You know that awful moment, while watching television, when you suddenly remember you left something on the stove? I know it well because I'm terrible at remembering things I need to do in, say, four or five minutes. But with a timer app on my phone, I could avoid burning dinner and keep track of any number of other events at the same time.
One of the most elegant timers on Apple's iOS platform is Timeless, priced at $1. Its interface has large panels with clear typography and straightforward control icons. The main countdown timer screen, for example, is dominated by big white numerals in the center of a large blue display above a small icon bar.
Timeless is controlled by screen gestures. The first time you start it, the app explains how to swipe the screen or rotate the phone to switch displays. For example, swiping left and right on the main timer screen calls up different timers you have set, or lets you create a new one.
Setting up a new timer is simple: the app displays two columns of numerals, one for hours and one for minutes. Swipe these columns up and down to select the time interval you want, then start the countdown by tapping on the play icon in the icon bar. A bell icon selects which audio alarm is associated with the countdown.
The app can run numerous timers simultaneously; to see them, either swipe the timers one by one or turn the phone sideways to view them all in a list. You can even add a label to each timer so you know exactly what it's for -- like "boiled egg" or "important phone call."
The app can also run multiple stopwatch timers that count up rather than down. You start a stopwatch by setting a new timer to 00:00 and pressing "play."
The app does have some limitations. For example, the countdown timers count only whole hours and minutes -- not seconds -- and the stopwatch function has no option for split-timing laps.
An equivalent app for Android devices with similarly high design values is the $1 app Timer. The app is simple to use: to set a new countdown timer, you tap the little "+" icon, and up pops a setting for hours, minutes and seconds.
To set the seconds, you move your finger around a circular dial, then tap on hours or minutes if you need them. You can start the countdown straightaway or save it for easy access later.
Many timers can run concurrently -- handy if, for example, you are cooking several dishes for a dinner party -- and the app has clear controls for pausing, ending or deleting timers.
One slight irritation with this app is its method for setting labels on timers: you have to "long press" them in the list of running or saved timers, and that can be easy to forget.
You also cannot set different reminder tones for different timers -- which means that if you have a group of timers running concurrently, you will have to check your phone to see which one the alarm is referring to.
Simpler timing needs may be met with the Ovo Timer, a free app on Android. Its clever design reduces countdown timing to a minimum.
The app's screen is dominated by the time you have set, which is done by tapping on the screen and circling your finger clockwise or counterclockwise. There is also an option to have the time you want spoken.
The countdown begins automatically; you can pause it by touching the numerals. A colorful arc surrounds the countdown, disappearing gradually as the time ticks away. The app is simple and it's free, but it can run only one timer at a time and cannot handle countdowns longer than an hour.
If you are interested in stopwatch timing rather than countdown timing, you may find it simpler to use a dedicated stopwatch app. Apple's iOS has a useful stopwatch built into the Clock app.
You can also try the Stopwatch+ app, $1 on iTunes, a slightly more sophisticated timer that records lap events in detail and even lets you e-mail your list of times. The Ultimate Stopwatch app on Android features a clean and easy-to-use design, and includes all the basic stopwatch features. And it's free.
And that smoke from your kitchen probably means you burned the toast while reading this.
The popular book Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America has been turned into a "pocket" edition app for iOS. Called Peterson Birds Pocket Edition, it is just $1, and comes with illustrations, data and bird song recordings to help identify birds you've heard, if not seen.interact
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.