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Mónica Guzmán

Stories at the intersection of tech and life from a boldly connected city.

September 15, 2012 at 8:00 PM

4 steps to a sane and clean closet — I mean, smartphone

What apps do you actually use? Here’s what’s on my home screen today.

You know what I hate? My closet.

There aren’t just clothes in there. There are unsolved mysteries. Will this ever fit? Will that ever flatter? And why am I still hanging on to these insanely small jeans?

Cleaning out my closet, I’ve realized, is a lot like cleaning up my smartphone. I don’t want to do it. But if I don’t, I’ll go nuts.

There are more than 700,000 mobile apps in the Apple App Store. The Android market has about half a million. A lot of them are free; most that aren’t cost just a buck or two. What is that, an hour’s parking downtown? Easy.

Too easy. Suddenly, getting an app your friend told you about, or the one that’s featured in the app store whenever you happen to look, becomes not a question of why, but why not.

The result? Download spasms that are fun fun fun until you’re swiping through a sea of apps you never use, that do goodness-knows-what, while you look for that one that might actually help you this very moment, if you could just find it in time to — ah, forget it.

Thirteen companies paid ICANN, the organization that regulates the Internet’s Web addresses, $185,000 each for the chance — the chance! — to own the new .com-like domain name extension .app when ICANN begins expanding the Web’s address book. Nearly half of American adults own smartphones, the Samsung Galaxy S3 is still hot, and the just-announced iPhone 5 fits a whole ‘nother row of apps on its bigger screen. If you haven’t gotten download-happy yet, watch out. You might.

And unless you’re one of those naturally organized types (how? HOW?!), you’ll look at your closet, look at your phone, and know just what I’m talking about.

A lot of people head for handy tech blog posts to learn how best to keep their smartphones tidy. Me? I think ruthless, let’s-not-kid-ourselves good housekeeping is just what that cluttered smartphone needs.

Got a messy smartphone? Put its apps to the test.

Question 1: Have you worn it in the past year?

Sometimes we think we want something, but we don’t. The best test is time.

In the furthest reaches of my multiplying iPhone screens, a couple of apps have settled in that I have not once actually opened. Two are business card replacement apps I got at a conference. Another has an icon that looks like a happy quote bubble on wheels, and I can’t for the life of me remember how or why I came to have it. They’ve been living on my phone about four months — a year in tech time, as far as I’m concerned. Out.

Question 2: Does it fit you right now (and not when you lose a few pounds)?

There’s aspiration, then there’s reality.

I installed MindMeister, a digital brainstorming app, because I know people who have it and make masterpieces with it and, well, I wanted to be more like them. I brainstorm best on two surfaces: paper and whiteboard. In this screentastic age, that didn’t seem good enough. I tried the app a few times — in sync with the desktop version, mind you — and always came back to real-world materials. Maybe one day moving bubbles around a screen will feel as effortless as moving a felt tip marker around a whiteboard. Right now, at least, it just doesn’t fit. Toss.

Question 3: Got repeats?

No sense keeping two when one will do.

I’ve got two apps that do essentially the same things. Camera Plus and Camera Awesome are photo-editing apps, complete with filters, crop tools and other effects that make even my worst mobile pics presentable. Camera Plus I’ve used for more than a year now, almost daily. Camera Awesome I got because I heard it was better. I tried it and, for me, it wasn’t. But there it sat, because, I don’t know, maybe one day I’ll see it and realize I was wrong? Unlikely. Delete.

Question 4: Is it in season?

If you got it early, you might as well wait.

In a conference-crazed early adopter frenzy this spring, I downloaded three apps: Highlight, Sonar and Glancee. They were the talk of the tech town, drained my power to nothing, and delivered, since I’ve been home, not that much bang for the battery buck. These apps run your phone’s location in the background (thus the battery drain), let you know when Facebook friends, friends of friends or Twitter followers are close by, and where they are. Not terribly useful when you’re driving to an appointment, but interesting nonetheless. A little more time on the runways and I might hang one of these apps at arm’s reach. I’ll check back then.

What unused apps have lingered too long on your smartphone? Let me know in the comments, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

Mónica Guzmán’s column appears in Sunday’s Seattle Times. Got a story about living with technology in the Northwest? Send her an email, follow her on Twitter @moniguzman or subscribe to her on Facebook.

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