What’s your favorite app?

It seems like an innocent question, right? One that you could answer after a second or two of thought? After all, you use your phone every hour, every day. Surely you know what your favorite app is, right?

I gave that question some thought this week as a product management exercise. As exercises go, it provoked more questions than answers. Picking a favorite app is not so simple because there several factors that don’t always align. Here are those I considered:

  1. How often do you use it? There are apps that I use every day, several times a day such as Google Maps. I couldn’t live without it and need it, especially on my phone but it’s not my favorite app.
  2. Is it a way to access another service? I use the Twitter, Facebook and Slack apps every day to see what’s going on with my friends and catch up with current events. Yet those are benefits of the service, not the app. Lyft might be a necessary app on your phone, but it’s not about the app, it’s about the service.
  3. Does it provide access to utilities? Our phones allow us to answer email, manage our calendar, and call and text our contacts. Yet these, too, are a service and don’t often become favorite apps. We need them on our phones because need to access them when we are away from a computer.
  4. Does it enable access to content? Media apps allow easier access to their sometimes paywalled content than a mobile browser. Some are better than others and do a great job aggregating and presenting their content, but the app is still defined by that content.

The Nazareth Iris photographed in the wild by my mom and shared on WhatsApp

So what’s left? Maybe it’s time to channel Marie Kondo and ask what apps spark joy? Alternatively, what apps make our lives easier and, in doing that, cause delight in unexpected ways, be it because of efficiency or the information or service they provide. Finally, do we really use them or are they a sort of a critic’s choice: fancy, well designed, but don’t provide a clear benefit. So after a lot of thinking, these are my favorite apps:

  1. Citymapper, the public transportation app. Citymapper provides a service that other apps do, such as Google Maps and Moovit. It tells you how to get from point A to point B using public transportation, but it does so in a way that outshines the competition. Citymapper has become indispensable on trips as a source of information, but, perhaps more importantly, it completely changed my behavior while on a trip. Instead of begrudgingly taking out a map and trying to figure out stops, or, more likely, switching between a map app to find stations and a public transport app to find train routes, or hailing a taxi just to get there, I now embrace subways, metros and undergrounds. It’s easy to find a station, to find the right train and platform at the station, and to get out at the best exit at the destination. Unlike Google Maps, which offers one or two different transportation options, Citymapper offers 8 or 10 (in New York, at least) along with weather-safe routes, walking, biking and ridesharing options.
  2. WhatsApp, Facebook’s messaging app. Similarly to Citymapper, WhatsApp provides a service many, many other apps do: a platform for sharing content with your social circle. Like Citymapper, it manages to outshine the competition in one, unexpected way: it got many of friends, who had never shared anything on any other social platform before, share photos and text and participate in conversations.  I credit this newfound sharing capability to WhatsApp’s instinctive UI, which makes it extremely easy to post content, coupled with the security of posting to a closed and known group. There is no unintended sharing to larger groups on WhatsApp or a chance of the content being reshared and I think it is this limitation that has prompted my social circle to share more often.

So what’s your favorite app?

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