On apps

(This is a repost of something I just wrote at Naturally Selected, because I thought it might interest you folks too.)

It is no secret I love my iPhone. As a telephony device (in which I include text messages as well as voice) it is very nice indeed, but its real strength, for me, lies in its internet connectivity. Oh, and location services: the most used apps on my iPhone are Mail, Safari and Maps. I have downloaded a few applications, and even bought a couple. I make reasonably heavy use of the Facebook app (it’s pretty poor but it works most of the time) and Echofon (for Twitter); the bought apps I use most are Tube Deluxe (super for getting around London) and MotionX’s GPS (which scores over the inbuilt Maps function because you can download maps before going somewhere that has no internet connection). There are a few other bits and bobs, but notably lacking is anything to do with science or publishing.

I’m not sure whether that’s because I tend to keep the day job off my iPhone, or whether I’ve simply not managed to find anything useful. I suspect I’m not alone in this, so I thought Walter Jessen’s review of iPhone apps for biomedical research might be of interest:

Even though I think that apps are a big step backwards in the evolution of the computer desktop — very few take advantage of the “always connected” nature of the iPhone and exist in isolation — mobile Safari only allows you to have 8 pages open at once. Apps that can handle Web page display increase that number. This is a lifesaver for me, since I routinely have all eight pages in Safari open at any given time.

He talks about apps that cover everything from Nature to the entire human genome project, but rather than recapitulate what Walter says, I invite you to read the original article: there are only 12 apps, each with a descriptive paragraph and a one-liner ‘verdict’. One notable exception to his list is the excellent Papers from mekentosj.com–although he does have the Mendeley Lite instead. (Word of warning: ‘BioGPS’ is not for locating biologists. Just sayin’.)

It remains to be seen whether I will use any of these (I thought, for example, that I already had Papers, but now I can’t find it–which shows you how much I’m using it), but I’m interested in finding out if other people would find any of these apps useful. What do you think is missing from Walter’s list? Would you use a The Scientist and/or and F1000 app? Or, perhaps a Nature Network one?!

About rpg

Scientist, poet, gadfly
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21 Responses to On apps

  1. Eva Amsen says:

    I have the pubmed lite app and use it to find papers at those random moments when you just have to look something up. During seminars at conferences, for example.
    I also have the nature.com app, but never really use it. (Sorry, nature.com friends! I just prefer seeing your site on a bigger screen.)

  2. Nigel Eastmond says:

    For me, the MedScape one is insanely useful. The SmPC of every drug, right on your phone. And once the data is in, it doesn’t need the Internet.

  3. Alejandro Correa says:

    I get the impression that the iPhone is a good alternative for those who walk a lot in the street, per me it’s funny so much publicity with the iPhone, I guess that is expendable.

  4. Richard P. Grant says:

    Ach, I knew I forgot something. Thanks to Nige for the link in the first place.

  5. Ken Doyle says:

    To answer your last question: Yes, I would use a NN app. If it worked well, it would replace most of my browser-based use of NN. By way of comparison, the current LinkedIn app does not have all the functionality of the website, and I hardly use it at all.

  6. Richard Wintle says:

    Speaking theoretically, of course, not being one of the unwashed millions cognoscenti who use the iPhone – I am really, really uninterested in using anything with a teeny tiny screen for anything in general other than reading and responding to email (which is essentially the only use to which I put my now-resurrected Blackberry).
    Now, having said that – I totally see the value of GPS/maps/whatever, and it’s nice to be able to check other things (Twitter, for example – yes I said it) on the go, and I suppose that a dedicted app for these things would be much less painful than a standard web browser (particularly for maps; downloaded content is a must for real-time I think).
    As for the science apps – well, very nice and all, but how many apps can one download? “An app for every, um, er, application”? Isn’t one’s iThing going to get completely full up with apps that are only used once in a while?

  7. Richard Wintle says:

    …which reminds me that cluttering of devices with barely-used applications is not limited to mobile devices.
    But another thought – mobile devices are nice and all, but I seldom find myself wanting to, say, peruse NN, or look up something in PubMed in a place where there isn’t a full-size computer screen and keyboard and some connectivity. Granted, I don’t travel as much as many of the rest of you, but my standard solution to browsing and things like it is to use the good old laptop anyway.

  8. Richard P. Grant says:

    Yeah, it’s the travel thing for me. The days of unsecured wireless connections are over, it seems, so the laptop doesn’t always do it.

  9. Ken Doyle says:

    @rwintle: Yes, it can be pretty easy to clutter up an iPhone with apps (as with any device). I tend to be pretty good about housecleaning, though. For me, an iPhone is indispensable, even when not traveling. I even use it at home to check e-mail and such when I’m too lazy to fire up the desktop Mac.

  10. Richard Wintle says:

    @rpg – the trick is to travel enough to qualify for lounge access on your favourite airline. Or so I’m told.
    @Ken – exactly my case too, easier to flip through email on the mobile rather than turning on the laptop and logging in through the Stygian morass secure portal system.

  11. Jeanne Garbarino says:

    I love the Papers app. The iPhone is incredible. I also secretly love my iPhone.

  12. Richard P. Grant says:

    I spy a need for an iPhones Anonymous group. I think it should be led by Henry.

  13. Ken Doyle says:

    Excellent idea! Comments should be moderated so he can reject them from his iPhone.

  14. Richard Wintle says:

    That would be good. Then you can all witter about your iPhones in peace. My peace.

  15. Richard P. Grant says:

    Henry of course now has an iPad, the git, so maybe we’re not good enough for him.

  16. Ken Doyle says:

    It’s not the size that counts…

  17. Richard Wintle says:

    Getting back to this… at least one major biological research instrumentation company beginning with "A" (or possibly now "L") is giving away its manuals & such for their Flagship Thing That Sequences DNA on… iPads.
    Don’t you all rush out and buy one, now – the FTTSDNA, that is.

  18. Richard P. Grant says:

     Um… how, exactly?

  19. Ken Doyle says:

     Can I keep the iPad if I return the instrument?

  20. Richard Wintle says:

    How? You buy the thing, they send you an iPad with documents on it. Or so I understand. What’s confusing about that?

  21. Richard P. Grant says:

    Ah. I completely misunderstood. I thought you could sequence on the iPad itself.

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