My 2010 article analysing the twenty most useful apps on my iPod Touch was one of the best-received posts since I started this blog. I have now started to prepare a revised and upgraded apps overview from an iPhone-based perspective. I think that the amount of change in my list reflects the pace of innovation and disruption in the app space.
My original post was based on the twenty apps that had earned a place on my iPod’s home screen. Apple has since introduced folders for apps in iOS, so my home screen now contains far more than twenty apps. To retain the focus which that number enforces, I limit myself to looking at twenty apps again this year.
I am keeping these summaries concise, with just some top-level thoughts about each app. If I do decide to write any in-depth comprehensive reviews they will get their own full-length posts. That said, I have used each of these apps extensively and am happy to recommend each of them. I am planning to part-publish the twenty apps in separate blog posts. These first four are the apps that have earned the four premium places in my iPhone’s dock.
Downcast is very customisable and while you most likely will not use all the features, those you want will be in there somewhere. In addition to its more advanced features, some simple touch gesture controls make it very convenient to operate on my daily commute. Although Apple have now recently released their own dedicated podcast management app, I find Downcast suits my needs better and I have not switched away. (Also, the fact that I still tolerate its really rather poorly-designed icon in my dock must be another testament to its utility.)
Sparrow is the first mail replacement that has worked for me. Its swipe-based interface allows me to label, file and process my inbox far faster than any similar app I have used. Even though currently I do not have to deal with a high volume of email, I still want to minimise my time spent dealing with it.
One proviso: as Google have just accu-hired this app’s development team it now appears that it is no longer going to be updated. So I am unsure whether I will continue to use Sparrow after iOS6 is released in September.
It is a launcher app. That is an enhanced version of SpringBoard, the app which manages the home page on your iPhone. At its most basic level it facilitates fast one- or two-touch access to all of the apps on your iPhone. However, what makes it really useful is its ability to directly access features within those apps. So actions that are buried multi-taps deep (viewing a friend’s Instagram feed for example) can be given their own one-touch button in Launch Center Pro. More complex actions support input fields, so you can streamline a broad range of very sophisticated tasks and actions. There is a lot of potential utility to be unlocked in this app and I think I have only just begun to take advantage of what is possible myself.
Using Launch Center Pro allows you to switch your primary focus onto actions and tasks rather than on the apps that facilitate those actions. That sounds simple but it is a fundamentally disruptive reorientation. If someone you know is using Launch Centre Pro ask them to show you how they use it. Seeing it in action is superior to anything I have written here.
If you constantly think that you could do more with your iPhone then you should investigate this app.
Finally, a suggestion: given the present architecture of iOS, I still have to open Launch Center Pro to use it. I would love the option to bind it to the single hardware button on my iPhone and then triple-click for direct access. Maybe someday Apple…