5 iOS Apps Essential for Cuba

Guava Mac

Where will the first Apple store in Havana be? I wonder sometimes when I am fabulating about the future. I imagine it on the corner of Galiano and Reina, above those arches that could well support an enormous apple. Although much is needed before we will see Steve Jobs’s creatures in a display window in Havana legally, these well-designed gadgets with their excellent technology have already broken into the national scene. In the informal market, the solidarity of so many travelers and the appetite for modernity have come together to make an iPad or MacBook Pro increasingly common in our lives.

The taste for iPhones has strengthened the market for applications for these smart phones. Useful packages, including games, maps of the whole country, dictionaries and audiovisual publications, can be acquired in numerous private workshops throughout the Island. The technicians in these matters are very young, offering also to unlock terminals, jailbreak, change the glass if it breaks, clean the start button, and supply a wide range of connectors to recharge the battery, or plug it into a computer. There is something for all tastes and pockets.

Among the iOS applications most requested by domestic customers, here is a list of the five essential ones. Tools needed to elude censorship, solve daily problems, and amuse us a little.

OffMaps2: Excellent functionality with maps of several Cuban provinces and the ability to use these without an Internet connection. Its “street” is pretty true to live, with the addition of being able to locate sites of interests in our surroundings, wherever we are. The geo-locator service works by triangulating off cellphone towers and not by satellite. Although less precise, it keeps us from getting lost in cities and towns we visit for the first time.

– Minipedia: An offline version of the famous interactive encyclopedia, Wikipedia. The advantage of this application is that it doesn’t require a jailbroken phone. You can get the Spanish XL database, updated but without images. Other apps compete with Minipedia, among them Wiki Español and the functionality of Wikipedia installed in the Safari navigator itself, although this latter needs a jailbroken phone.

Messy SMS: For those interested in sending text messages to friends without the phone company being able to snoop on the contents, this application is perfect. You and your friend simply agree on a password and with that you can encrypt and decrypt texts sent. Fun, easy and necessary for those times when more than one indiscreet eye is spying on our private messaging.

– WordLens: Nice functionality that mixes the camera with a translator for several languages. It allows you to immediately translate posters and written phrases within reach of our phone’s camera lens. Although the result is a word-by-word translation, without any literary or metaphoric flight, it helps in situations where we’re in a hurry and don’t know how to decipher what a text says.

– PhotoStudio: To edit your photos with just a few moves on the screen, this app comes in handy. It includes filters, the ability to crop or resize an image and even add text on it. After working on the photo, we have the option to save it, export it, or upload it to a social network… although this latter only if we have access to the Internet.

I hope that these slices of the apple serve as signs that point the way to a day when Apple, without restrictions, will come into our lives.

11 April 2014


54 thoughts on “5 iOS Apps Essential for Cuba


    Given the low probability of congressional action to amend laws regulating U.S. ICT investments in Cuba, the Obama Administration should take steps now to build on its initial efforts to expand ICT services to the Cuban people. In keeping with the spirit of current law and policy to facilitate and expand communications services between our two countries, it should:
     narrow the interpretation of language prohibiting U.S. investment in Cuba’s telecom network by, for example, specifying that the prohibition is limited to physical manufacture of network architecture by U.S. firms on the island;
     define “efficient and adequate” telecom services broadly to mean fast and reliable links that allow Cubans access to modern satellite, internet and mobile communications services and the necessary infrastructure to make such services feasible;
     devote a significant portion of the $20 million in U.S. government support to civil society to provide families, small farmers and other entrepreneurs in Cuba with training and equipment in modern telecommunications services;
     explore and catalogue options for free on-line software that can be downloaded by people on the island for local use;
     further revise regulations and if necessary seek legislative amendments to allow U.S. companies to invest in telecommunications network on the island;
     authorize more flexible end user requirements to allow for the sale of pre-paid phone cards and phones in Cuba;
     work with private foundations and corporations on creative ways to donate telecom services on the island, for example by offering to donate equipment under the one laptop per child initiative;
     develop distance-learning programs on the technology, experiences and applications of ICT to economic and humanitarian activity;
     issue a general license authorizing any U.S. citizen to engage in transactions necessary to pay for cellular, satellite TV and radio fees for Cuban citizens.
    By expanding access today through regulatory reforms, the Obama Administration would also help ensure that Cuba’s citizens and economy are well positioned for the transition to a modern, information-based economy that can provide broad-based, sustainable economic development on the island.

