There’s an App for That, But Should There Be?

Last night I was trying to use an app that would allow me to scan in an ISBN and avoid the work of looking up a book and adding it to a list. In theory, this is a good idea; I like saving time as much as the next person. It turned not to be in practice. By the time I had my iPad lined up correctly and the book scanned in, I probably could have typed in my entire home library. This came after a day when a colleague and I futilely searched for the tap, swipe or whatever that would allow us to scan in ISBNs on another app.  All of this started me thinking about the need for certain apps.

Let’s face it: we’re all a little app crazy at the moment. After I bought my iPad, I spent most of the first evening scrolling through the App store, looking for applications to improve both my personal and professional life, as well as indulging in a couple of games. Probably my only saving grace is that I’m cheap: I downloaded mostly free ones. Even now several months later, my few purchases have ranged from $.99 to $3.00, the only exception being a word processing app which was $10.00.

After this period, I am ready to draw a few conclusions about apps:

  • Some are excellent. I especially like the ones that allow me to monitor my progress on activities, such as writing, running, push-ups, etc. I can see at a glance when I fallen short and how close I’ve come to a goal for any chosen time period. I also like the ones that cull sources to form one ‘magazine,’ so I can read all my favorite blogs and news updates in  one spot.
  • Some are just not for me. There are lots of ones for making lists. While they may work for others, I would just as soon write down my to-dos and mark them off as I go.
  • Some are good, but they are only free in limited versions. I have three language learning ones, and to go further than the basics, I need to pay money to obtain further lessons.
  • Some really are not ready for prime time. They either don’t work or have so many glitches that they are annoying.
  • Some have no purpose. I downloaded one yesterday from my favorite store. It turned out this featured only a few options whereas a simple web search would have pulled up the entire website with all the information I needed to shop.

What I learned from my months of app searching downloading (and then deleting in many cases) is that the use of apps, like any resource, needs to be thought through and evaluated.

For me, I’ve generated a few questions that have helped me narrow down my choices when faced with the ever-increasing number of apps:

  • Will it help me achieve my goals? (This is very important if you are a teacher and thinking of adding some apps to your classroom. I am lucky to have a colleague who asks me, every time I show her another ‘cool’ app, “And how would you use it in a class?”
  • Will I use it? Now, in some cases, you may not know until you download and actually try it out. I’ve deleted most of the list-making and quotations apps after realizing they had been on the iPad for months without my even touching them after that first weekend of feverish downloading.
  • How much does it cost and how much will it cost later? Most of us aren’t millionaires, and cost matters. Especially if you are evaluating apps for classroom or student use, you have to factor in costs.
  • Does it work? A glitchy, half-functioning app will turn off students in a heartbeat.  And if I read a bunch of  user evaluations that complain of glitches, freezing, etc., I pass that app by as well.

Although I’ve only owned my iPad for a few months, I already can’t imagine a day without it. So I certainly am a fan of mobile technology. But it’s important to keep in mind that all apps are not created equal, and it’s wise to know when something should just be left alone. I don’t think everything needs an app, and even if I’m later proved wrong on that score, I do know that I don’t need every one of them.


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