For iPhone users, there’s pre-iPhone life and post iPhone life. Few devices have changed the way we live, work, and play the way Apple’s little mobile gem has. Ultimately, the change is less about the actual phone and most about the ability to carry around a pocket computer optimized for mobile use; The buzz about the iPhone largely has to do with the apps.
A number of new and prospective users have asked me what I use, and hopefully the following list of iPhone apps I can’t live without will help them get the most of their new Jesus phone. In addition to this list, O’Reilly’s Best iPhone Apps website is a terrific resource where you can discover new apps vote for your favorite apps each week.
A few words about this “Top Dozen” list and the biases I’m going into this with are in order. First, I’m a sucker for slick design, so several of the apps listed below sport stylish interfaces. I’m also particularly partial to social and location aware applications, which the iPhone enables unlike any mobile device prior to it. In fact I’d argue iPhone applications which do not leverage the network effect are incomplete. Finally, a word on free apps bias: all else being equal, I recommend the free app over the paid for obvious reasons, and denote paid apps whenever referenced with this: ($).
So without further ado, I humbly present the top dozen apps I strongly recommend checking out..
What is it? A digital prepaid card which can be scanned from the iPhone itself to purchase a beverage at your local Starbucks.
Why it Rocks: If you’re like me, you often leave gift cards in your car or otherwise forget to carry them on you, particularly when you happen to drop by your local coffee shop impromptu. Since it’s unlikely you’ll forget your phone, it’s a handy little app to have.
#11. Photoshop Mobile
What is it? A small app which allows frequent picture takers to quickly edit and share photos with simple gestures directly on an iPhone. Photos can be cropped, rotated, resized, and color adjusted among other options.
Why it Rocks: Posting a picture from the iPhone without an editing app is an all or nothing proposition: you take a picture and upload it as is, or use a computer to upload it later on, if you get around to it. The photoshop app i simple to use even for non artistic types like this humble blogger.
Dont like Photoshop? Try Photogene($), which provides several cool features over the simpler Photoshop app. While not free, the app is surprisingly powerful for such an inexpensive app.
#10. Amazon Mobile
What is it? The app allows iPhone owners to quickly search, shop, compare prices, read reviews, and make purchases on Amazon.com. The application also includes a new feature called “Amazon Remembers” which allows roaming users to use the Phone camera to create a photo list of items for later purchase on a desktop. The Amazon Remembers feature is fully tied into user accounts, and lists can be accessed from a computer’s web browser.
Why it Rocks: Let’s be honest: the shopping and searching is boring, mundane table stakes stuff. The Amazon Remembers feature is why the app makes it on my Top 12. I’ve often taken pictures of interesting things I’ve found while away from my Mac with the iPhone, only to return to my desktop later to find Amazon has organized and identified my photos into a shopping list. Awesome.
Don’t like Amazon Mobile? Want to snub your nose at “the man” and use Craigslist instead? Try CraigsMobileList($) instead, which has a killer interface and responds very quickly. I’m hoping the CraigsMobile team includes location aware searching in the future rather than having users self select their location, but all in all a nice second hand sales option.
What is it? An iPhone version of the popular Skype application, which provides free calls and instant messaging capabilities to iPhone road warriors.
Why it Rocks: Because Skype to Skype calls are free, which saves you cellular calling minutes. That’s particularly handy considering (at the time of this writing) Phone data plans are priced at flat rates. While there are a number of instant messenger clients available for the iPhone, no one ties together voice and text like Skype does.
Don’t like Skype? Yahoo Messenger is also available on iTunes, althoug there are no voice based capabilities on Yahoo. For those who prefer Mandarin language-based chat, Tencent QQ provides Mobile QQ.
What is it? An application which allows mobile users to manage AT&T wireless account settings, view remaining minutes, and shop for additional service options on an iPhone.
Why it Rocks: Who wants to make a call and go through an automated voice response system just to look up your remaining minutes? This app is far easier than using mobile Safari or calling 611 for info.
Don’t like AT&T myWireless? Try Cell Minute Tracker, which looks pretty sharp as well.
What is it? A GTD productivity app allowing mobile users to remember anything that happens, be it via snapshots, notes, or recordings. Evernote synchronizes from the iPhone to the web, and organizes all the bits of information debris collected on the mobile device.
Why it Rocks: It goes beyond creating GTD checklists and allows integration of data points from among different types of media. The best thing about it is that the iPhone app syncs with the Evernote desktop app, ensuring users won’t miss a beat.
