Equipping for isolation

Published on the 31/03/2020 | Written by Newsdesk

Isolation_apps available

Software, apps and equipment to get you through…

Business app downloads are soaring as Covid lockdowns crank up around the world.

If there’s an app that can help us maximise productivity, stay focused with work, while also staying connected to colleagues – and friends and those family outside our ‘bubble’ (for our Aussie readers, that’s the Kiwi term for the group you’re locked in a house with), it seems we’re keen.

App Annie says business app downloads hit an all-time high for the week ending 21 March with more than 62 million downloads across iOS and Google Play – up 90 percent on the weekly average for 2019, and up 45 percent on the week earlier.

Covid-19 has only accelerated a mass trend that was already underway.

So here’s iStart’s roundup of the apps currently winning favour, including few lesser known offerings that might just make their mark now.


  • Zoom – the business conferencing app that is suddenly in vogue with the nuevo riche as it has a paid version that provides them a meaningless sense of exclusivity.
  • Skype – free but a bit shit, a fact that is unlikely to change now that it’s owned by Microsoft which is focussed on Teams.
  • Facebook Messenger – another freebie but lacks business credibility and not great once numbers get beyond five or six. And who knows what the data will be used for…
  • Google Hangout – free and pretty good after it was released from the mire that was the now defunct Google+.
  • Houseparty – if your kids aren’t on it yet, they will be soon. If they are, they’ll be delighted when you show up in the house dominating the conversation.
  • FaceTime – if you’re on an Apple device, there’s also FaceTime and Group FaceTime – so long as your entire team are on Apple devices.
  • Cisco WebEx – yes, it’s an oldie, but it has a fairly generous free version and it’s offering free Webex, including unlimited usage, support for up to 100 participants, toll dial in and VoIP capabilities, during Covid-19.
  • Jitsi Meet – this is an open source platform which you can use from the Jitsi site, build your own via Jitsi Videobridge or use versions built by smaller internet providers. It includes video and chat – with emojis – desktop sharing, and recording and livestreaming options.


  • Teams – Microsoft’s latest collaboration tool into which Skype for Business has been folded
  • Slack – essentially a Facebook Messenger but designed for serious banter (all worky of course) amongst business teams, instead of groups of mates. Slack is still run independently from the mega techs.
  • Google Suite – GSuite provides an alternative to the ubiquitous Office 365 with word processing (Docs) and spreadsheets (Sheets) among other tools (Slides, Hangout etc). GSuite files are truly collaborative affairs in that multiple users can be in a document at the same time, not something that O365 handles well. They are also free, which is never good enough for serious business, so their use is most common in education circles.
  • Yammer – after a brief time in the sun, this is another platform acquired by Microsoft under a land grab. Chances are high that the end game is called Teams and Yammer will be under the hammer.

Project and team management

  • Trello – popular among developers, this tool is all about handling the migration of tasks or ‘cards’ through a workflow.
  • Monday.com – provides project managers with a way to create and assign tasks to team members, track and report on them. Flexible, very easy to learn and with many intuitive features.
  • Asana – effectively an alternative to Monday.com if slightly less user friendly. Includes an admin layer that control freaks will love, users not so much when they have to go to administrators to make changes that they’ve deemed sensible but then need to explain, instead of just get on and do as tends to be the case with Monday.com.
  • Basecamp – yes, it’s another popular project management tool for remote teams with project management, scheduling, meetings, and the all-important assignment tracking


  • Ok yes you’re already on Netflix, Lightbox, Apple TV, Lightbox, YouTube, Prime Video etc etc… but the problem is finding something you can actually watch, and then where it is hosted. You’ll need to lean on your social media connections to find that out. Apparently, there’s no app for that.
  • TikTok – where short attention spans come to goof off. Be warned: We all have short attention spans and this can be addictive. Covid-19 has only accelerated a mass trend that was already underway after youth’s annoyance with Facebook, boredom with Snapchat, meh with Whatsapp and Whatevs with EvsElse.
  • YouTube – still rocking after all these years, mirror your phone to your TV and let the good times roll. Until you get tired or disturbed by where the algorithm takes you.
  • Amazon Kindle – you don’t need the paperback nor the Kindle hardware, just your phone, the app and a credit card.
  • Scribd – described (no pun) as the Netflix of e-readers. You get it.
  • Headspace and Calm – want to take things down a notch and try out some meditation? Well there are plenty of apps for that, with Headspace and Calm among the best known. Headspace serves up a 10 day programme for those starting out. Calm, meanwhile, has launched a bedtime stories offering, Sleep Stories so you can go to bed to the soothing tones of Stephen Fry, Leona Lewis, or Matthew McConaughey.
  • Bored – still bored? This app comes up with random suggestions on activities. Many of which are very random, be warned.

Essential Equipment
Every good remote worker needs a good quality headset with a proper mic and noise cancellation. iStart recommends the Jabra Evolve 75 – if you can convince your chosen e-commerce store your work is essential, buy one. Urgently.

In New Zealand, sale of computers and tablets to work from home on or to do distant learning have now been deemed essential, enabling companies to sell them online using contact free deliveries. The Warehouse Group said today it will be providing a limited range of products and services items from later this week via both Noel Leeming and The Warehouse.

Online ordering is already available for essential businesses from companies including PB Tech, which says it will be enabling online shopping for customers working or studying from home later today. When it comes to being listed as an essential service in order to buy from PB Tech, users were asked to register and confirm whether they were an essential service, with staff members following up to confirm status if required.

State Surveillance
While Australia and New Zealand aren’t taking the surveillance route yet, other countries are. Hong Kong is using WhatsApp – requiring arrivals to turn location sharing to always on and accept government agencies in their contacts to enable them to monitor them.

Australia’s federal government too, is harnessing WhatsApp, but as an information tool. It has launched the MyGov Corona Helpdesk chatbot providing automated answers to user queries, and links for the latest details.

Others, such as South Korea, have customised apps or are tracking citizens using mobile phone data using cell towers.

In Singapore, the TraceTogether app, developed by the Government Technology Agency and Ministry of Health, is proving popular. It can be downloaded in New Zealand from the Apple App Store, but is of little use as it requires a Singapore contact number and, well, it’s for Singapore…

Tracking Covid and getting official information
If you want to keep up to the minute on Covid’s spread both locally and globally – or perhaps just scare yourself – there are plenty of options.

Coronavirus Australia – Australia’s official government app, from the Department of Health and the Digital Transformation Agency, provides an official source of information, including stats and contact information. It also includes a symptom tracker.

  • Ministry of Health NZ and Unite Against Covid-19 NZ – No official apps for NZ yet, but you can head over to the Ministry of Health’s Covid-19 current cases site for an update on local cases, while Covid19.govt.nz provides the official info for New Zealand, including details on the ever-changing ‘essential services’ status, financial support and self-isolation requirements, daily update livestreams… and instructions on how to ‘be kind’.
  • Johns Hopkins Covid Tracker – Probably the most high profile and one of the first, Johns Hopkins University’s live Covid-19 tracker details case numbers, deaths and recovery figures by country – or in the case of some countries, by state.
  • Covidvisualizer – Not to be outdone, Carnegie Mellon also has a tracker. Click the country, get the details. Enough said.
  • Worldometers – A lot less pretty, Worldometers provides all the detailed info you could ever want for around 200 countries . Total cases, new cases, total deaths, new deaths, total recovered, active cases, serious/critical cases, total cases per million… you get the picture. You can also see stats for age, sex and existing conditions, on a global basis. This is also the site Covidvisualizer pulls its data from.

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