11 Essential Outdoor Apps (Part 1)

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Spring has (belatedly) sprung and that means it's time to swap the dull indoors for the dull outdoors. But this selection of apps might just help make the time away from your computer that little bit more interesting...

There was a time when everyone agreed that using a computer went hand in hand with an unhealthy, indoor-based lifestyle. After all, whether you were playing a game, reading the internet or doing your work, it meant that you were sitting at a desk - or, after laptops became popular - sitting on a sofa. But no longer! The advent of tablets and smartphones means there are more opportunities than ever to integrate software into the aspects of our lifestyles that, traditionally, would have been separate from a computer. And not just integrate: maybe it can even improve them.

In case this sounds like something you're interested in, we've combed the internet to discover the best outdoor apps, whether they're practical or recreational, whether you want them for your health or just for a laugh.

Zombies, Run! (Android, iOS, Windows Phone)

Keen runners who want to add a bit of alternate-reality fun to their exercise would have to be severely low on brains to ignore Zombies, Run!, the brilliantly conceived app that turns your jog into a fight for survival. As you run, your earphones play your own music, with the noise of the zombie hordes behind you. A huge number of structured missions and dynamically activated radio messages give your daily workout a narrative and the more you run, the more points and inventory you get, which you can plough back into building a sanctuary to defend.

Zombies, Run! (Android, iOS, Windows Phone)

As apps go, it's pretty much perfect. A huge amount of content means the game is expansive and it's continually being added to. Meanwhile, you don't have to sacrifice your technical interest in your exercise because there are graphs and statistics aplenty. Original and immersive, Zombies, Run! is nothing short of a must-have - especially if you want to prove that computer games can be fun and healthy!

Parallel Kingdom (Android, iOS)

With more than a million players signed up, Parallel Kingdom is a location-based MMORPG that places a virtual world on top of the real one, using your phone's GPS sensor to help you navigate through it, claiming territories as you go and interacting with other users who are nearby. Developed by PerBlue, Parallel Kingdom has a lot going for it: it's cross-platform, meaning players can interact across different operating systems, and it has an absolutely huge user-base.

The initial download is free, and while it's possible to buy in-game currency as an in-app purchase, it's not essential to play the game. The game itself is richly developed, with 14 character classes, 40 levels, 50 skills, eight dungeons to discover and hugely customizable avatars. Weekly updates and events keep the game evolving, while leaderboards and chat rooms provide a community around the game. If you need an excuse to get out of the house, a wander in the Parallel Kingdom might just be enough to get you going!

Foursquare (Android, iOS, Windows Phone)

 Foursquare is already very popular, but this list could hardly be complete without it. On a basic level, the app allows you to 'check in' to different locations when you visit them, whether that's a pub, park, landmark or town. By doing so, you earn points and badges (i.e. visiting coffee shops wins you a 'Fresh Brew' badge, while multiple London landmarks unlock the 'London Calling' badge), which you can compare with friends. And the person who visits each location the most becomes 'mayor'. These things form the main 'game' of Foursquare.

However, while it's often referred to as a social game, Foursquare is as much a utility as it is for entertainment. The game is really just a bit of fun with no ultimate point, but the useful content (reviews and comments from Foursquare users, discounts offered for frequent check-ins, discovery of local amenities and establishments) is hugely valuable. It can even tell you which of your Foursquare-using friends are nearby and whether they've been to any of the places you're looking at. It might seem frivolous, but it's practically essential once you've learnt to use it.

Google Sky Map (Android)

Google Sky Map uses an augmented reality overlay to help your identify the stars and planets in the sky at any given time - even if you can't see them! It uses the same techniques as a planisphere, using things like time of year and time of day to decide what you should be able to see and then uses your phone's compass, GPS and gyroscope to map that onto the actual sky. All you have to do is point your phone at the thing you want to identify and the Sky Map application will show you what should be there.

Features include the ability to highlight constellations, planets and deep sky objects that would normally be hard (or even impossible) to see with the naked eye. A search function allows you to find any specific celestial bodies you're interested in and you can even use it as a star chart and manually search the sky. Great fun, especially when combined with a telescope, and best used in a location nice and free from light pollution.

Geocaching - (Android, iOS, Windows Phone)

It might be more expensive than most apps, but there's no doubt that Groundspeak's own Geocaching app is the best around.

In case you're unfamiliar with the term, geocaching involves using a GPS device to locate small storage containers hidden around you. A typical geocache might be hidden inside a bush or taped behind a sign. Within each store, you'll normally find a logbook which you can add your details to before replacing. Larger caches may include larger items, but the point is the fun of locating them rather than the reward of what's inside.

Groundspeak's app turns any smartphone into the ultimate geocaching companion, helping you to find nearby caches and log those that you discover for future reference. It can be used 'live' using a 3G connection or you can pre-download the information you need in case you're heading off somewhere remote. With regular updates and a direct connection to Groundspeak's huge geocaching database, it's the first and only geocaching app you'll ever need, and even the high price isn't enough to put us off recommending it if you want something interesting to do outdoors.

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