  2. In accordance with this directive, on September 3, 2009, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) published changes to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR) authorizing, by general license, certain financial transactions necessary to expand telecommunications links with Cuba. On September 8, 2009, the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) at the Department of Commerce published changes to the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) revising existing licensing policy for certain telecommunications-related exports to Cuba.
    Among other things, the new CACR and EAR regulations:
    • Authorized transactions by U.S. telecom service providers, under a general license, including payments for (1) the provision of telecommunications between the United States and Cuba; (2) the provision of satellite T.V. services to Cuba; and (3) entry into roaming service agreements with telecommunications service providers in Cuba.
    • Authorized persons subject to U.S. law to enter into, and make payments under, contracts (including contracts for cellular telephone services) with non-Cuban telecommunications providers for services provided to Cubans.
    • Authorized transactions, under specific licenses, incident to the establishment of facilities to provide telecom services linking third countries to Cuba if they are necessary to provide efficient and adequate telecommunications services between the United States and Cuba.
    • Created a license exception authorizing the export or re-export of donated communications devices including mobile phones, SIM cards, laptops and desktop computers, and peripherals, internet connectivity devices, satellite television and radio receivers, digital music and video players and recorders, and more. The sale of such devices, however, remains prohibited.
    With regard to telecoms and satellite links, the presidential directive released on April 13, 2009 represented an important step toward ensuring enhanced communications between the United States and Cuba and the promotion of contacts between Cuban-Americans and their relatives in Cuba. These links are consistent with foreign policy objectives and are a means to encourage positive change in Cuba. However, the regulatory changes the departments made to reflect the directives issued by President Obama fall short of what is necessary to actually begin establishing greater telecommunications links.
    The creation of the legal possibility for investment in Cuba by U.S. telecom and satellite companies will not necessarily spur private sector investments in this area. The risk, given the relative size of the market for telecommunications and satellite services in Cuba, is that the procedures and guidelines are too unclear and complex to act as an incentive for companies to make serious efforts to explore possibilities for investment. Thus, the companies most capable of fulfilling the President’s directives by working to establish expanded telecom and satellite links may be the least likely to actually undertake projects there.
    For example, while the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 forbids investment in Cuba’s domestic telecommunications network, the presidential directive appears to authorize activities that, by their nature, require investments that have in the past been considered contributions to Cuba’s “domestic network.” Thus, while items such as mobile phones and SIM cards appear consistent with the aim of facilitating the establishment of expanded communications links, such devices may violate prohibitions on investment in Cuba’s domestic network.

  3. U.S. sanctions against Cuba are administered and enforced by the Departments of Commerce and Treasury and are governed by provisions of the Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917 (TWEA), the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 (CDA), the Helms-Burton Act of 1996, and the Trade Sanctions
    Reform and Export Enhancement Act (TSRA) of 2000. The regulations that govern the activities of U.S. firms in Cuba are determined by the relevant departments’ interpretation of the interplay between presidential directives, recent congressional actions like in the Omnibus Spending bill of 2009, and existing statutes of law.
    The legal statutes governing telecom investment were codified in the CDA [Section 1705(e)] when the Congress first authorized telecom links between the United States and Cuba. The CDA authorizes telecom “facilities” in such “quantity and quality” as to provide “efficient and adequate telecommunications services between the United States and Cuba.” The law, however, prohibits U.S. investment in Cuba’s domestic telecom network.
    On April 13, 2009, the President issued a directive to revise the scope of licensing policy regarding telecommunications in order to increase the flow of information between the United States and Cuba. The memo contained directives to:
    • Authorize U.S. telecom providers to enter into agreements to establish fiber-optic cable and satellite telecommunications facilities linking the United States and Cuba.
    • License U.S. service providers to enter into roaming service agreements with Cuban providers.
    • License U.S. satellite radio and satellite television providers to engage in transactions necessary to provide services to customers in Cuba.
    • License persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction to pay for telecommunications, satellite radio, and satellite television services provided to individuals in Cuba.
    • Authorize the export or re-export to Cuba of donated personal communications devices such as mobile phone systems, computers and satellite receivers.


    U.S. law allows, inter alia, the sale and donations of food, the export of medicines and medical supplies, and the provision of telecommunications facilities “in such quantity and of such quality as may be necessary to provide efficient and adequate telecommunications services between the United States and Cuba.” 22 U.S.C. 6004. In other words, Congress has already authorized transactions that permit the kind of “efficient and adequate” ICT services that we take for granted today.
    Taken from this perspective, and given the telecommunications revolution since the Act was passed, it is clear that U.S. policy should dramatically expand the availability of modern information and communication services to the Cuban people. The Obama administration can support the Cuban people’s basic quality of life and their right to information by rewriting its regulations to allow the sale of all types of ICT equipment and permit U.S. investments in ICT, including mobile devices and fiber optic cables; reducing the red tape of case-by-case licensing; and lifting restrictions, especially on financial transactions, that limit consumer spending on ICT and the ability of ordinary Cubans to engage in e-commerce, thus helping to lessen individual citizens’ dependency on the state.
    Access to information and communication technologies, including the internet and mobile phones, goes beyond the importance of information as a general public good. Extensive research, experience and anecdotal evidence have demonstrated that connectivity—through the internet and through cell phones—are essential components of modern-day, long-term economic development and even human survival. Modern telecommunications strengthens productivity, allows for more efficient distribution, reduces transaction costs, and lowers the barrier to entry into the market, thus expanding the economicactivities of citizens. One study concluded that “an increase of 10 mobile phones per 100 people boosts per capita GDP growth by .6 percent.”

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