Tuesday, January 6, 2009

What's On My iPhone

I get asked frequently 'what are the best iPhone 3G apps out there'. This is such a subjective question, but since I answer it so many times, I figured this needed to be a blog topic...that way I can simply provide folks with my link, and I can easily update the blog post as time goes by and more and more applications become available. This particular blog is for those applications I use and are "worthy" enough to make it onto my iPhone. I have a smattering of references to apps that I can't stand as well!

So, without further adieu, here's my list

Living in Cincinnati, the weather changes frequently (70 degrees in the winter?!), so it's important to know what to expect for the day. The native iPhone weather application looks nice, but is pretty much worthless when trying to plan for the day. So, soon after buying my iPhone back in July (yes, I waited like a moron outside the Kenwood Apple Store for 4 hours), I bought MyWeather Mobile, which has very nice features and user interface (landscape mode brings other features like hour by hour charts of temp, wind, precipitation), as well as a motion radar map for your area based on your GPS location. It's by far the best weather app that I've seen. However, I recently replaced it with The Weather Channel's free app, which is also nicely done, updates much faster than MyWeather Mobile, and has most of the same features. Only thing missing is the motion radar map, but this is replaced by a video feed of the actual Weather Channel's 'Local Forecast' -- just as you would see on TV. You obviously need a good data connection for that to work, but pretty cool nonetheless. Weather Bug is free, but the user interface is weak, and doesn't stand up to the Weather Channel application.

I'm a huge fan of sports and competition, so a sports application is critical to me. For sports apps, all I want is real time scores, quick access to schedules of all teams, and links to team stats, game stats and each game's AP post-game story. Unbelieveably, there is not an iPhone app that does all of this. The best app so far that I've seen (hands down) is Sportacular. Access to all the major sports is there (including college--since I'm a huge college sports fan... Go Gators!), and it's a very stable application with a good user interface. My only gripe is that stats and stories are not available for college sports, only professional teams... Given that's my only gripe, I've lived with Sportacular since it came out right after the iPhone release in July. I tried all of Sportacular's competition like AllAccess sports, SportsTap, and ScoreMobile--and they all left me coming back to Sportacular. Note that I am keeping an eye on iSports, an app that just came out recently that seems to have some decent development behind it. Didn't seem ready for primetime, but the dev team seems to provide regular improvement updates...so it's on my watchlist.

Secondary sports apps notes: Previous to the iPhone, I had a Palm Treo--and the Pocket Express application for Palm met all of my sporting needs completely. So, when Pocket Express came out for the iPhone, I was expecting the same thing...however, the sports portion of Pocket Express is very limited and does not carry any college sports, and even omits some professional sports. Booooo!. Also, since I love college football, I was pretty excited about the AP Top 25 application... but alas, it has a clumsy user interface and eventually got the boot from my phone.

The MLB.com At Bat is also a great app for baseball lovers, but I'm a bit disappointed that you have to re-purchase it every year. By far the best feature is the real-time game lookins and pretty quickly updated video highlights of games as they're being played. Very nice app.

I'm blown away that more folks don't use RSS. It's so quick and easy, and helps me keep up to date on only those topics/news sources that are important to me. Does anyone still read the newspaper? Why? And why don't you subscribe to my blog's RSS feed? :)

There are a TON of RSS reader applications out for the iPhone, and each varies in functionality (some require use of a website reader like Google Reader or Newsgator, some have search capability, some do not allow new feeds to be created directly from the iPhone, etc...). If you're new to RSS, I recommend that you go to
this link for some background on what RSS is (if you're interested), and then go to iLounge's review of RSS readers on the iPhone.

Now, first of all, let me say that I do the vast majority of my RSS reading from my iPhone, I use NewsGator and Google Reader as my web-based RSS aggregators, and speed to download feeds to the iPhone along with capability to do bulk deletions from the iPhone is most important to me. Byline and Newsstand are cute applications, but not functional for me in the download speed category. As a result, I've had NetNewsWire on my phone since day one. I keep trying other readers, but keep coming back to NNW. NNW requires use of NewsGator, doesn't allow for new feeds to be added from the application (you have to go the NewsGator website to do this--and without cut and paste on the iPhone, this means you add new feeds from a PC), but is extremely fast for downloading new stories and, well, I just like it the best. It does seem to crash every once in a while--but it's tolerable.

