Mike McBride

Essential apps: iOS

Friday, February 22, 2013

Hey once again. I decided that one of the types of things I'm going to post is a rundown of what I think is the list of best software/apps for given systems. This is going to be based solely on the hardware that I own, which means you won't get any Android posts. If you're interested, Lifehacker does a review of this and keeps it relatively up to date. As of now they don't have Windows phone app reviews, so I'm sorry for those of you who haven't decided to stick with Android or iOS. Here's what I'm going with for my top picks for iOS apps (this includes iPad, and I will specify which systems these apps are for).

Twitter app: Tweetbot (iPhone, iPad)

Tweetbot is an incredible app. I have gone back and forth between this and the official Twitter app for iOS (usually when a new upgrade comes out), and I always end up switching back to this. It has all the features of the official app, plus tons of features you didn't even know you wanted until you use them and realize "why aren't the other apps doing this?". It comes in at $2.99, which is a small price to pay in my opinion, especially if you're a heavy Twitter user. The big down side is that you have to purchase the iPhone and iPad app separately, so that is kind of a bummer. If you don't use Twitter on your iPad regularly, just stick with the Twitter app, otherwise I would say it's worth it to just buy it on both.

File syncing: Dropbox (iPhone, iPad)

If you don't have a Dropbox account yet, you're missing out. It offers cloud storage for your documents and gives you access anywhere. There is a web app you can log into and download your files when you are away from your main computer, but it also has native Windows and Mac OSX apps that allow you to save your files in that directory and it automatically uploads them to the cloud so you can enjoy them on all your devices. If you don't have an account, get one here and you'll get an extra 500MB of space for using my referral link since I'm already a user. You start with 2GB free, but they offer frequent chances for you to increase your space (testing beta features, using instant photo upload, etc). The great thing about the iPhone and iPad apps is that you can view documents while on the go in case you ever need to quickly reference something. It's a very convenient app to have.

File syncing: CloudOn (iPhone, iPad)

CloudOn is a FREE app that lets you view and edit your cloud based documents. You can connect it to your Dropbox account or your Google Drive account and view and edit any documents right from your iPhone or iPad. It's not the fastest or smoothest while editing, but I can't even begin to explain how convenient it is to be able to quickly open up an Excel document and edit someone's address instead of having to get your computer, log in, etc. just to make a change to one cell. And it's free, so why pay for apps that provide a similar service?

Banking: Simple (iPhone)

I realize that you're probably not going to switch your bank just to use one that has a great mobile app, but Simple has completely redesigned online banking. They take the hassle out of everything you hate about banks and give you stellar customer service (they're actually a customer service company that interfaces with the actual bank for you), a great web app for tracking your spending and savings, and hands down the best mobile banking app I've ever seen. I lost my card once, and as soon as I realized it was missing, I logged into the app (using a pin number instead of having to type my ridiculous password on a mobile phone) and disabled my card right from the app. It took less than 30 seconds. The next day I called them and told them I lost my card. The conversation took less than 2 minutes and a new card was on its way to me. I can't say enough good things for both the app and Simple's customer service. As far as banking apps go, Bank of America and US Bank also have pretty decent iPhone apps (B of A has an iPad app that I've used too that's pretty good), and you're more likely to use one of those banks. Check those out if you haven't.

Mail: Mailbox (iPhone)

This is probably my favorite app. Mailbox is an app that focuses on "putting email in its place". It's goal is to get you to "Inbox Zero", a productivity system with a large following. The goal is to get everything out of your inbox so you don't have to worry about your mail. I have been doing this for a while with Gmail, using archiving, labels, and a trigger-happy delete finger, but Mailbox makes it so intuitive and simple. With easy swipe gestures, you can archive or delete mail, have it remind you at a later time, or add it to a list. Mailbox is currently available for iPhone (no Android, though I hear it's in the works), and only works with Gmail, though they say they are working on adding Exchange accounts as well. They got so much demand for their app within the first couple months (it was released in Feb. 2013) that they partnered with Dropbox to take advantage of their cloud storage expertise!

