Recently I spoke at Tech Talks #12 in Bristol on ‘Mobile apps beyond Angry Birds’ to show off some apps, some our own, some other people’s, that really are helping make the world a better place.

Everyone has surely heard of the Angry Birds games, they started on iPhone in 2009 and have been followed up with multiple sequels and spin offs. They’ve spread onto pretty much every gaming platform and enjoyed in excess of 2 billion downloads.

Gaming may even be what mobile apps are best known for. It’s true that the games category dominates the app stores in terms of the share of available apps but they aren’t the most-used apps:


Apps available: More games are available than any other category

Social, mapping, email and information apps are more widely used than any of the games so it’s clear that mobile has more to offer than just games! This can be seen in the chart below:


Apps used: Social, mapping, email and information apps beat games in actual usage data

Apps that go beyond Angry Birds

peekThere are many apps that do amazing things beyond gaming. For example, the Peek (Portable Eye Examination Kit) app that’s currently seeking crowd funding on IndieGoGo after two years of research and development.

They’ve developed an app and phone-camera adaptor which provides more affordable and portable access to comprehensive eye exam tools for remote and poor areas of the world, doing a lot of work in Africa and even being used as part of an expedition to the Antarctic.

Another clever use of smartphone cameras is the Instant Heart Rate app that launched in 2010. This app allows users to measure their heart rate by merely placing their finger over their smartphone’s camera lens.

“This app allows users to measure their heart rate by merely placing their finger over their smartphone’s camera lens”


Sounds like magic, right? It basically picks up tiny colour changes in your finger’s skin as the capillaries expand and contract with your pulse and can hence detect your heart rate, apparently with very accurate results!

Power sharing

Then there’s HTC’s Power To Give app for Android devices. This app makes use of your device’s spare processor time to compute complex mathematical problems in a massive distributed computer network to aid scientists and researchers in areas such as AIDS, Alzheimer’s, cancer, exploring the universe and searching for intelligent life.

All of this goes on in the background on your device when it’s plugged in to charge and connected to Wi-Fi so that you don’t experience any adverse effects. This is something that’s been going on for a long time on PCs (and even PlayStation 3) and should certainly be pushed out to as many platforms as possible.

What MyOxygen have done

As a company MyOxygen has always steered clear of vanity or throw-away apps and we try to focus on those that really change how people work and live.

An example of this is My Journey, an app for the Early Intervention In Psychosis program. This app was developed for Surrey & Borders NHS to help individuals recover from the early stages of psychosis, tracking their symptoms and keeping up with their medication.


The My Journey app: Early Intervention In Psychosis

Users answer a set of questions about their mood and feelings periodically and can see the results displayed on a graph against their medication taking habits. The graphs clearly show how they’re doing whilst on medication or what happens if they stop taking it, something which can often be hard to gauge without the stats there in front of you.

These reports can then be exported and shared with their doctor, giving them the information they really need rather than the usual ‘erm yeah, not sure, ok I guess’ that they might get when they ask a patient how they’re getting on.

“Doctors prescribing apps is a real thing now”


This really shows that doctors prescribing apps is a real thing now. Instead of just medication they can advise their patients to use one of the many tracking apps out on the app stores for their specific ailment and can then benefit from the stats that get tracked.

Relieving stress

We also developed an app for the University of the West of England to help their students deal with stress and anxiety by providing advice and tools to manage and track their stress. Considering the app was aimed only at students it’s been a great success with currently over 40,000 monthly active users around the world!

The app also has a ‘social cloud’ built in which acts as a forum for the users to share their thoughts and feelings anonymously and provide each other with support based on their own experiences.

Over the past year we’ve been working with Babock and the MOD to help improve their processes and effectiveness through mobile. We’ve run multiple workshops with their workers at various levels to get to the bottom of what mobile applications could really help their productivity from administration apps to document library apps and auditing apps for their submarines and ships.

We’ve done similar work with the South Western Ambulance Service, developing an iPad application allowing their silver commanders in the tactical unit to access procedural documents that they have to follow when responding to a situation as well as feeding back information about the situation to the command centre.

Over the past eighteen months we’ve worked with Credit Call to develop a merchant payment app on iOS and Android to take payments with a Bluetooth PINpad, allowing merchants to accept card payments without needing to invest in bulky point of sale systems and even take payments away from a defined checkout location, much like can be found at Apple’s retail stores.

This interaction of smartphones with external devices is something that’s becoming more popular with our clients and has been something that we’ve been expecting to be the next big thing for mobile.

The next big thing in mobile!

There’s lots of talk about ‘the smart home’ and ‘the internet of things’; control your lighting, heating, appliances at home with your smartphone, even when you’re not in the house!


An iBeacon: Expect to see a lot more of these in shops, cafes, museums and even the home

iBeacons are a relatively new technology brought in by Apple with iOS 7, which we did a talk on at teXplore #3. They’re very simple Bluetooth devices that smartphone applications can use to gauge the users proximity from them, and as such they can be used to provide location-based information, and much much more! Read up on them in our more indepth article on the MyOxygen blog here.

Another IndieGoGo project that’s currently after crowd funding is Flic, from ShortcutLabs, which is almost like an iBeacon but with a button instead of the proximity feature. You can stick it anywhere in your house, car or even on yourself and set it up so that your smartphone will respond to clicks, double clicks and held clicks in different ways.

It could be used as a light switch, a panic alarm, to fake a call to get out of an awkward situation, pretty much anything you could imagine!

Wearables are also very popular at the moment. There are fitness trackers, sleep trackers, you name it. Some of the devices that have those functions do even more in the form of Smart Watches (which we did a talk on at teXplore #4) or even Google Glass (which we did a talk on at
teXplore #2).

Pay by phone

Mobile payments are another form of smartphone connectivity which will be getting bigger next year. Apple will hopefully be bringing Apple Pay to the UK so that iPhone users can pay quickly for items either in apps or via contactless terminals without needing their wallet on them. With the launch of the Apple Watch anticipated for Spring 2015 you won’t even need to take your phone out of your pocket but instead use your watch to make contactless payments!

“Use your watch to make contactless payments”


Google have had Google Wallet as a similar payment system in the US since 2011 but unfortunately it’s not made the jump over the pond, nor hit the mainstream in the US it seems.

Mobile enhancements

At the end of the day gaming certainly won’t be going away from mobile devices, and nor should it, there’s plenty of fun to be had with them and everyone needs to unwind once in a while! But hopefully you’ve read about some, arguably, better uses of mobile technology here and maybe it will have even given you some food for thought in terms of how your personal or business lives could be enhanced by mobile.

Made with Repix ( Mash is the lead developer at MyOxygen. Founded in 2007, MyOxygen is a growing team focussed on building mobile applications which make a difference in how people live their lives and do their work, with a client list that includes the NHS, Babcock, Kohler and the University of the West of England.

If you’ve got a mobile app project that requires design and/or development, don’t hesitate to get in touch!