Tech Talk: Have an appy Christmas

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WILL there be a smartphone or a tablet in your stocking tomorrow? Perhaps an iPod touch? If so, you will be in good company: it’s estimated that 55 million tablets alone have been manufactured this year. But once you’ve unwrapped your new toy, charged the battery and rescued the Getting Started leaflet from the dog, what next? Smartphones are just phones until you extend their functionality by installing some apps.

Exactly which apps you choose will depend on your interests and, crucially, on which operating system your new device uses. Chances are it will be either Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android, and though they do similar things their characteristics are hugely different. Think of Apple as the exclusive, gated community on the edge of town and Android as the Barratt estate they slung up in the Seventies. Apple tightly controls access to its environment and expects you to use it within certain parameters – whereas Android’s hands-off policy makes it a wonderland for geeks of all ages.

When you buy an app from Apple (and you can buy only from them) it has passed through a rudimentary quality control system and should work with your device intuitively and transparently. Android offers a wider choice, but no such guarantee of convenience. Whichever system you’ll be using, here are three must-have apps to download...

Flipboard: If your new toy is an iPad, this is the one app it’s been waiting for. Flipboard gathers content about subjects that interest you and reformats it into a beautiful, interactive magazine which animates and updates before your eyes. In a similar vein, also try Zite; both are free.

Dropbox: Whatever make or size your new device, there’s a Dropbox to fit it. Think of it as a cupboard on a cloud into which you stuff your documents, pictures and any other files you can think of. Then you can access them from any of your other computers without having to transfer them to a memory stick.

Weather Channel:You’ll never bother with the BBC forecast again once you’ve tried this brilliantly executed app from the American broadcaster. See the 10-day outlook at a glance, zoom in for hour-by-hour detail and browse animated maps.

You’ll find more impartial advice at appadvice.com and android-advice.com. And don’t forget the new live football app from the Yorkshire Post! Happy Christmas.

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