Some friends swear by the web app for Google Reader. It's ok, but does not allow me to view all of my feeds quickly, nor delete articles en masse. Most of these folks do the majority of their RSS viewing from a PC, and the iPhone is just a supplement viewer for them. I do look forward to a Google Reader application to show up in iTunes (will one ever?), since Google Reader is my favorite RSS aggregator, but like I said, I've lived with NewsGator and NetNewsWire thus far.

FILES, NOTES and TO DO management
So, coming from the Palm Treo world, I was used to having Excel and Word files available for viewing/editing. While editing MS Office files is still a problem (ie. non-existent) with the iPhone, there are ways to have these files available for viewing. Prior to the app store's release in July, the only way to do this was to email yourself the file as an attachment and keep it in your email, or make your own webserver available to view from your iPhone through Safari--but most average folks don't know or want to do that. So, the introduction of the app store brought many apps to fill this File Management need. The two best applications for this are Files and AirSharing, and I have settled with AirSharing. What both applications do is essentially create a location on a server (called a WebDAV server) that the application allows secure access to view whatever files are in your personal folders on that server. To get your files onto that WebDAV server, you will need to create a network connection with your PC to that server and then put whatever files you want. I use AirSharing because it has a feature to allow you to store select files to be transferred locally to your iPhone--very nice when either EDGE or 3G are not available.

For Notes, I've tried a ton of apps (like YouNote, WritingPad, MemoPad), and I now only use Evernote. It costs some money, but it is VERY nice and I find myself using it more and more every day. You can capture anything to create a note (either when working on my PC, taking a picture with your iPhone, or just typing from your iPhone), clip it to Evernote, and then it synchs to the Evernote application. Tagging allows for quick search for notes, and even can use the GPS locator to tag notes by location.

Secondarily, I played with ReQall and Jott--both are pretty cool apps (more like a service) for recording a voice note (so you talk into the iPhone) and then it comes back to you in 15-20 minutes in electronic form after a person listens to your note and then retypes it back to you. Works pretty well, but I just never found a need for it ongoing (plus, there were many errors/typos coming back). I've deleted both off the iPhone.

Finally, for To Do lists and task management, I use the iPhone application called Todo. I downloaded a bunch of applications (Tasks, OmniFocus, Things, To Do's, To-Do Lists, etc.), in order to figure out the app that best worked for my own process for organizing tasks. I used to synch tasks directly between Outlook and my Treo, but the iPhone is severely lacking in Outlook-enabled synchronization. Thus, my iPhone got me out of using Outlook Tasks, and I bit the bullet and started using a web-based task management site (like Toodledo or Remember the Milk) that synchs flawlessly with the Todo iPhone app. Complement this with the Firefox browser addin for Toodledo and the recent release of a Toodledo-to-Outlook synchronization 3rd party application for my pc, and I finally found my happy place for task management. Todo is very feature-rich and synchs with Toodledo and RTM. However, given what I know now, I would simply use the free Toodledo iPhone application (which was released a few months after Todo)--since Todo costs moolah. Don't get fooled by the many copycat names... Todo is made by Appigo. I think they may now also provide a free 'Lite' version try out first as well, but I don't know what functionality they have sacrificed to offer it for free.

TV and Movies: When the iPhone first came out, I downloaded What's On as my TV Guide type of application, since it had all of the TV listings for every TV, cable and satellite provider in the area. I also had Now Showing as my application of choice for movie listings since it was fast and had great integration with trailers and fandango. However, both applications were deleted from my iPhone with the introduction of i.TV, by far the best media listing application out there. I.TV brings movie and tv listings into one application, with all of the same great functionalities that the two other applications provided...and it promises integration with NetFlix and other types of media content playback. Even if these promises don't come to fruition, I.TV is a killer app, and is free!!!

