by Lan Nguyen
Even though spring quarter is just around the quarter, deep down you know it won’t be warm enough to enjoy going outside for another two months. You’ve put your sunglasses away in those under-bed storage containers, repurposed beach towels as fabric to stuff into door cracks to keep the heat in, and packed all your sunscreen into care packages to send to your friends in warmer states. Let’s face it — you’ll be spending as much time indoors as you possibly can. But living this way for months at a time can be pretty tough, so when you miss the sound of the chirping birds, the sight of the color green or the touch of a gentle (and not painful) breeze on your face, check out these cool apps that will help you experience the freedom of the outdoors from the comfort of your blanket cocoon.
1. Ambient Sound Apps: My favorite ambient sound app is Noizio, which is a free app integrated right into your menu bar, so you can plug in your headphones and access an array of natural sounds (including rain, campfire, rivers, and more) without even opening a new window. Perfect for staying focused on a task or simply relaxing or meditating, this app will bring you the soothing sounds of the outdoors while you remain nice and snug in bed.
2. Momentum: This free Google Chrome App takes you to a beautiful setting whenever you open a new tab or window. The window fills with a breath-taking landscape photograph that changes every day, along with a daily inspirational quote. Its practicality surpasses what I’d expect from a web browser app, giving me the weather in my location, the time, a personalized greeting, a to-do list, and a “focus area” where I can write what my main focus of the day is. I’ve noticed my distractibility go down a lot since I’ve started using this app, because whenever I open a new window to open Facebook or procrastinate, my mind stops for a couple seconds to look at the landscape photo and I’m reminded of tasks I have to do. Living proof of what studies say: looking at natural settings can improve focus!
3. Virtual Runner: I love running. And from the sight of how crowded the lakefront gets in spring and fall, it seems like a good handful of you do as well. But winter is a challenge for me because I absolutely cannot stand running inside. I’ve geared up and run in single-digit temperatures to avoid the retched treadmills or indoor tracks. But with Virtual Runner, a free iPad/Android app, you can pick from an array of popular scenic running routes and simulate running outdoors by placing your device on the treadmill. You can even adjust your speed and use it for walking on a treadmill or using an elliptical!
4. Google Cardboard: Okay, this is pretty cool. For the price of an average drink at Starbucks, you can purchase virtual reality goggles. Google Cardboard is a mount for your smartphone comprised mainly of cardboard and two lenses. All you have to do is download some virtual reality apps, stick your phone in a slot in the goggles and before you know it you’ll be immersed in a scenic walk through a forest or drive down the coast. When you move your head in any direction, the images move with you as if you were exploring that location. Although it’s designed for Androids, you can make it work with iPhones by taping it to the cardboard so it won’t slide. This is definitely nice when you need a break from the real world and want some time alone in nature, but be warned, you may look a little weird when your roommate walks in on you moving around the room with pieces of cardboard on your face.
5. Toca Nature: For those of us who like to release the inner child in us, this $2.99 smartphone game, designed for kids ages 4 and up, allows you to create your own forest ecosystem. You get to decide where the mountains, trees, and lakes are located and watch animals move about your little world. Although it is not the most interactive game in the world, it’s a pretty nifty way to kill five minutes as you’re waiting in line for your food.