To Do: Wunderlist (iPhone, iPad)

I have tried a ton of to-do list apps looking for one I really loved. All I want is something simple (I don't want to have to click 5 times before my task is submitted) that can remind me when a task is due, organize tasks into groups if I need, and set up recurring tasks (reminders to pay bills, etc). Any.DO was my old app and I liked it a lot, but there was no iPad app, the iPhone app didn't sync well with the Chrome extension, and they still had not released a web app. Wunderlist has all the features I want and presents them beautifully, it has native iPhone, iPad, Mac OSX, (sorry Windows, web app only for you) and Windows [brand new!] apps, and also has a web app that all have the same look and feel and function very well. If you're looking for a to-do app, I highly recommend Wunderlist.

Notes: Simplenote (iPhone, iPad)

Simplenote is an awesome app. It provides a plain, blank canvas for you to start typing notes on and syncs to the cloud. It has a great web app so you can write and edit notes on your computer if you want, and also has extensions for programs on Windows and Mac OSX that can integrate to Simplenote (no native apps for them, but Notational Velocity [Mac] and Resoph Notes [Windows] both have extensions that let you sync to Simplenote). It has about the same functionality as the iPhone "Notes" app except that it allows you to tag notes and has the wonderful syncing to the web. If you're looking for a little more out of your notes, check it out.

Browser: Chrome/Safari (iPhone, iPad)

If you use Chrome as your desktop browser, you should definitely be using it on your mobile device. Tabs and bookmarks sync across devices so you can pick up articles you were reading right where you left off without the hassle. It doesn't do anything super special that Safari doesn't do, it's just great that all your bookmarks and tabs are available to you on your devices. On the iPhone, the big advantage it has over mobile Safari is tabbed browsing, so if you care about that it's pretty great on Chrome. UPDATE: I've been using iOS 7 for a while and Safari is much better than it used to be. Since Apple is able to interface with the phone and make use of the operating system much better than third parties are able to, Safari is actually better in my opinion (at least on iOS 7). I'd still use Chrome on an iPad, but you should consider Safari for your phone.

Read it Later Service: Pocket (iPhone, iPad)

If you haven't used a read it later service before, do yourself a favor and download Pocket. It can integrate with apps like Twitter (Tweetbot has it too) and other apps and lets you easily save articles you see for reading later instead of feeling like you have to read it now. Pocket is free to use, unlike some other services of its kind, and offers the same features they do.

Streaming video: Netflix (iPhone, iPad)

Kind of goes without saying. If you have a Netflix account, just download the app. It's convenient to have on the iPhone and an absolute essential on the iPad. You can even give it a 1 month free trial if you're not sure how much you'll use the service - just go here.

Maps: Google Maps (iPhone)

It's no secret that Apple's new Maps app that came with iOS 6 is horrible. Google gave everyone a break by releasing a beautiful maps app that actually works, has turn-by-turn directions, and won't send you to an abandoned warehouse in the bad part of town (happened to my friend while he was in NYC). Not a lot to say about this one, just get the app and save yourself the hassle.

Weather: Stock weather app (iPhone)

There are no shortage of weather apps, but I like Weather Underground for it's accuracy, features, and the fact that it isn't sluggish. UPDATE: the weather app on iOS 7 is gorgeous and doesn't suck like it used to. Save yourself the storage space on your phone and use the stock app.

Bonus apps:

These didn't have a category or just didn't warrant being on the list I have above, but I still think they're awesome apps to have. Here's the rest of my list of apps I think you should get for your iPhone or iPad.

  • GasBuddy - finds the cheapest gas in your area. Incredibly handy.
  • Flipboard - another reading service, lets you subscribe to different magazines, journals, or different topics and it pulls news stories related to them. The iPhone app is not bad, the iPad app is awesome.
  • PayPal - if you ever use PayPal, you should get the app. They did a really good job with it.
  • IMDb - I am one of those people who has to know where I've seen that actor before while I'm watching a show/movie. IMDb is awesome for that.
  • SoundHound - when you hear a song and don't know the artist, pull out this app. It's free and works really well.
  • AroundMe - lets you search for things around you (ie: Hotels, Restaurants, Grocery Stores, etc).
  • Amazon - I like to buy stuff from Amazon. This lets me do it while I'm not at my laptop. Kind of dangerous I guess, but also really convenient.

That's it for my list of apps on iPhone/iPad. Stay tuned for my Mac OSX and Windows apps that are surely coming sometime soon.