Music: Now, I'm not as into music as I was in college, but Pandora is on my iPhone for those times when I want to expand my horizons a bit while chilling out. At one point FStream (a great aggregator of online radio streams), AOL Radio, Shoutcast, and Last.fm were all on my phone, and they are all good. But I just didn't listen to them enough so deleted them. However, I did keep Shazam on the iPhone, since, well, it's just cool. (Note that I found Midomi and Shazam are almost identical, but I went with Shazam for no good reason). Pocket Guitar was on my phone for a while, but it's more gimmicky than truly functional (no way to hit non-bar chords reliably)--so it just got bounced.

Video: Obviously, the native video apps on the iPhone are outstanding. Watching video podcasts or my own movies/tv shows on the iPhone while commuting via mass transit to work are standard to-do's for me. And the native YouTube app is still the best integration out there for streaming YouTube video to a handheld device. However, the iPhone has so much potential for 3rd party applications which stream on-demand video to really separate itself further from its competition (Flash would be oh-so-nice). The introduction of Joost has got me excited to see some of this come to fruition--but Joost's content selection is somewhat lacking (what's with the huge Japanese pop video selection?). I was able to stream a full episode the Hills (does anyone really watch that show though? Ugh), but not able to stream some of the few movies on Joost from the iPhone (so why have them be searchable?). Joost is a must have just to play with, and should serve the folks at Hulu some notice that they need to get onboard the iPhone train. Also, I'm really looking forward to Sling Media's launch of the SlingPlayer for iPhone app. I'll be buying this on day 1 of release!!

Books: For online reading, I use Stanza. I will admit that this gets used very infrequently and is at risk of getting the boot, but not because of any flaw with the application, but rather because I just don't read eBooks very much.

Shopping: The native App Store and iTunes apps are outstanding for making iTunes purchases. The only other shopping application I have is the Amazon.com application, and it is a must have. Quickly search Amazon for items to check prices (great when Christmas shopping) or to just make a purchase it from Amazon. But the icing on the cake is the Amazon applications' 'Remembers' functionality, where if you take a picture of an item, folks at Amazon will identify the item, get the product information for it, and save it in your account. It works incredibly well!! On the eBay and Craigslist front, I abandoned their apps and just use their webapps instead, since I don't spend much time on them anymore.

Eating: Urbanspoon is fun, but more gimmicky for me since I'm not going out to eat alot (I have two small kids). However, we use it occasionally for those babysitter nights. I keep OpenTable on my phone as well, not so much because I use it--but because I HOPE to use it one day. It is integrated to the OpenTable website for allowing online reservations to be made quickly (and the restaurants we go to aren't snazzy enough to require reservations). Yelp and Where are both outstanding for restaurant reviews, but I only kept Where on my phone since it also helps me find the nearest Starbucks! And for cooking at home, I like both the AllRecipes app (think Urbanspoon for making your own meals) as well iFood (another recipe application sponsored by Kraft--guess what ingredients they often propose!).

Since food is somewhat linked with health, I'll also mention here that I now have loaded the FitPhone application to help restart my workout routine--and to replace my archaeic Excel spreadsheet. The jury is still out on whether FitPhone will stay on the iPhone or not, but I've found that it has a pretty good listing of core exercises that I already do (so don't have to do a bunch of manual entry).

Gaming is impressive on the iPhone, and I've wasted many a minute playing games on the iPhone. Of all the games that I've played, I only have a few that have been mainstays.

