Want to improve your life? Also lacking in spare time? These are the apps for you
Quality of life is vitally important. Lots of clever people argue that smartphones can negatively impact on your wellbeing – and there is truth in that. When you’re too tied to a phone, you can become withdrawn. There’s a subtle addiction cycle that comes from checking in with social apps and email, and it’s hard to break. Busywork pings the brain in ways it likes – but is the mental equivalent of fast-food snacking.
However, there are ways an iPhone or iPad can enrich your life, too – it’s just about having the right apps, and infusing good stuff (rather than junk) into your routine. But who has the time for that? Probably not you.
That’s why this round-up concentrates on quality of life apps for the time-poor. Many require just minutes – or even seconds – of your day; but in that short time, they may be able to make meaningful changes to your life.
Oak – Meditation & Breathing
Free • v2.5.1 • 174 MB • By Courtney Circle
Mindfulness apps are supposed to help you unwind. But many are mired in complexity, lengthy courses, and wallet-punching payments. Oak is the antidote to all such nonsense – a sleek, simple, (mostly) free app, which makes very few demands on your time.
From its launch screen, you can jump right into various kinds of meditations and breathing exercises. For meditations, durations can be defined – ideal when you’ve only ten minutes to spare. Breathing exercises only take up a minute of your day.
Smartly, recent exercises you’ve tried subsequently appear at the top of the screen as quick-access single-tap buttons. And although Oak now has additional IAP courses, you don’t need to pay for anything to get plenty from the app.
$4/£4 • v4.0.8 • 239.6 MB • By Crunchy Bagel
Exercise is often cited as a way to improve your quality of life. Not only can it be great physically, but exercise can also be good for the mind, boosting confidence and heightening your mood. Apps, though, too often make assumptions about abilities and equipment. Not Streaks Workout.
This app defaults to exercises that can be done pretty much anywhere. And if there are those you can’t do (for physical reasons, or because you don’t have a handy nearby chair or wall), they can be disabled.
After that point, it’s just a case of kicking off a six-minute workout, which the app can remind you of daily. And should you want something more tuned specifically to you, it’s a cinch to create custom exercises and workouts.
Moodflow: Year in Pixels
Free • v3.2 • 64.5 MB • By Walter Monecke
Often, improving your life relies in figuring out how things affect your mood. If you’re fortunate, there may be patterns to what gives you a lift – or makes you unhappy. Moodflow is designed to help you track all of this, in an extremely simple manner.
Each day, you check into the app, select from one of five happiness ratings, and tap mood buttons that align with how you felt over the course of the day. This only takes seconds, yet over time builds up to a colorful at-a-glance mood calendar to peruse at leisure.
Should you have more time to invest, Moodflow advocates basic journalling, incorporates a good habits dashboard, and even allows you to customize the colors and text within its interface.
$5/£5 • v4.2.1 • 113.9 MB • By Crunchy Bagel
Although Moodflow has habit-tracking built in, Streaks is a better bet if that’s your main focus in improving your quality of life. The app wisely keeps things simple and refined, encouraging you to outline up to six habits (good things to do and/or bad things to quit) that are then displayed on its main screen as huge buttons to prod. (A second screen is available if you need some overflow.)
Setting things up is simple, and the app will optionally ping you reminders as necessary. After that point, you can opt to use the Today view widget to mark items complete, if you don’t want to return to Streaks itself. But you’ll still want to take the occasional trip back to the app, to view those ongoing statistics – including those all-important streaks.
Free • v2.17.1 • 76.4 MB • By BuzzFeed
Eating better can improve your quality of life, but it’s easy to think of making meals as a laborious, tricky, time-consuming process. Also, you may lack inspiration. That’s where Tasty comes in. Stuffed with over 3000 recipes, it leads you through the process of making each dish.
To filter down to simpler stuff, tap the search field, whereupon you can opt for dishes that can be made in under 30 minutes, or those that need just five ingredients or fewer. On choosing a recipe, a short, zero-cruft video shows you how the dish is made. This can later be followed in step-by-step form, alongside written step-by-step instructions.
This is a bright, cheery, modern, feel-good take on cookery, whether aiming for fast and healthy or something indulgent for a particularly sweet tooth.
