As the Covid-19 pandemic prompts lockdowns all across the world, people are looking for things to do in their spare time. But with economies slowing to a crawl, disposable incomes are falling, too. In recognition of this, a number of companies and people have dropped their paywalls to offer digital products either for free or at a vastly reduced cost.
In some cases these are genuine acts of altruism, fulfilling a need and spreading the love. Others are more about marketing, generating goodwill now in order to ask people for money once the pandemic is over. And while we have covered fitness apps and other betterment projects in separate articles, The National has found few more little-known services and apps now available to everyone.
With millions isolated, video calling apps such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams are being used more than ever. This also means more people are becoming aware of noise issues that can plague video calls.
As well as du introducing Voico UAE, the clever noise-reduction tool called Krisp has just been made free. It uses artificial intelligence to drastically reduce background noise for almost any communication app, video or audio, keeping the lines crystal clear.
Extra downtime gives us the perfect opportunity to expand our minds; it is little wonder that Google queries for “online classes” have increased by 204 per cent in the past fortnight.
At least three language tools have dropped charges in recent days: Babbel is offering students a free month's membership, while Rosetta Stone has 23 language courses available for free for three months.
Busuu.com is providing free language lessons to children all around the world, taught by qualified teachers, while sign language instructors have been overwhelmed with interest in free tuition, with British Sign Language's online course reaching its enrolment capacity this week.
An award-winning English spelling app, Sir Linkalot, has made its app free of charge, while book publisher Scholastic has launched a Learn at Home website featuring daily projects for kids stuck indoors. Older students might benefit from this list of 450 free Ivy League courses put together by Dhawal Shah, founder of online learning company Class Central. Meanwhile, online learning portal Udemy has slashed the prices of thousands of online courses, from singing lessons to guidance in how to build smartphone apps. Free codes to these courses are being offered for limited periods by individual tutors on social media.
There hasnever been a better (or more) time to write a novel. But how to get started? StoriumEDU, a collaborative writing game to help students of all ages overcome their writing blocks, has now waived all charges until June. For budding musicians, Moog and Korg have both reduced the price of their synthesiser apps – iKaossilator and Minimoog Model D – to zero, enabling hours of satisfying noodling and beeping.
And there are opportunities for artists, too; artist Aaron Blaise has cut the price of his online courses in order to "make online art education as accessible and affordable as possible". His Fundamentals of Animation course is currently free of charge.
With global sports matches on hold for the foreseeable future, WWE has put thousands of hours of wrestling content online, from old bouts to newer documentaries, available until Sunday, April 5.
Ken Burns, the famous American documentary filmmaker, asked US network PBS if they would make his 13-part series about baseball available for free, and they dutifully did so.
There is also no shortage of people offering to tell bedtime stories, with American firefighters, Canadian politicians, a Pulitzer prize-winning novelist and actor Josh Gad (from Frozen) all getting in on the act. If you'd rather give your kids a screen break, the New York Academy of Medicine has posted free colouring books online, with PDFs from museums and libraries all around the world.
In the UAE, six million books and resources have been offered to readers worldwide digitally for free by Sharjah Public Libraries.
Scribd - the online library with a million e-books, audiobooks and magazines will require no paid subscription for the next few weeks.if you would like to spend some time cataloguing your book collection, LibraryThing has waived all its charges, too. There's also the aforementioned Audible.
Every day new titles are made available for free – albeit briefly – by publishers keen to whet our appetites. Two Tomb Raider titles were given away for one day last week, and Sega has made Football Manager 2020 gratis on Steam for a fortnight.
It's worth keeping your eyes peeled for announcements on publishers' Twitter feeds. But is you would rather play games with the people you are in isolation with, the drawing game Drawful 2 was declared free, as was Ellen DeGeneres's guessing game Heads Up (on iOS and Android).
Heath and wellness
With governments urging us to exercise but with limited means for us to do so, fitness apps have been vigorously pitching their wares to prospective customerscustomers. The latest is Fitbit, which has offered 90 days of its premium product for free. (They also have a free smartwatch clock face that reminds you to wash your hands.)
But with all the stressful news, we need some relaxation, too. The meditation app Simple Habit has announced free premium membership for anyone who needs it but can't afford to pay; just sign up and ask them nicely via email. Sanvello, which provides "on-demand help for stress, anxiety, and depression" has gone down a similar route, making premium access free for all.
If you seek a more profound understanding of the human condition, Coursera has dropped all charges for its class The Science of Well-Being. It's a version of Yale psychology professor Laurie Santos's course Psychology and the Good Life, the most popular class in the history of the university. It promises to boost your happiness, build more productive habits and help you make positive changes.
Meanwhile, it might seem counterintuitive for a dating app to up its game when we are all confined to our barracks, but Tinder has made its "Passport" feature free for all, allowing users to connect with people in other countries.
"As an area becomes more affected by physically isolating measures, we see new conversations happening there and those conversations last longer," the company said in a statement.
"This epidemic is also changing the tenor of connection in the hardest-hit places. More people are using Tinder bios to show their concern for others ['How is everyone?'] instead of their life motto."