Game Mainstays: Texas Hold'em (by Apple!) is by far and away my most played game. Great for wasting a few minutes in the doctor's waiting room, it is the best HoldEm game out there. Great interface and gameplay. Took a while to build up enough winnings to play at Dubai, but I'm there now!! Crash Bandicoot NitroKart is still on my iPhone because my girls like to play it, and MotoChaser and RealSoccer 09 are there because they are just great executions that show off the iPhone's gameplay ability (even though I haven't played them in a long time). Sudoku(Free) meets my wife's sudoku fix, and Solebon has stayed on since it brings FreeCell, Solitaire and a couple of other games all together in one app. Burning Monkey Casino is a great (and cheap) game that brings many casino games into one application--and the game execution is excellent. Right before the Christmas holidays, I downloaded Monopoly (to which I'm still addicted) and Centipede (to which my wife is addicted). iLounge gave rave reviews to a game called Rolando, so that's on my iPhone now--but the jury is still out on that one.

Good games, but got tired of them: Now, with that list above, I feel I should still recommend some great games I've played that I have taken off my iPhone--only because I know I can bring it back from iTunes at some point in the future. These games are (in alphabetical order): Ace Tennis Online, Asphalt 4: Elite Racing, Aurora Feint 1 and 2 (wow! I spent hours were spent on these games...talk about addicted!) Brain Challenge (think Brain Age for iPhone), LED Football (think old-school LED light football game with 3 lanes!), Line Rider iRide, Ms. PacMan, The Price is Right (good but a huge memory hog), Spore (I got bored with it), Super Monkey Ball (wore it out), Tap Tap Revenge (think Guitar Hero for iPhone), and Toy Bot 1, 2 and 3 (these are great games with a fun user interface...highly recommended!).

The bad games:
Billy Frontier (fun for 20 minutes, but crashed way too much), Dactyl (felt like a nervous disorder was coming on), Everest (zzz), Fat Free Video Poker (got replaced by Burning Monkey Casino), Shaky Summit (zzz), Stone of Destiny, and Zombie Attack

There are many applications for this generic Social Networking term (hey, isn't making a phone call a form of 'social networking'?) But there are definitely some social networknig applications I use very frequently, if not daily.

Micro-blogging: I used to use Loopt to update my status, which I configured to update my Twitter status, which then updated my Facebook status. I since lost interest in Loopt since knowing where people where was always dependent on them using Loopt frequently, and that just doesn't happen. So, I pretty much use TwitterFon (which just replaced Twitterific on my iPhone since it loads tweets much faster!) and the Facebook application on a daily basis to check in with friends, pics, etc... Yahoo's OneConnect application is another one that I'm keeping an eye on, since I'd like an aggregator of all my social networking sites... but it's still a ways off from that--so it got bounced from the iPhone. Yammer got deleted since a work-only microblog is too depressing, and I no longer religiously follow LinkedIn--so that application got deleted as well.

Instant Messaging: I replaced AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) and Palringo with Fring because of Fring's Skype integration. Honestly though, until Apple enables 3rd party application activity threading in the background, IM apps are pretty useless on the iPhone (you only get real time IM's if you have the application open...can't run it in the background--boo!)

For stock quotes/portfolio info, I used to have the Bloomberg application loaded. However, with the economic times I find that I look far less frequently to keep from getting too depressed, and I have taken Bloomberg off. I just use the native Stocks application if I need to check an equity status.

I love using Pageonce's: A Personal Assistant, as it allows you to link in most accounts that you have (like phone bill, banking, brokerages, investment portfolios, credit card balances, frequent flier miles, eBay watchlists, etc...) and bring your current account status at your fingertips. You can also enable alerts for any account based on balance amount threshold (email me when my checking balance dips below $100) or number of transactions (let me know when more than 10 credit card transactions are made in one day).

When we're talking web search, the Google iPhone application is THE application I use the most. It's great because it searches your contacts (I still can't believe that the native Contacts application on the iPhone doesn't have a permanent 'Search' field--instead of the one that you have to scroll to the very top of your contact list for) as well as the internet. The new voice-search capability on the Google app is outstanding (although I still get some garbled voice recognition back...i've found speaking normally helps--don't try to speak slower and louder). Plus, there's a VERY COOL
easter egg called 'Bells and Whistles' found on the Google app settings screen that opens up animal sounds and color control for the google app. The easter egg functionality isn't cool, but the fact that they put it in is what's snazzy. Another application on my phone (granted, it's on the 7th application page on my phone) that is nifty but not completely usable is Searchme--a search engine that returns images of the website along with your search matches. Pretty cool, but not the fastest--and therefore not ideal since speed is king when it comes to search. It's more something cool to show your friends.

