Until recently I did not have a tablet or smartphone so the only platform I could use apps on was an iPod Touch. Being of a ‘certain age’ means that such small devices are not easy for fat fingers and less than perfect vision – not having been a spectacle wearer from an early age means ending up with a whole plethora of specs, some for reading, others for driving, yet another pair for the computer screen. Mobile devices depend on one carrying the right ones, which, inevitably, you forget. You will often find me in a supermarket with some product in my outstretched hand with my eyes narrowed in an attempt to read a label – my arms just are not long enough to get the right focal length.

Well I am sitting waiting for the doorbell to ring and deliver an iPad which I can use alongside my newly acquired Android tablet and the Android based smartphone that I started using when I found one that a five year old would look down their nose at, but it suits this not-quite-a-pensioner.

Over the course of the last year I have been sent a plethora of birding apps and now is the time for me to ‘play’ with them to see if they are worth me taking into the field.

The truth is that few are comprehensive even for a whole country and the many differences between the way in which different nations name their birds or order taxonomy leads to some being more useful than others. Apps are now legion but still dominated by the US, which builds in a bias of spelling as well as parochialism.

Nevertheless, I have already found one particular feature invaluable – Bird Song and calls. Being almost totally incapable of recognizing song in the field makes having an easily accessible set of recordings invaluable. If I have a suspect in mind for an elusive bird I can listen to the recorded call and compare it to what I am hearing and, if nothing else, start to eliminate possibilities.

Much of what is available is of the bird recognition type with the next most common category being ways to keep a note of what you see… record keeping apps.Having struggled, for several weeks with relatively cheap Android-based devices the new iPad was a revelation… I’m already in love with it. For old farts it has one draw back – no manual… just a folded slip of paper telling you to turn on and follow instructions. Nevertheless, I have managed to get the hand of Apps at least and have downloaded those previously sent to me to review and had a peep at the rest of the birding Apps I can find. A trawl through over 7000 ‘Reference’ apps I found only a couple of dozen birding related ones – quite a surprise. There are hundreds of translation apps and even more ones based on the bible but birding seems to be lagging behind!

I have found that some apps are terrific and will go with me on overseas trips, but others are not even worth the few pennies one might pay. I will be getting back to some of the top makers to see if they want others reviewed so for now I’ll confine the reviews to those I have already been sent or have downloaded for free.

In the latter category are a number of ‘lite’ apps. This North American appellation normally means without sugar and I assume, wrongly, that the apps would be the full working business but with ads to support the cost – wrong! Most were mere extracts showing, say, 30 bird species that give you an idea of the full version’s potent6ial, layout etc. Now I know there is no point in downloading such versions as they don’t really give you the opportunity to look at, for example, how ‘difficult to separate’ species are treated. I have, on occasion, been sent a book extract and asked to write a review on that basis and have never done so, it makes no sense – like being asked to review a movie on the basis of a trailer deliberately pitched to emphasise the best of the feature film’s content. I’ve learnt to my cost that trailers for comedies often have the only funny bits in the movie and the film itself is not worth the box office fee! Well ‘Lite’ apps fall into this category for me. If a maker cannot countenance sending a full version to a reviewer they do not deserve my time.

So… over the next few weeks watch out for App reviews – first up will be a review of two North American bird Apps – Sibley and Audubon.