Monday, February 20, 2012

Best iPhone Apps 2012

A colleague recently made me aware of Time's new list of 50 Best iPhone Apps 2012.

There's a lot of fluff on this list from Time magazine. But here are some of the apps from this list that I actually use and recommend.
  • ShopSavvy (better than RedLaser). To discover, for example, that most groceries at Target are actually very competitively priced.
  • Dragon (I find the classic version, minus the Go!, to be more useful). To dictate lengthy responses to emails while driving. Required very occasionally, but when you need it you really need it, for example as you're pulling into the parking lot to let someone who is in a meeting and can't take a phone call know that you need them to fetch a projector for the very next meeting. Mildly not useful if you have to correct the transcription but works well once you get used to speaking clearly. Side benefit: helps you learn to speak clearly!
  • GasBuddy. Good for that initial "wow" discovery that some gas stations (usually ones off the beaten path, surprise) are actually significantly cheaper than others. Once you know, you generally don't need to keep checking. Especially useful, now that gas prices are said to be approaching $5 a gallon!
  • Yelp. Indispensable reviews-driven service if you're in a new place and need to find a decent restaurant, hotel, etc with some color commentary (e.g. Stay Away! Rough part of DC! Google Maps just doesn't tell you this!).
  • Shazam. You're waiting for your haircut or driving in your car and a song comes on that you totally love. Use Shazam to find out what song it is.
  • Flipboard. More than anything, I think of it as a visual way of browsing Twitter. Saves me from clicking on Twitter links because it presents a summary (pictures included) of the underlying link. It does an unbelievable job of caching so that I'm able to flip through 20 to 30 of the most recent stories during a subway ride without phone signal. Pandora is the only one that matches up. Many of the apps I value are only useful to folks who are information hounds like me.
  • Dropbox. Invaluable for syncing important files (e.g. PDF books I'm currently reading/consulting) across all computers/devices.
  • Flashlight. Thankfully, I've actually only had to use this a few times. But this is exactly what you need when you've accidentally dropped your keys in a dark parking lot.
  • Pandora. Perfect mix of songs you've told Pandora you like (so it'll play them every so often) and songs you like but didn't know (Pandora will offer up songs in the same genre and you're guaranteed to find something new that you like). Also, does a super job of caching so that you can keep listening on the subway even if you lose phone signal for several minutes.
And while I'm on a roll, let me also list a few apps that I find extremely useful but Time magazine did not include on their list.
  • Evernote. A great compliment to Dropbox for text files you need to edit. For example, it's not as much fun now but when my son Ronak (7) was younger I maintained a list of words he mispronounced. Evernote syncs the notes across all computers/devices so you can edit wherever you are. Extremely useful, given that Dropbox still does not allow editing from a handheld device.
  • Pulse. Not as flashy as Flipboard, but sometimes news is more than just cool pictures. And Pulse does a great job of presenting the most important news of the day in a convenient to consume layout. It also allows you to save stories for future reference and integrates with Facebook and Twitter. You can add any news source that has an RSS feed, which in today's world means ANY news source. BBC News is also good but lacks flexible integration with RSS feeds and social media sites.
  • Starbucks. For the small but meaningful convenience of being able to swipe my card and collect points using my phone, i.e. without having to carry the physical card around.
  • AroundMe. Has bailed me out a few times when I'm in a new place, am completely out of gas, and desperately need to find the NEAREST gas station even if it means making a u-turn!
  • VZNavigator. For Verizon subscribers only and requires a paid subscription ($5 per month, I think). But it is hands down the best I've used. Waze is free and quite good but has let me down too many times so I've returned to the tried and trusted GPS tool from Verizon.
  • GroceryIQ. Enter things you buy repeatedly into a master list. Then add items from the master list into your shopping list. Check off items from the shopping list as you go through the aisles. Priceless because if you're unable to find leeks at Market Basket even after three trips, leeks are still on your list when you happen to stop at Trader Joe's.
  • Flixster. In my opinion, this is the best app for finding out which movies are playing near you or where that hard to catch foreign film is playing within a 30 mile radius. Conveniently displays review scores from Rotten Tomatoes as well as Flixster users.
  • IMDb. A nifty app from the best place to go to for details when the information on Flixster just isn't enough or you want to explore a recommendation from a friend.
  • FlightControl. The best little game to help pass time and keep you awake while you're waiting at the doctor's office.
  • iBooks. I haven't tried all of the gazillion PDF readers out there, but this one from Apple is excellent. It lets you easily navigate chapters, create bookmarks, highlight passages, add notes, and search within the PDF. Mind you, I'm not a fan of carrying around a Kindle, tablet or what have you just so I can read books. My phone does a good enough job of it, thanks to helpful PDF readers like iBooks.
  • CapitalOne and ING Direct (now acquired by CapitalOne). Not a match for the excitement of a game or news app, but these two are among the best banking apps. Schedule a payment on the due date right from your phone. Every bank needs to have an app that is at least this capable.
  • Skype. Excellent rates for calling phone numbers, competitive with calling cards. And, of course, Skype to Skype calls are free! Now with Bluetooth support, makes it a breeze to use. 
  • Amazon. I do a lot of my shopping on Amazon and this app makes it easy to conduct business via the iPhone. Also good for quick price comparisons while shopping brick and mortar stores. I have occasionally received discounts on items just by flashing the Amazon price at an unsuspecting vendor.
Also see PC Magazine's List, which focuses on free apps and makes a good complement to Time's list.

The current (March 2012) issue of MacLife also has an excellent list of 100 best apps (Upgrade Your Apps) that's a bit off the beaten path, but (understandably) isn't yet available online (so, buy the print version or wait).

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