As for web apps, I have many bookmarked, but not many that I have linked in my main menu screens. Actually, the only two I have are the ESPN web app (especially cool since ESPN has started to load iPhone-enabled video content there), and the Delta Airlines web app (which has strangely stopped working on Christmas Day... it may be getting deleted soon).

Another application type where I invested many hours testing out apps to see what fits best for me. SplashID was awesome on the Palm, but with the iPhone version has issues with firewalls, and I would like to have some of this data on my work pc where I cannot mess with the firewall settings. There's a bunch of other applications, but I didn't feel comfortable with any of them except for Memengo Wallet, which is a web-based synchronization site for keeping your important info stored. There's an encrypted password that you create for your folders--but not sure what that ultimately means for the security of my data from the DBA's that run the website. Regardless, I've been using Memengo since July and find it very easy to use.

For those times when I'm with the kids and need to distract them for a while, I'll give them my iPhone and say "Here, play with Daddy's phone!" So, they will usually go to the iPod application to watch one of the many episodes of Dora, Imagination Movers, Backyardigans, or Save 'Ums that I have on my phone (sometimes I'll load a movie like KungFu Panda or WallE for them as well). However, eventually they will want to play a game as well, so the following "kid distractors" are loaded on my phone: ABC Flashcards (great app for learning letter sounds and how to write letters!), Alphabet Sound Machine, any Jirbo game (Bounce, Jive, Memory Match), Disney Fairies Fly (girls still love to play this one, even after unlocking the final fairie), Dizzy Bee, FlashGram, FlashMath, Lemonade Stand (exactly like the old Apple II game), Lightsaber Unleashed, and Pre-School Adventure (my 3 year old loves this!). I must say that the girls playing with my phone to meet my own need for peace and quiet is happening more and more, but I justify it with a spattering of some semi-educational games as well--see, I'm not such a bad parent--they're LEARNING something!!)

This section is for those applications that don't really fall into a category, but are must haves for me. Easy Wi-Fi for AT&T (makes connecting to AT&T wifi hotspots super simple), Epicentral (for those earthquake hunters out there...I actually just deleted this one from my phone, but it's still pretty cool), Facecall (well, this one didn't work that well--the calling process takes too darn long, so I'm going to delete it right now!), Geocaching (THE premier geocaching iPhone app...sorry iGeocacher, but you've been bumped!), Google Earth (just too cool to not mention... it bumped Earthscape off my phone when it finally came out), iFart Mobile (I know, how crass and gross...but nothing beats watching my parents giggle like school kids for 15 minutes straight while playing through all the different...uh...'songs'. Obviously the kids love this one--a bit too much. It may need to go soon!). Night Stand (amazing how a boring app like this has managed to stay on my phone... boring but functional). Slate (election tracker) is about to get deleted, but was awesome to check up on real time polling leading up to the election in November. And I still have the Obama '08 application on my phone because, well, I just love the fact that a presidential candidate had the savvy to create an iPhone application.

Even though I'm half Japanese, I'm not that big into taking pictures (gasp!). However, I do have Sketches, Photgene and SteadyCam on my phone for those times when I do take pictures. Sketches is for doing silly things to my pictures (usually of my girls). Photogene is a more 'professional' editing software for cropping, labeling, etc..., while SteadyCam helps me take better quality pictures in lower light by signaling me when the iPhone is perfectly still and ideal for taking a picture.

Note that, since I'm not that into photography, the apps I have on my iPhone for photos are probably not the best apps out there. Consider yourself warned! :)

Well, that's my application list. I'll continue to edit this as I come across other new apps that I can't live without. Please leave me some comments (apps I missed, apps I use that you hate, etc...)
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