Pedants might well argue that it's not even a complete word. But three little letters have come to symbolise the zeitgeist-strumming, touch-screen modernity of the 21st century and instil further fear into the hearts of people already worried that the tech-savvy youth of today have long forgotten far more than they'll ever know. That word is "app". It may be short for application, but if it doesn't get its own entry in the Oxford English Dictionary soon, expect a ruthless takeover bid.
With the dawn of the iPhone and the countless other smartalecphones that now find themselves in the hands of all but the most phobic technophobe, the app has become a real-life, less heavy Batman utility belt, a Matrix-style opportunity to download skills and knowledge at the touch of a button.
At the last count there were more than 300,000 on Apple's App Store, and Apple announced this week that the number of downloads had passed 10 billion on Saturday. Clearly, many of these are either absolutely pointless or completely stupid, so to help you avoid downloading something like SimStapler, which simulates the sound of a stapler and does nothing else, here's our pick of the best culture-related apps around.
"That film, you know, the one with that teenager who was then in that fantasy trilogy with that short guy who did that stupid remake with the dolphin and that memory thing with wozzername name who was on the sinking ship with Romeo." If you've ever had that sort of sophisticated conversation, this is the app for you. Yes, the web's favourite film/television database is now available in your hand. Scroll through the million-plus titles, search for films based on star, title and popularity and watch countless trailers. The film, by the way, was The Goonies.
You might also like these apps: Empire Movie Guide's 9,000 film reviews; Air Video, which converts movies to iPad-friendly formats.
Wikipanion meshes the encyclopaedic knowledge of Wikipedia with your iPhone or iPad, giving you quick and easy access to more than 3.5 million articles, some of which might actually be accurate. Expect future conversations to be littered with lines starting: "Did you know…?"
You might also like these apps: the classic reference book Britannica Concise Encyclopedia 2010; the medical handbook Carter's Encyclopaedia of Health and Medicine.
Does exactly what it says on the tin. With more than 4,000 downloadable comics (300 of which are free), this is the ultimate app for fans of the "whack", "bash" and "kapow" (and yes, we are aware that there are some comics out there not featuring Lycra-wearing blokes in unlikely fights). While there are other graphic novel-loving apps out there, this is the only one including Marvel, DC Comics and The Walking Dead. It also has a special "Guilded View Technology", which apparently solves the problem of perusing comics on the small screen.
You might also like these apps: Marvel Comics (offering hundreds of classic comics); Comic Reader Mobi, a reader that also works for other smartphones.
Lomography cameras are cool, right? With their cheap, plastic bodies and the 1970s look of the photos they produce, they're the retro-tastic snappers every scenster wants, no? Yes, well, kind of, so long as you can be bothered getting your films developed and can accept the fact that half of them will be rubbish. Instead, install the Hipstamatic, which does it all for you through your phone's built-in camera. Download different lenses, share the photos among your friends online and, most usefully, delete the terrible ones with ease. It's new age fun, but with a vintage feel.
You might also like these apps: the photo-editing app Photoshop.com Mobile; Darkroom, which gets a steady shot every time.
Classical Music Master Collection
Listening to music on a smartphone is not solely the preserve of those who want to nod away to the latest chart-botherer. With the Classical Music Master Collection, you get 100 hours of the world's greatest classical favourites (and that, we are told, is official), including Beethoven, Debussy, Mozart, Bach, Vivaldi, Tchaikovsky and many others. Just remember, if it starts playing John Cage's 4'33", your headphones haven't broken.
You might also like these apps: Baby Classical Mozart Music (child-friendly classical music); Oxford Dictionary of Music.
If you're a fan of eerie electronic soundscapes and ambient bleeps, then you'll no doubt have a few CDs by Brian Eno. Well, the synthesiser legend has brought his magic to the smartphone. Billed as "Part Instrument and Part Artwork", Bloom is also "Part Addictive", giving you the chance to create your own Eno-esque patterns and sounds by tapping the screen, creating colourful spots that begin to loop an infinite variety of compositions. It's all very odd, but then so is Eno.
You might also like these apps: Beatwave (make dance tracks on the spot); Pianist Pro (MIDI-friendly keyboard).
TuneIn Radio brings more than 40,000 international stations (including the rather thought-provokingly named German Gothic Radio) direct to your phone, all available at the touch of a button. It also gives you the ability to record whatever it's playing at any given moment.
You might also like these apps: Action Radio (10,000 streaming radio stations); Tuner 2 HiFi Radio (top-quality radio sound).
Technology Entertainment and Design conferences have been cropping up with increasing frequency in all corners of the globe, and are now available in an app. The TED app streams "inspirational" talks from the events and lets you browse through the almost 800 TEDTalks already made by the likes of Dave Eggers, Al Gore and the late Douglas Adams. Not available, interestingly, is the controversial 2010 talk by the comedian Sarah Silverman.
You might also like these apps: Mahatma Gandhi Biography; Little Buddha (retrieves random quotes from inspirational figures).
While the iPhone may be a little on the dinky side, the iPad lends itself perfectly to the creative among us (and, using an Apple-branded product means you are creative, right?). Among the many apps for artists, we love PicSplitter, which allows you to divide a photo into up to 32 sections and change each part independently. Throw in some colour here. Turn this one to monochrome. Whack in a few effects there. Do as you please. Whatever you do, it will be unique, just like you. Because that's why you own an iPad.
You might also like these apps: Sketchbook Pro (professional-quality painting app); Brushes (the app that David Hockney uses).
Who needs a Kindle? With Stanza you get access to more than 50,000 free e-books (including such classics as Sherlock Holmes and Moby-Dick), and another 50,000 of the newer titles that you can purchase. Naturally, it looks slightly better on the iPad, but even if you're still on a phone, this remains the best book app in town. As the developer boasts: "A million readers can't be wrong."
You might also like these apps: Alice (interactive Alice in Wonderland); Nook (the Barnes & Noble eReader).