Tech for Grownups: The Essential iPhone Apps

Unlike just about everything else we in the tech blogosphere love to write about, the iPhone has crossed over into mainstream America in a big, big way.  Over half of the adults in my close circle of friends have iPhones and many of the kids are training for future iPhones with iPod Touches.  Everyone I know who has bought an iPhone and tried even a little to understand its many features and benefits has fallen in love with it.

iphoneheld But just having an iPhone is not enough to fully appreciate it.  You have to locate and install the right apps.

As the neighborhood technophile, I get asked all the time by non-facebooking, often technophobic grownups to tell them what iPhone apps they should install and why.  To save time and to give those who don’t live inside the so called social networks a primer on the beauty of iPhone apps, I am going to list the apps I currently have on my iPhone, describe what they do and tell you how often I actually use them.  Lots of iPhone apps are cool, the trick is to indentify those you will use on a regular basis.

I will also note the ones I consider must-have apps, and designate five of them as the top five essential apps.  I’m not going to address the apps that come pre-installed on your iPhone.  If you don’t know what those do, go explore your iPhone some more.  If you still get stuck, leave a question in the Comments and I’ll help you.  I’m also going to defer for later a discussion on games- which are an integral part of the enlightened iPhone experience.

Links are to the app’s iTunes store page, where you can read reviews by other users and, if you are so inclined, buy and immediately receive the app.  You can also buy and download the app via the App Store button on your iPhone.

A few cautionary notes.  Many apps have both a paid and a free version, with the free version supported by in-app ads.  If you’re like me and put at least some premium on ad-avoidance, be cautious with the free versions.  With one extreme exception, all of these apps are inexpensive.  Consider avoiding the ads and supporting hard working developers by buying the paid version of the app.  On the other hand, many apps are completely free, with little or no ads.  The ones only noted as free below only come in free versions.  You can get them for free, either via iTunes or the App Store button on your iPhone.

So, in no particular order, here we go.

Google Mobile (free):  This must-have app puts Google search and other Google apps (calendar, etc.) in an easy to read and use iPhone format.  It also allows you to search Google via voice.  Given that general web surfing via a browser is not the most effective way to find info via the iPhone, this is a must-have app and one of the top 5 essential apps.  I use it all the time.

Box.Net (free):  I’ve used Box.Net as my online storage space since the private beta before it launched.  I don’t need online space much, but when I do Box.Net is my choice, at least until Google’s rumored G-Drive comes out.  The iPhone app is well done and easy to use.  I use it regularly, but it’s not a must have app unless you need online storage.

Melodis Voice Dialer (free):  This was one of the first apps I installed.  When it works, it lets you dial from your iPhone’s Contacts (e.g., address book) by saying the name of the person you want to call.  I’ve had mixed results with it.  I rarely use it and will probably uninstall it at some point.

Note2Self ($1.99):  Every iPhone needs the ability to record notes while on the go.  This app does that and much, much more.  I can record a note and immediately have a voice file emailed to my secretary for dictation or other action.  It’s very handy, and I use it a couple of times a month.  It’s a must-have app.

Remember the Milk (free, but requires a $25/year premium description at Remember the Milk):  Every iPhone also needs a to-do list, and there are many to choose from.  I have used Remember the Milk since before I got an iPhone.  It’s a great web-based application that allows you to have various tasks and due dates, with notifications for the tasks that are due each day.  But at $25 a year, some may choose other options.  I still use it weekly, but if I can find a consolidated note taking and to-do list application, I would be inclined to switch.  Now that I’ve switched from Google Notebook to Evernote (see below), I hope Evernote comes out with to-do list features.

Evernote (free): Even if you don’t know it, you need a central place to keep notes, web clippings, registration numbers and all sorts of other data that you can access from anywhere.  Evernote is that place.  The iPhone app is elegant.  The web-based access needs a lot of work, but the free desktop application is fabulous.  You probably don’t think you need Evernote, but trust me, you do.  Not only a must-have app, but also one of the top 5 essential apps.  The Premium version ($45/year) allows you to add and store image files, PDF files and other files, all of which are accessible anywhere.

Beejive IM ($15.99):  Yes, that’s a lot by iPhone app standards, but if you use text messaging or, like me, have kids you want to stay connected with that do, this is a must-have app.  It lets you text- and send voice messages and photos- to other cell phones and to people on AIM and other instant messaging services.  Because it uses an instant messaging network to transmit data, it avoids the cell provider’s text messaging charges.  Saving those dollars is only the start.  This excellent app does a lot more, including working with iPod Touches to allow the iPhoners-in-training to send and receive text messages.  Clearly one of the top 5 essential apps.

Pandora (free):  If you like music, you want to start with this app, which is an iPhone optimized front end to the wonderful Pandora music service.  There are tons of radio stations to choose from or you can make your own.  If you like alternative country, I offer Newsome.Org radio.  If you like blues, here’s Kent’s Blues Mix.  And if you like an eclectic mix of classic rock, alternative country and blues, there’s my personal favorite, Rancho Radio.

AOL Radio (free):  My other music favorite.  This app, which is populated by CBS radio, offers tons of radio stations to choose from.  To give you an idea of the depth of choice, one of my favorite stations plays only classic rock cover songs!

CameraBag ($2.99): The camera on the iPhone is pretty good, but it’s still a cell phone camera.  CameraBag enhances your iPhone photos with several effects, such as “1962” (dynamic black and white), “Instant” (Polaroid looking, with those familiar borders), and “Helga” (washed out highlights and old-school vignetting).  I don’t use this one as much as I thought I would.  It’s a neat app, but not a must have.

