Friday, April 30, 2010

My Twenty Primary iPod/iPhone Apps

As people do seem to be asking me about iPhone/iPod apps quite a lot these days, I am posting this here so that in future I shall have something I can link to. Borrowing the format established by the excellent First and 20 website I have listed the twenty apps that are most useful to me and thus have earned a spot on my home screen. I am forever adding and subtracting apps off my iPod, but this core set remains consistent and any new app needs to really make an impression on me to knock one of these twenty off my first screen in SpringBoard.

Default Apple apps
Seven of Apple’s default installed suite of apps still remain on my home screen: Calendar, Contacts, Mail, Music, Safari, Settings and the App Store. (I use an iPod, so I don’t need to reserve any of the available slots for the Phone, SMS or Camera apps.)
— Settings remains only because I use this every day to switch the Music app in and out of it's ‘Spoken Word’ equaliser preset when alternating between listening to podcasts and music.
— Safari is still hanging in there, but is almost on its way off my home page as I mostly open websites from links within Tweetie, Reeder and Instapaper now. I go online directly using the Safari app less and less these days.
The other five Apple defaults seem pretty self-explanatory to me, so let me skip ahead to the thirteen non-Apple apps.

Everything I come across that I want to read gets piped into Instapaper so that I can review it when I have time on my commute. I use this app every day. Also, I just really like the way it strips out everything from a website except what I need to read. You are probably using this already. If you are not then start today. Get the free version if you like, but I would just go straight to the premium version, it doesn't cost much more than a cup of coffee.

I took a break from RSS readers in my post-MA blog-burnout phase. Reeder brought me back into the fold, allowing me to actually make use of my Google Reader account. Its integration with Instapaper seals the deal for me.

This app turns your iPhone into your ‘outboard brain}, to borrow Mr Ellis’ phrase. It is fantastic for organising multiple disparate inputs. I organised all of my Masters dissertation research using Evernote. It is equally useful for something as simple as your weekly shopping list. The server-side text recognition within photographs is amazingly useful too. The iPhone version has come on immensely since I started using it with version 1.0, but it still feels like it is not quite there.

A superior replacement for Apple’s preinstalled Aesthetically Simplenote eschews the yellow legal pad and handwriting font of Notes’ UI and delivers a white page and sans-serif text. This has the benefit that what you are writing feels more substantial and worthwhile already —  before you start having to do the actual work. Total win! Seriously though, the real secret sauce is the seamless syncing with the online Simplenote service. This means my notes are backed up and editable on the desktop at all times. (If you also learn Merlin Mann’s neat QQQQQ hack you will get even better use of this app.)

Tweetie 2
Without a doubt the best Twitter client app to date (believe me, I have tried way too many of them). That I have paid for this twice when there are hundreds of free Twitter clients in the App Store is a testimony to its utility. The good news if you are not using it yet is that it has recently been acquired by Twitter and will soon be available for free once it is rebranded as the official ‘Twitter for iPhone’ app.

Simplicity, utility and cross-platform integration keep me using this app. On my morning commute this lets me continue reading on my iPod from the point where I stopped reading on my Kindle unit the night before. ‘Technology indistinguishable from magic‘, as George Hook might say. If you are not beholden to Amazon’s infrastructure then Stanza is an equally good e-reader app also worth checking out.

I can probably file this one under ‘distractions’, but I do enjoy browsing my Tumblr dashboard using this mobile interface. Although I never seem to ever post anything to Tumblr from my iPod.

Having tried a number of Wikipedia front-end apps, I find this one the best. Once you put a Wikipedia app on your homepage you will end up using it far more than you would expect.

Zenbe Lists
I have resisted the urge to invest in a serious GTD-enabled task manager app like OmniFocus and Things. Of the bare-bones agile task manager apps available, I find that Zenbe serves my needs. Both the iPod version and its online counterpart limit my options so I do not get bogged down in tempting fiddly meta work like colour-coding or over-categorising tasks. The focus is firmly on the task actions themselves.

I am well familiar with all of the arguments for keeping my content out of Facebook. But the social momentum behind it has well passed its tipping point by now, such that *not* using it means excluding myself from a lot of familial and social interactions. So, for better or worse, this app is my portable access to my Facebook stream. This app really seems to be in need of another major reboot at this stage, I expect that OS4-enabled functionality shall deliver that sometime this Summer.   

We have started using LinkedIn much more in work so I am giving this app a fair amount of use. This app has seen significant improvements in the last two years, but again now feels like it needs a significant step-change. 

I find the iPod interface for Flickr is the best way to add tags and titles to my photos. I will often do a bulk upload from the iMac and then use this app to tag the photos later.

I love all of the Tapbots apps, their pixel-perfect UI details are worth the price alone in my opinion. This little functional app beefs up your copy and paste, allowing you to store 100 copied items and perform edits and transformations on them. It also syncs to a Mac client so that you can avoid having to email pasted content to yourself. I am interested to see how this app is going to develop under OS4.

My selection of home screen apps is optimized for my Wi-Fi-only workflow. As my iPod does not access 3G networks, my own preference is for apps that can cache their data locally. Allowing me to process and manipulate that data while commuting and then sync back to the cloud once within Wi-Fi coverage. Your mileage may vary.

In preparing this list it is interesting to note that the majority of these apps are clients to cloud-based services. It looks like what I want from an app is secure off-site data that I can manipulate from whatever device I have to hand. Also I expect that I will be revisiting all of this in the Summer when the iPhone OS gets it next major update. The ability to run multiple apps at once is bound to effect the way that I use all of these apps.

While each one of these apps are more than useful to me, to give you some general recommendations it is safe to say that if you are not already using Instapaper, Simplenote or Evernote then those three are definitely worth installing today.

And finally...
So what indispensable apps have I omitted from my home screen? What are the apps that you cannot live without which I ought to investigate? For example, although having eight screens of apps, I have no ‘OnePassword’ style app or a household budget app. (Also, lacking 3G on my iPod makes location-based apps like Foursquare redundant.) I am fascinated to find out what you think.