personal fitness is right up there with vaginas and professional sport in the list of things I care deeply about.

No… it seems that all of London is doing the Intermittent Fasting thing at the moment and this is the best app for calorie counting. Just lie your way through the sign-up process.

16. Skyscanner

Uhhh… speaking of humblebrags. If you need to work out how much it will cost to fly to  various places -and then book said flights- then Skyscanner is the win in app world. Honourable mention: BA, Lufthansa and EasyJet all have excellent carrier-specific apps.

17. Hailo

Guess this one’s UK specific. I believe the NYC one is called Uber? It’s a cab-booking app. Enter your payment deets when you sign up, hit the order button and you get to watch your taxi show up in realtime on the map… like Drake in Aliens. (“They’re everywhere, man!”)

18. The Night Sky

What’s this? A proper wizard app?? Oh, yes. Point your phone at the sky and see exactly where various constellations are, when they are above the horizon, details about them, etc. It’s a paid app but buy it already. Here’s a screenshot from my phone.

Heh. Sirius rising. Love it. Right from my front room a few moments ago.

Heh. Sirius rising. Love it. Right from my front room a few moments ago.

19. CamScanner

I cracked this one out for the millionaire when I ran into him at the front desk in Marbella. He was trying to get a signed contract to someone and the hotel didn’t have a scanner. Figuring I’d saved the day, I whipped out the trusty iPhone.

It failed horribly.

But since then I’ve used it to snap a few shots of books and chunks of text that I’ve been happy with. Essentially it’s a camera app with some auto-contrast features but the price is right (free) so give it a whirl.

20. Platter

Strictly for food nerds. This is a nascent social network built around recipes for meals people are actually cooking that day. I use it for inspiration and also to search by ingredient tag. Guess this is one to watch? But it’s never failed me when I’ve overbought kale or chorizo.

21. Vine

Recently acquired. Essentially you use it to shoot, share and create little looped videos. It’s an evolution from the animated GIF. Expect this functionality to be rolled out into twitter. Been using it for a couple of days and I’m surprised at how often it has been -apologies in advance- creatively relevant.

22. Work+

Like many good things, this began in New York as an aggregator/locator of public places that have free wifi. Now it even kinda works in west London. You can filter by how many people you have, whether you need a table, whether you want a place that serve booze or just coffee. Again… the price is right.

23. Drift

I’ve written about Drift before but it really impresses me in very specific situations. The plan was to use it in Lucca and capture a pretty cool phone photo gallery but my Italian data plan looks more like a kidnapper’s ransom note. Essentially it’s a way of exploring your own local space using new rationale, recording said exploration and sharing it. If anything, you get more out of it if you use it closer to home.

24. Hotel Tonight

Unless you are a very successful hooker, this is mostly an aspirational app. It aggregates hotel deals for that night in your city or nearby large cities. I check it to pretend that I’m either rich or spontaneous. (“Hey, we could totally hit up Manchester tonight. Wait, I have that meeting in the morn.. ooh this looks good! Nah, fuck it.”)

Last words

There you have it, kids. 24 potential extra robot limbs. All I ask is that you cast your mind back to your childhood visions of what the future was going to be like and honestly assess whether you thought you’d have even have this capacity in a portable device. Because that’s the whole point.

Having Vision. The true killer app.


Add yours
  1. 1

    “By almost all definitions, this is an expansion of consciousness. It is an outsourcing of foraging decisions, via a mechanical device, to the tribe.”

    You have a knack for putting exact words to concepts that exist on the far-flung edges of my consciousness… the stuff that almost makes it into a full-fledged idea but I haven’t the ingrained talent to make it so. Or, I’m just a dummy. ;)

    Either way, you have a gift with the Word. Love reading your posts. And a magnificent collection of apps. ‘The Night Sky’ is wonderful. Now if someone could make an app that could instantly let us know when Tzadkiel and Kammael are keeping planetary office hours, I’d be the first guy to lay down my hard-earned sheckles.

  2. 2

    Ha, thanks very much, Chris. And yet a statement like that goes over like a lead balloon at industry events. I should know… I was piloting the balloon at the time.

  3. 4

    “The impact on this probability of using a review app over a quick practical enchantment is orders of magnitude greater. Which one would you use?”

    Some of us do both. Remember, this isn’t an either/or world.

  4. 5

    Honestly I don’t like these smartphones. The platform is locked, most apps are scams (more or less, I’ll grant that there are some good ones, and those on this list seem cool), and you have to pay for right to program on windows phone.
    Yeah, you heard it right.
    You want to put your homemade program on Shiny New Nokia? Pay 99$. In some countries that’s a lot of money (mine included). There are illegal ways of getting dev-unlock for free, but I won’t post them here.
    Anyway, yeah, I’m standard Invisibles “Information wants to be free” kind of guy.
    Johnny´s last blog post ..Crime doesn’t pay

  5. 6
    Tom Crepeau

    To my way of thinking, I am an android already. The other year, I had this heart attack, like the kind that killed my father back in 1980. After it, my heart runs on a pacemaker, tucked beneath my skin over my rib cage, which runs on batteries… which means I’l live a longer life than he did, since he died at 62. I’ll out live him by being battery-operated…

  6. 7

    Follow-up on Uber – used it for the first time in NYC today and am a big fan. It feels very magickal to press a button on your iPhone and a sleek, clean, fresh-smelling town car rolls up 4 minutes later to whisk you away. Hop in, hop out, no need to tip and then you get an email with your receipt as soon as you close the door. Very expense-report friendly as well.

  7. 8

    Have you tried Opera for an iOS browser? It definitely isn’t perfect, but my favorite aspect of it is that it doesn’t auto-reload web pages like Safari and Chrome do, which drives me nuts. In fact, you can leave as many as 15+ tabs open, shut the browser down, reopen it three weeks later in airplane mode, and the pages will still be available (unless your phone has had a crisis of available memory, coming soon from DC Comics).

    I spend a lot of times on planes, and one of my particular sets of first world problems is that I will want to save articles and blogs for reading on a plane. The extra step of saving one to my safari reading list is completely tedious and unnecessary, and sometimes I forget to do it.

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