GothPix (99 cents):  I really wish this was an effect in CameraBag (see the picture here for an example of the effect).  I use this one more than CameraBag, even though it’s a one-trick pony.  Not a must-have app, but close- at least for me.

Juxtaposer ($2.99, but there is a free version that I haven’t tried):  If you want to put your mother in law’s head on a monkey or something, this is the app for you.  I think it’s a really cool app, but I don’t use it very much.  It’s one of those “really cool” apps that you may install and rarely use.

Mobile Fotos ($1.99):  If you use Flickr, which is by far the best photo storage and sharing site, you must have this app.  It allows you to flip through your Flickr photos, and to upload additional photos to your Flickr account.  It also supports geotagging.  It is a must-have app, as is a Flickr account if you don’t already have one.

Darkroom (99 cents, but there is a free version that I haven’t tried):  This app, which used to be called SteadyCam, makes it easier to take non-blurry photos with your iPhone by waiting until the iPhone is steady to snap the picture, and by increasing the size of your shutter button- no more feeling around for that little shutter button.  It is a must-have app.

Squiggles ($4.99):  A full featured paint and image manipulation program for the iPhone.  It allows you to draw pictures, add cartoon captions to photos and to write or draw onto photos.  I got this one because my kids have it and were constantly playing with it.  It’s a neat little app, but I rarely use it.

Tweetie ($2.99):  I run hot and cold on Twitter, but a lot of people live on there.  Tweetie is the best app for Twitter, and I actually find myself using Twitter more because of Tweetie.  If you use Twitter, it’s a must-have app.  If you use Twitter, follow me and give me a shout.

Byline ($4.99): Now that you’ve followed my advice and set up a Google Reader account, use this must-have app to read your feeds via your iPhone.  It seems awful slow at times, but Byline is still the best way to read your feeds on the go.  It synchs with your Google Reader account and has an offline reading feature.  It’s one of the top 5 essential apps.

TouchType (99 cents, but there is a free version that I haven’t tried):  TouchType allows you to compose and reply to email in landscape mode, which, along with cute and paste, is one of the main yet-to-be-added native iPhone features.  I thought I would use this app all the time, but I never do.  I will probably uninstall it at some point, but if landscape emailing is important to you, you will find this app handy.

iBlogger (99 cents, at least for the moment):  I looked at a bunch of options before settling on this iPhone blogging application.  If you blog, this is the app to get.  If like the rest of the 99.999999999999999% of the world you don’t, move along to the next app.

Mobile News (free): Now we’re moving into the news and sports apps.  Lot of key apps coming up.  Mobile News is the Associated Press’s iPhone app.  It has news, sports, finance, local news and more.  It’s well designed and easy to use.  A must-have app and clearly one of the top 5 essential apps.

Sportacular (free): This was my first sports app.  It’s great for getting schedules and scores for various sports.  My favorite feature is the ability to set up a favorite teams list and get info about all of the teams you follow from a single page.  It’s not nearly as content-heavy as iSports (see below), but it’s great for quick score checks.  At least one of Sportacular and iSports is a must-have app.

iSports (free): iSports has a lot more content than Sportacular, including daily trivia games and live stats for some events.  If you’re stuck in an airport with some time to kill, iSports is the ticket.  I think iSports and Sportacular do different things, so I use them both regularly.  At least one of Sportacular and iSports is a must-have app.

Bloomberg (free):  For reasons I can’t really explain, I have always avoided the Bloomberg television channel, but the iPhone app is a different story.  It’s the app to get for stock quotes, market and business news.  A must-have app.

American Heritage Dictionary ($29.99):  I can’t believe I paid thirty bucks for a dadgum iPhone dictionary.  Granted, it’s a full featured dictionary, with pronunciations and whatnot, and I keep it by my side during family Scrabble games.  But there are cheaper alternatives out there.  I wouldn’t buy it again.  What was I thinking?  Stupid purchase.

Pocket Aid ($1.99):  A neat little app with first aid guides for insect bites, bruises, burns and other mishaps as well as how-tos for the Heimlich Maneuver, CPR, etc.  I bought it because we go camping a lot, but for a couple of bucks, it would be a good addition to any iPhone.

i.TV (free): I really wanted an app to show me TV and movie listings and to let me manage my Netflix queue.  This app does that and more.  Too much more, in my opinion.  It overwhelms me and I never use it.  I am going to uninstall it, but lots of people love it.

AroundMe (free):  This excellent app uses the iPhone’s build in GPS to locate restaurants, coffee bars, hotels, gas stations and many other points of interest in your immediate vicinity.  I use it frequently- a must-have app.

Urbanspoon (free): Another very popular GPS-based app, Urbanspoon locates restaurants in your vicinity and provides links to menus, editorial reviews and user reviews.  You can filter your results by neighborhood, cuisine or price.  I never (and I mean never) use the “shake for a random restaurant” feature, but I use the “near me” feature frequently.

iTalk Recorder ($4.99, but there is a free version that I haven’t tried):  This was my voice recorder before I discovered Note2Self.  It has a desktop application that will download the audio files to your computer.  It’s a neat app, but I like Note2Self better.

Easy Wi-Fi ($1.99):  One of the many wonderful things about iPhones is that you have free access to ATT wi-fi hotspots.  I have not travelled much since I got my iPhone, but I suspect this app, which automates the sometimes cumbersome process of logging into ATT hotspots, will be a big timesaver.  Based purely on potential a must-have app.

That’s my app list.  I’ll cover games in a subsequent post.

What are your essential iPhone apps?  Add yours to the discussion in the Comments.

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