Wednesday, September 05, 2012

My Most Useful Apps 2012 – Part Two

These are the next four apps in my ongoing overview of the iPhone apps that I currently find most useful. This time it is my to-do task manager, my weather app and my two primary content consumption apps.


AnyDo has a similar design philosophy to Drafts: the bare minimum of interface and an action-focused work flow. I tried using Clear as my to-do task manager earlier this year, but it never gained any traction with me. I loved the look and the concept of Clear, and I still do, but ultimately it did not help my productivity; which is the raison d’etre of a to-do app. So I think one reason I have retained AnyDo is that many of its design cues reinforce the sense of having accomplished tasks. For example, leaving completed tasks greyed-out at the end of the list initially seemed like visual clutter to me. But it is actually a clever ploy: giving you a visual record of what you have accomplished which makes you feel more productive. This is where UI design transcends aesthetics and evokes psychology.

AnyDo allows you to append all of the expected meta data to your tasks: assigning priority dates, sorting tasks into folders etc. These functions are accessible, but not displayed by default. So I force myself to use it as one simple list. I am actively breaking old procrastination habits of tinkering with classification and sub-classes and aiming to concentrate more on actually getting things done. This app does just enough and no more, which is why it works best for me.


After buying an app based on the appeal of an innovative or novel user interface, I often then find myself just not using it after a short time. What was aesthetically appealing to me initially actually turns out to lack functional appeal. That is not the case with the weather app Solar.

In common with other recent apps like Clear, the creators of this app have deeply considered how we actually interact with our iPhones. They have designed for the various ways that we stroke the screens and they have thought about how our fingers can operate the device without resorting to simulating mechanical artifacts like buttons. Solar is a future-facing app in part because the complete front face of the iPhone simultaneously serves as both the information-conveying surface and as the input interface. It delivers a novel experiential sense of ‘data that I can touch’ and ‘data that I can directly manipulate’. To me this starts to deliver on Steve Job’s ideal whereby the hardware effectively disappears and the software becomes the device. This points the way to myriad other potential apps that answer the question of how little visible UI do you need. (It is also the first app that really has me wondering what the experience of a haptic feedback enabled iPhone would be like.)

Finally, wearing my designer hat for a moment, the elegance of the typographic choices the creators have made further reinforce the sense that all aspects of Solar have been thoroughly considered.


This already impressive app has only improved further with substantial functionality upgrades since I wrote about it 2009. It is the best way to read content on my iPhone. I often push content that I want to read right now into Instapaper just to strip out ads and improve legibility. Yes Apple’s Reader feature added to Mobile Safari in iOS5 now provides similar functionality baked-in to the browser, but it lacks the typographic nuance and overall readability of Instapaper.

While the app has constantly been refined and polished over the years, the greater improvement in utility has come from the expansion of its ecosystem. As more and more apps add support for Instapaper I now have many more useful ways of adding articles into my reading list. Indeed my only real problem with this app is keeping on top of the ever-increasing list of interesting reading material that I am constantly building up. (See my post on Managing The Deferral Engine.)


This is still my go-to RSS reader on iOS, and could well be the one app I spend most time using. This app remains rock-solid and dependable. I find it interesting that my primary news consumption app has not changed in years. (That is for all values of ‘news’ that primarily include opinionated blogs.) Particularly given that I have probably as many news aggregator apps as photography apps now residing on my iPhone.

I have spent significant time trying many of this year’s parade of news aggregation apps, including Wavii, Flipboard, Pulse and Prismatic, each of which approach the opportunities within this space from different angles. None of them have yet succeeded in graduating to long-term habitual use. Certainly none have even come close to dislodging Reeder as my primary news input app.

The first four apps I wrote about were Downcast, Drafts, Sparrow and Launch Center Pro.