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Antiques Apps

John P. Reid | May 12th, 2013


Stoneware crocks in an on-line auction viewed on a small Android tablet.

Computer Column #294

by John P. Reid,

In the last year this column has commented often about the rapid rise of mobile computing—of the use of smartphones for more than phone calls and of tablet computers. Mobile computing is even a threat to the personal computer market. New statistics say that a mobile device is now used in place of a personal computer approximately three-fifths of the time. Of course, more than half of this time probably involves using Facebook and playing games, but the rest of the time involves real computing.

Mobile computing includes two parts. The first is using the Internet browser. The second is using apps—software suited to mobile devices. There are hundreds of thousands of apps available for downloading, many of them free. Apple alone recently reported its 25 billionth app download. Apps are installed and, if necessary, paid for at the on-line app store recommended by your device supplier and mentioned in the user manual.

Computer columnists in every field publish lists of “My Favorite Apps.” This is difficult in the antiques world because interests are so varied, but a few apps stand out. They are available for Apple and Android devices and many other mobile systems.

Apps for Antiquers

There are useful apps that are clearly related to antiques. Large auction houses have apps displaying their current and past catalogs. On-line bidding is often possible. It may not be long before local auctions have the tools to create their own apps. There are apps for eBay buyers and sellers. If there are museums that specialize in your area of interest, see if they have illustrated apps showing collections. Chambers of commerce and tourism bureaus in many areas offer apps promoting local attractions, and there is often an antiques category in the shopping section. A few antiques shows and multiple-show venues are offering apps. There are dozens of apps for identifying china or silver marks or for locating individual shops or antiques, as well as apps that claim to help you get rich with antiques.

Many important apps of general interest are preinstalled on a new smartphone or tablet. That is certainly true of the one absolutely essential one, the Web browser. Apple devices often have a mobile version of the Safari browser. Android usually uses its generic browser. There are other browser apps that can be installed, including mobile versions of Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Opera. In the past, these replacement browsers have not always integrated well with other built-in apps. It may be better to learn to live with the preinstalled browser with its foibles until we, and the browser app designers, gain more experience.

The cameras in almost all smartphones and tablets are rapidly becoming essential to antiquers as well.

Smartphones and tablets come with an e-mail app. Tablets are especially good for e-mail because of the larger keyboard. Again, replacement apps are available, but stick with the preinstalled apps unless there is a good reason to change. E-mail is too tightly linked to the device’s contacts list and a smartphone’s telephone functions. Smartphones also come with text messaging or “texting.” Tablets usually do not come with texting, and add-on texting apps can be problematical.

Most Android devices come with a search app, usually Google Search since Google invented the Android operating system. It often is summoned by an icon on the main menu or home screen. Apple uses similar searches. Apps for Microsoft Bing and Yahoo! Search are available for free. Apps for the lesser-known search engines such as or izik (formerly blekko) are generally available and offered for free as well. If you consult Wikipedia often, a Wikipedia app can save time by bypassing the Web browser and search engine.

So many antiques events happen outdoors or in midwinter that a good weather app is nice to have. One usually comes with the device. Be sure to turn on location services in your device’s settings while traveling or you might get Maine weather forecasts in Miami. Smartphones are also a substitute for GPS automobile navigation devices, though they may not give turn-by-turn directions.

Also for the traveler, major cities have traffic report apps fed by television stations. There are usually public transit apps. All major airlines have apps for ticketing, confirmation, and flight information including arrival and departure times. Amtrak has an app for train service.

A generic calendar comes with every mobile device. If yours does not automatically sync with a secure calendar stored on line, look for a replacement. Apple, Google, and Microsoft all have cloud storage calendars apps. An appointment entered in one of your mobile devices will instantly show up on your other devices and desktop computer. Portions of the calendar can be shared with business associates or family.

If you use social media in your antiquing, apps are available. Facebook and Twitter apps are preinstalled in many smartphones and may be hard to delete. If you would rather not spend spare time playing games or with social networking, all kinds of e-book reader apps are available, including one compatible with the popular Amazon Kindle. It will automatically have access to all books purchased on an Amazon account.

A notebook can be indispensable. The simple and convenient AK Notepad is available for most mobile devices. More elaborate note taking, including on-line storage of text and photos taken with the mobile device, is available with the Evernote app. Google has just announced Keep, which also stores on-line notes, but we have not explored it yet.

Finally, your bank probably has an app for depositors that can be indispensable while travelling or after hours. While vacationing in the mountains of Tennessee far from landline or cell phone coverage, I remembered that I had forgotten a payment on my business credit line. It was taken care of with a trip into town and a coffee shop with a Wi-Fi hotspot for the smartphone.

Creating Apps

With Apple and Google each reporting almost 700,000 available apps, it would seem that apps must be easy to create. They decidedly are not. There are, however, lots of experienced computer programmers with time on their hands and dreams of getting rich with a killer app. One analysis says that more than 20% of all apps are of low quality—they do not work well or are trivial. My favorite is the cute puppy singing “Happy Birthday to You” through poorly animated lips.

Professional app programmers must download a great deal of special software sometimes called a development environment. The grunt work involves the C programming language for Apple or the Java language for Android. These are two of the most demanding programming languages. Learning to program at this level is a major effort. Google made attempts to adapt simpler “scripting” languages such as Python and Perl to Android app design, but results are incomplete.

For simple apps, there are a dozen or more on-line services that create both Apple and Android apps from existing material such as a Web site, a written document in electronic form, or existing images, text, video, or audio. User interaction usually is limited to navigation. Computational ability is minimal. These services are usually free to try, but there are charges if the app is distributed. We will try some of these app builders and report on them in the future.

Originally published in the June 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest

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