Don’t like Evernote? Evernote is less a checklist than a system for organizing chaos into a pseudo-list. If the Evernote approach doesn’t work for you and you prefer a more structured approach to recording GTD items, Things($) might just be the .. thing.. for you. Things also syncs with a desktop just as Evernote does.
What is it? An application which allows mobile users to exchange text messages on the iPhone data network, which means there’s no SMS metering and no SMS costs.
Why it Rocks: First of all kiss SMS overage costs goodbye. Beyond the cost savings, the Textplus app also threads conversations with multiple chat partners in an slick interface. The best part about the Textplus app is how it turns SMS messaging into a tool similar to Twitter, where a single message can reach several conversation parties with minimal effort. Frankly, I can’t believe this app is free.
Don’t like Textplus? Check out Textfree.
What is it? a mobile personal finance tool which allows users to track, budget, and manage money on the go. The iPhone app syncs seamlessly to the Mint.com web application
Why it Rocks: Online banking and budgeting sounds boring, but Mint is one of those apps you will not want to give up once you try it. Mint syncs with the web app, it’s free, and best of all, it combines several online banking accounts, obviating the need to load several apps if you bank in several places. Mint’s budgeting tools extend typical online banking tools.
Don’t like Mint? Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Chase all provide native iPhone applications you can use if you bank at any of these providers. I’m expecting other banks to follow suit, and some may already have as you read this.
What is it? An application which uses your GPS enabled iPhone to list nearby restaurants and select one for you based on criteria you select (type of food, budget, etc). The app also allows users to recommend or forward restaurants to members of your social network, and provides a summary of user reviews.
Why it Rocks: The interface is what sets Urbanspoon apart from the pack. The slot machine look and feel is pretty clever, but the scope feature by far the coolest thing about Urbanspoon. The scope features allows users to position their phone and provides a line-of-sight view of local restaurants (see this link for photos). Point the camera at the horizon and on screen you see nearby restaurants in a kind of periscope view, projected on the world. For each restaurant, users can see distance and popularity, and tapping on a restaurant provides additional info and reviews. Very nicely done, and worth paying for, but is free for the taking.
Don’t like Urbanspoon? Opentable also provides a convenient way to find local eateries and even book a reservation online.
What is it? If you haven’t heard of Facebook, please find your nearest 20 something and ask him/her about it ASAP. You need an intervention.
Why it Rocks: Because it’s Facebook without the tether to a laptop or desktop. Facebook by its very nature lends itself to mobile applications, although I’d love to see new friend connections on the mobile app (rather than just existing friend lookups).
Don’t like Facebook? Linked in is Facebook for business relationships, and probably the best mobile “CRM-lite” system on the iPhone.
What is it? As a Foursquare user, you can “check-in”, which is a way of telling your social network your whereabouts. When you check-in someplace, we’ll tell your friends where they can find you and recommend places to go & things to do nearby. People check-in at all kind of places – cafes, bars, restaurants, parks, homes, offices. as your friends use foursquare to check-in, you’ll start learning more about the places they frequent. Not only is it a great way to meet up with nearby friends, but you’ll also start to learn about their favorite spots and the new places they discover.
Why it Rocks: Foursquare isn’t just useful, it’s fun. Building a social network while earning brag rights as you achieve badges or other rewards for checking in is a particularly engaging way to discover new places recommended by members of your social network. Foursquare sounds a bit similar to Urban spoon mentioned above, but there’ a difference: Urbanspoon is restaurant specific, whereas Foursquare is broader in scope, which makes it that much more indispensible. More info on why I think Foursquare rocks here and here.
Don’t like Foursquare? There as a few potential alternatives, but HeyWAY in particular stands out due to privacy management features not found in most location based social networks.
What is it? TweetDeck is your personal browser for staying in touch with what’s happening now, connecting you with your contacts across Twitter. Tweetdeck mobile allows users to sync with the Tweetdeck desktop version, create Twitter groups, and easily post tweets, photos, and links to twitter from the iPhone. In a nutshell, Tweetdeck is my defacto social desktop on the iPhone.
Why it Rocks: A Twitter app was almost certain to take the top spot on this list, given the obvious synergies between the iPhone and Twitter. Tweetdeck earns top billing with a solid design and terrific functionality however. The interface is uncluttered, responds quickly and provides fantastic group management features. Adding photos and links is a breeze, and the added location aware capabilities Tweetdeck provides are a potential boon to local businesses.
Don’t like Tweetdeck? Tweetie($) is absolutely terrific, and is what I’d use if Tweetdeck wasn’t available. The interface is clean, responsive, and obviously designed for Twitter power users.