We’re all spending a little more time inside than we’d like recently, but thankfully there are plenty of smartphone apps that can make isolation a little more worthwhile. Whether you want to meet up with friends at a distance, spend some time learning or just relax, there are dozens of great choices. There are also some cracking apps for making yourself more productive if you’re working from home. In this article, we’ll share ten of our absolute favourite isolation app recommendations for iOS and Android.
10. Forest - iOS & Android (Free)
If you’re working from home - especially if you’re doing it for the first time, or doing it with family members that are normally at school or work - you may find it difficult to remain focused. One way to do this is by splitting your work day into twenty-five minute pieces called Pomodoros. In each Pomodoro, you’re meant to accomplish a single task, and afterwards you get a five minute break. After four Pomodoros, you take a longer break, up to half an hour. This keeps your mind fresh and encourages you to spend that time productively.
There are tons of apps devoted to this Pomodoro concept, but the nicest one we’ve used is called Forest. For each twenty-five minute session, you plant a tree and see it slowly grow. If you switch to a different app on your phone, the sapling will die, but if you make it to the end of the twenty-five minutes you’re rewarded with a fully grown tree. It’s lovely to see a small forest that you’ve created at the end of the day, and it really helped me remain on task - including writing this article!
9. Duolingo - iOS & Android (Free)
Language learning is one of the most worthwhile ways to improve yourself, but it does take time and commitment to succeed. Thankfully, there are some nice apps which incentivise you by keeping things fun and light. One of the best language learning apps for many languages is Duolingo, which provides short, bite-sized lessons that include listening, speaking, reading and writing.
Duolingo is available for dozens of languages, including most European languages as well as popular options like Chinese and Japanese. However, Duolingo isn’t as well-suited to teaching character writing, so for Chinese language learning we’d recommend the app HelloChinese. Memrise is another popular language learning app that you could check out as a Duolingo alternative.
8. ports.WOOD - iOS & Android (Free)
One of the coolest silver linings of the current situation is seeing the ingenuity of some people when faced with a crisis. A personal highlight was seeing the development of the ports.WOOD app, which rounds up the businesses that are continuing to offer food and drink for delivery in the Bristol area.
The app is still a little rough around the edges, having been released only a few days ago, but it’s a valuable resource that can be kept up-to-date easily - in contrast to long-standing yet now dated information from elsewhere online. Check it out if you’re in Bristol, or investigate similar apps, public spreadsheets and websites in your local area!
7. Houseparty - iOS & Android (Free)
One of the biggest app success stories of recent weeks has been Houseparty, an app developed by Fortnite developers Epic Games. As the name suggests, the app makes it easy to hang out with friends, with apps available for smartphones, tablets and computers. As well as simple group video calls, the app also includes a selection of fun party games which are a nice way to pass the time once you’ve run out of things to say.
The app has been dogged recently with allegations that it leaves other social accounts open to hacking, but so far these seem to be unsubstantiated rumours spread by social media users, rather than reports by actual data security researchers. If you’re worried about this, make sure your Houseparty account uses a unique password - as you should be doing anyway - to ensure that multiple accounts can’t be compromised at once.
6. Insight Timer - iOS & Android (Free)
While paid meditation apps Calm and Headspace are popular choices, our next recommendation is for a free alternative: Insight Timer. This app offers a large collection of free guided meditation sessions from a range of teachers, psychologists and experts. If you’re comfortable meditating without a guide, then you can choose from thousands of ambient sounds or relaxed music tracks instead. As with most other popular apps of this sort, your progress is tracked over time to encourage you to stick with it and appreciate how far you’ve come. This is a great choice for relaxing if life is getting to you at the moment!
5. Golf Clash - iOS & Android (Free)
Videogames offer some of the best ways to spend time in isolation, including a number of great options for mobile phones. Fortnite, Minecraft and Words With Friends are some well-known (and excellent!) games to play, but we thought we’d try to find something a little different - and here it is. Golf Clash is a one-on-one golfing game that’s quick and easy to play, while still being deep enough to be interesting. It’s great fun even for people that aren’t au fait with smartphone gaming, with a simple analogue premise that doesn’t take much explanation.
4. MasterClass - iOS & Android (Free w/ IAPs)
MasterClass is a unique learning app that offers lessons from leading experts in their fields, from cooking and acting to economics and poker. The focus here is on quality and celebrity, but each expert is well-supported with digestible lessons on a clear goal and excellent camerawork. Plus, it’s just cool to see Werner Herzog, Natalie Portman or Steph Curry sharing their expertise - even if they’re not natural teachers, they’re still among the best in their field and that leads to some unexpected insights. This app is incredibly expensive, with a pair of annual subscriptions costing £170 or single classes costing £85, but if you get a lot of use out of it then it could be worthwhile to you. It’s worth looking at the sample lessons on the MasterClass site to get a better idea of what’s available before you commit!
3. Down Dog - iOS & Android (Free)
Down Dog is one of several apps that have gone free recently to allow people to retain their fitness in self-isolation. This yoga app is one of the best in its category too, thanks to a focus on customisation. You can select the length of your session, the style of yoga that you’re interested in and the areas of your body you want to train, and it will generate a routine that hits all the boxes, with easy-to-follow examples and audio guidance. If you’re after something a little more intense, the 7 Minute Workout app and a number of others by the same company are also currently free.
2. Zoom - iOS & Android (Free)
We couldn’t really write this list without including Zoom, could we? The video-based meetings app is the work equivalent of Houseparty, offering a simple way to collaborate and communicate with your WFH colleagues - even in great numbers. One of the best features of Zoom is its ability to set a custom background, which have been produced in great numbers during recent weeks. (There are some great repositories here and here.)
The service has been dinged recently by security researchers, who spotted that its Mac app installed itself without asking for proper permission, but the company appears to be making a good faith effort to fix the problem. Meanwhile, stay cautious when using the app and practice good internet security by using a new account and password combination that you haven’t used elsewhere, and try not to share your meeting IDs beyond those who need to know about them.
1. COVID Symptom Tracker - iOS & Android (Free)
Our final app recommendation is also the most important. The COVID Symptom Tracker is a simple app that asks you to check in each day, sharing your symptoms (or lack thereof). The data collected is analysed by scientists at King’s College London, and could provide a better picture of how the current pandemic spreads, where high-risk areas are and who is most at risk. The app doesn’t provide medical advice - that’s better handled by the NHS - but it could make the most difference to people’s lives.
Thanks for checking out the article! If you’ve found any apps helpful during this difficult time, why not let me know via Twitter https://twitter.com/wsjudd? We’re particularly interested in apps that have been developed specifically in response to the current crisis, like the NHS’s upcoming contact-tracing app. We may well do a second edition of this round-up if it’s found helpful, so please do provide your suggestions. Thanks again and we’ll see you next time!
Title image credit: Daria Obymaha from Pexels