Free + IAP • v6.31.0 • 118.8 MB • By Duolingo
Learning a language is good food for the brain, although it can obviously improve your life in other ways – perhaps to finally talk to a partner whose tongue you’ve never fully acquired; or when living or regularly visiting another country. Duolingo enables you to quickly grasp the basics of over 30 languages – although obviously not all at once!
The interface takes the form of bite-sized lessons, akin to flashcards. These gradually infuse vocabulary and grammar into your memory. Its cheery and entertaining demeanor might seem more cartoon than hard education, but that’s part of the point.
Note there is a lives system (five per day, lives being lost when you err), which requires IAP to override, but avoid paying for that – research suggests little and often usage is the secret to success.
Free • v1.0.29 • 45.3 MB • By Duolingo
Also by Duolingo, Tinycards features some language-learning, but moves into a range of other areas as well, including geography, history, and art. Essentially, it’s an approachable flashcards app, to boost your knowledge in a manner that doesn’t feel overwhelming.
Again, this is an app that works best in short bursts. You can set it to enable daily reminders, so you’ll check in, spend a few minutes on your latest card set, and gradually acquire knowledge.
Rather than sapping your time and energy, Tinycards gradually enables you to infuse facts and figures into your brain, without adding to your stress or workload.
1 Second Everyday
Free or $4/£4 per month • v3.1.2 • 104.3 MB • By 1SE
Sometimes, your quality of life can be improved by better remembering what’s happened in the past – surfacing happy memories and events. But even in an age of smartphone camera ubiquity, you may forget to make a record, hence the idea to do something small on a daily basis.
The idea behind 1 Second Everyday is that you select a tiny snippet of video every single day. It’s up to you to decide what, but the aim is to gradually build up a movie of moments that have a positive impact on your life. When watched back, this unique footage should give you a lift.
The app is free to use, although if you go pro, you can add extra seconds per day, and work on multiple projects.
Free • v5.0.3 • 245.1 MB • By GoPro, Inc.
We’ve mentioned Quik before, on the basis that it’s one of the finest video editors on iPhone. What makes Quik so great is its sheer speed – select favorite videos or photos, select a theme, and the app will get on and edit everything on your behalf.
None of this is set in stone – you can make adjustments to what Quik does, but it is genuinely feasible to get from a standing start to an edited video to save or share within seconds. In fact, Quik makes creating video memories even faster than that. If you allow it to, the app will serve up a fully edited video every weekend, without you lifting a finger. For that alone, it’s a worthy addition to your phone, and capable of giving you a boost when its movies properly click.
Free • v4.9.2 • 47.7 MB • By Timehop Inc.
Still on the subject of celebrating favorite memories, digital photos are everywhere these days. But we take so many that they become fleeting – adding to a growing pile of virtual content that’s subsequently never explored.
The idea behind Timehop is to remind you of what you were doing on this day in years past. Facebook does something similar, but Timehop is a more focused proposition and can draw from a wider range of sources, including other social media networks, and the photos you keep on your device.
Sometimes, the picks might be questionable. (We’ve had the odd random screenshot.) Mostly, though, Timehop’s an app with the potential to bring a smile to your face on a daily basis.
Free • v5.14 • 130 MB • By Google LLC
Being informed and knowing what’s happening in the world may help your quality of life – although certain stories or publications can instead have a detrimental effect. This is why Google News is an interesting take on phone-based news reporting.
When you launch the app, the For you tab provides a weather report and five-story briefing, drawn from a range of sources. Any item can be saved for later, but also you can choose to block sources you don’t like.
The Favorites tab enables you to flag topics, sources, and locations you’re especially interested in, and the app will send notifications for items it reckons you need to immediately know about, such as sports scores.
Free + IAP • v6.0.5 • 196.5 MB • By Sleep Cycle AB
Getting enough sleep is a problem many of us face. Sleep Cycle analyzes how you rest at night. This enables you over time to visualize the sleep you’re getting, and determine if there are patterns to restlessness. The app also attempts to wake you during the lightest phase of sleep, to reduce grogginess.
Sleep Cycle is automated, drawing data from audio or movement. Because of this, setting things up is simple. We should urge caution, however: research shows some people react negatively to sleep data, becoming stressed when figures don’t go their way.
But if you have issues sleeping, at least give the app a try. If Sleep Cycle works for you, it could meaningfully improve your quality of life for very little effort, helping you get some extra shut-eye.