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Could you survive with only 6 apps on your phone? Which ones would they be?

By Adam Z. Lein August 28, 2019, 2:00 pm

This is really just an interesting thought experiment since I’m sure you all have plenty of smart phone storage for a billion apps to install and switch between as much as you want. I was inspired by the “Ultra Power Saving” mode that many Huawei smartphones have these days.  This is an option that will basically shut off all of the background apps on your phone and only let you access or launch six apps of your choosing… until you choose to exit Ultra Power Saving mode, of course.  The main advantage here is that you’ll be able to squeeze out a lot more battery life by simplifying all of the things your smartphone needs to do.


However, there’s also another advantage…  since your smartphone can be considered an extension of your human brain, simplifying its functions can also simplify your life.  The ability to reduce stress and focus on the things that are actually important to you is a huge advantage.

The sheer volume of notifications that you may have to deal with on your smartphone is probably getting out of hand. See “The rise of anti-notifications“.  A lot of these notifications are from apps that are just trying to increase their engagement rates and really shouldn’t be given so much importance as to take your attention away from your actual work or actual life. Furthermore, managing a huge collection of apps that are constantly ringing for your attention can take a huge toll on your cognitive energy.

The solution?  Simplify your smartphone and simplify your life.

Which apps would you choose?

I’m choosing 6 apps because that’s just what the Huawei phone’s Ultra Power Saving mode allows, but obviously you can remove and hide as many apps as you want.  Here are my choices:

Workspace ONE Boxer

My first choice is going to be Workspace ONE Boxer. It’s an email program that supports my Microsoft Exchange server accounts better than Outlook for Android and it also supports IMAP IDLE for push. It syncs my contacts from Exchange and makes them available within the phone dialer and speech UI on Android. There’s also a pretty great calendar built in that again syncs beautifully with Microsoft Exchange. The user interface is tolerable, but feature-wise I’ve found it to be the best email program for me that’s available on Android.  I can have all of my work email accounts and my friends/family-only spam-free personal account on there with different notification sound effects so I’ll know what’s what.  I’ve even set it up to bypass the battery-saving features so that it’ll keep running in the background for those important notifications.

Also, I chose an email program as number 1 because email is still the most robust, most mature, most widely used, most accessible, and most freedom-friendly inter-personal communications method on the internet. Thankfully, I was never gullible enough to get locked into using other messaging apps like Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp, iMessage, Slack, and the hundreds of other proprietary systems fighting to take over a little piece of your communications network and splitting up your attention. Okay, I admit, I was that gullible at one point, but after the failures of AIM, MSN Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, ICQ, and the privacy nightmares of Facebook Messenger… I’ve learned my lesson.

Google Voice

Gotta make phone calls, right? As a tech journalist, I switch phones a lot, so I make use of a Google Voice number that can forward calls to whatever number of other phones I might have around. This also lets me keep my actual personal phone number private so I can avoid too many unwanted callers and spammer text messages. Google Voice also nicely transcribes voice mail messages so I can read them in my email.  If I didn’t block or ignore practically all text messages, it would let me reply to those too.

Tor Browser

For number 3 I need a web browser. As a web developer, I use a lot of different web browsers so the choice was difficult. I really like the new Chrome 76 on Android since it finally supports CSS backdrop filters and the experimental flag for enabling dark mode (which also works with the “prefers-color-scheme” CSS media query), is pretty great.  I also love using Firefox Nightly for its 3rd party extensions support, and Microsoft Edge for Android is pretty sleek too.  But if I had to choose just one, I think I would go with the Tor Browser.  It’s based on Firefox, but ads the extra security/privacy of routing everything through Tor (The Onion Router).  I don’t really do anything on the Web that requires a Tor level of security and privacy, nor have I ever done anything in the Deep Web, but as my mom always said, “it’s better to be safe then sorry.”


Number 4 is the Music app that comes with EMUI 9.1 on my Huawei phone. I’ve got a good collection of MP3s loaded into storage and the default Music app is great for shuffling and playing them through my headphones or Bluetooth car stereo.  Using offline music instead of streaming music saves on battery and data usage too.  It even works on an airplane!

With other phones, I would probably have to find an alternative MP3 player like VLC since I’m not a fan of the “Google Play Music” app that some Android phones default to.


For my number 5 slot, I’m going to need a GPS navigation program with good offline mapping capabilities. Yeah, Google Maps is pretty good, but it’s offline mapping capabilities are cumbersome and the anti-notifications are kind of annoying.  HERE WeGo allows me to download map data for entire states & countries so that when I get to a new location I can have mapping directions even if there’s no internet.


And finally… I need that Camera app! For me, the camera is one of the most important parts of the smartphone, so access to that has got to be front and center.


Which 6 apps would you choose if you could only choose 6 apps on your phone? Post a comment below or use the #6appschallenge hashtag on social media.



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