In the very distant past, smartphones were thought to be exclusive to businessmen and  smart people in general. They were marketed as expensive electronic briefcases and datebooks, completely irrelevant to the youth, fully preoccupied with basic text messaging as they were. Gradually, more cellphones became smartphones and anyone from a high school student to a corporate executive could own and make full use of one. What made smartphones so handy was their adaptability to an individual’s needs through downloadable applications – something their simpler predecessors lacked.

Today millions of applications – or apps, as they are commonly known – are available for download and they offer countless services varying from grocery shopping lists to wedding gift registries. Thanks to the genius of these applications, smartphones have become essential to people from different parts of life for recreational and professional purposes. Perdeby brings you some of the coolest apps currently available for download.

Google Goggles

For: iPhone and Android

Google is undoubtedly the most popular search engine on the web. Its image search has become a favourite for inquisitive minds who might not know what a red panda looks like, or who simply need to see Lady Gaga’s latest controversial outfit. Google has released an app that does the opposite of an image search. Instead of searching for an image of something you might already know about, Google Goggles lets you take a picture of a logo, car or something else you may not be able to identify. Within seconds it gives you a list of results about what the object in the picture could be. So far, the application is able to identify landmarks, brand names and trademarks, flags as well as novelties such as collectable items. Future versions of the application promise to be able to identify plants and animals – which could be handy if you are not sure if the snake in your shed is venomous or not. In the next couple of years the app will also be able to identify and provide information about celebrities and other well-known people, which could be a big leap in the field of facial recognition. Google Goggles is a remarkable tool to have – it can even solve Sudoku puzzles.

Word Lens

For: iPhone

Most of the time, travelling is fun. You get to discover different cultures, make new friends and scratch a couple of things off your bucket list. Sometimes, however, the pleasures of travelling to an exciting and foreign land are ruined by the indigenous language with which you might not be comfortably familiar. It always takes too long to page through those dense dictionaries they sell at airports and asking a local for help is risky and requires a level of skill with hand signals. For iPhone users, finding your way in a foreign country is as easy as pulling out your cellphone and pointing the camera at one of the signs you are trying to decipher. It is almost instantly translated into a language you understand. It requires no connection to the internet and is so quick that you can have someone else point it at road signs and have it translate them while you drive past. It is a revolutionary innovation that should make many travellers’ journeys a lot less stressful.  Even better is that it will soon be available for download on other platforms including Android, Windows Mobile and BlackBerry.


For: All smartphones

This is arguably the most convenient mobile application, especially for students – and it is South African. It is never a pleasant experience to be caught in the dark during a study session, dinner date or Sing Star party. Powertime lets you buy prepaid electricity from your cellphone without leaving your apartment at dodgy hours of the night. All you need is a debit or credit card carrying the Visa or Master Card logo, then register your meter number for free and buy as much electricity as you can afford. The app also keeps track of your electricity purchases and usage and notifies you whenever it thinks you need to buy more electricity. You can also purchase prepaid airtime in case you need to call and invite more people to your Sing Star party. Nifty.


For: All smartphones

This app is another example of reverse-searching. Instead of typing the name of a song and searching for it, Shazam lets you record a snatch of a song you do not recognise and returns a result telling you the name of the song as well as other useful information about it. It is completely free and a premium version with an unlimited number of uses per month is also available. Shazam is completely user-friendly and is handier than one would expect. After successfully identifying the song, Shazam plays back a snippet of the song and gives you the option of buying the full track on iTunes or Amazon. You can also see the lyrics, read reviews and learn more about the artist. Shazam has gone from being just a brand name to being a verb, with people commanding their friends to “shazam” a song they like but  cannot identify. 

Illustration: JP Nathrass

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