Mobile apps have become an embarrassment of riches for iPhone and Android. In a world with over 500,000 iPhone apps and over 250,000 Android apps, the toughest part is finding the most useful stuff.
I'm going to throw you an assist by sharing my top 20 (this is an update of my my 2010 iPhone list and my iPhone apps list from earlier this year. I've also recently updated my top picks for Android smartphone apps. My iPhone picks are all third-party apps that can help you be more productive, streamline regular activities, reduce the number of gadgets in your life, and take advantage of the top benefits that mobile computing has to offer.
The best way to view my picks is the slideshow of screenshots, but if you don't like slideshows you can view entire list below.
The iPhone has developed into a strong platform for photography. The iPhone camera sensors keep getting better and better and the software is solid. But, one of the things that really makes the iPhone great as a camera is the wealth of excellent photography apps. There are a slew of great apps to replace the native Apple camera app and there are also a ton of excellent photo editing apps so that you can do all of your editing right on the iPhone. Camera+ combines both into an app that combines pro-level powers with excellent ease of use. I've written about why I prefer iPhone to Android for photography and the reasons I use Camera+ to replace the native iPhone app.
I've tried a lot of different to-do lists and task organizers on the iPhone, but the one I grudgingly prefer is Things. I say grudgingly because it's the most expensive ($9.99) and it doesn't sync well with the web or other machines. Still, it's the best app I've found for managing and tracking tasks and I eventually came to the conclusion that I didn't need to sync my tasks to every device since my phone is the one device that's always with me. If you want to sync, then I'd recommend 2Do.
This is another app that I grudgingly put on the list even though it is the most expensive app in its category, but it can get away with it because it's the best. BeejiveIM is an instant messaging client that can sign you into all of the leading IM clients, including AOL, Yahoo, Facebook, MSN, Jabber, and GoogleTalk. The UI is good and the app works well, but the killer feature is integration with iOS push notifications, so that you get pinged on your phone when someone is sending you an IM. This works well and surprisingly it isn't a battery life killer.
Inexplicably, Google doesn't have an official app (for either iPhone or Android) for Google Analytics. The best one I've found to go deep into all of the data is Analytics App.
Even better than Analytics App for a quick-glance dashboard is Ego. It shows basic data from Google Analytics as well as a bunch of other sources, including Squarespace, Twitter, and Feedburner.
As mentioned above, the camera and photo apps on the iPhone are now good enough to replace a point-and-shoot camera. You can even take pictures that are worthy of saving in your family albums. For those, I upload them to Flickr using the iPhone app. For the everyday photos that I just want to quickly post on social media, I use Instagram. It is very quick, dead simple to use, and very social media friendly. But, do me a favor and go easy on the filters. They are badly overused by most Instagram users. Plenty of good photos need no filter at all.
Dropbox is a great cloud service that automatically syncs a folder of files between multiple computers (Windows, Mac, or Linux). This app extends Dropbox to the iPhone and includes a built-in reader within the app for PDFs, image files, and Microsoft Office files.
Once you get used to typing on a virtual keyboard (and it honestly took me over a year to do it), then these devices are great for note taking, and Evernote is a great note taking app. It is similar to Dropbox in that it saves data locally but syncs it across all your machines and devices.
9. TripitI love Tripit. It is by far the best app I've found for keeping track of all my travel itineraries. It is powered by some excellent backend systems. You simply forward your confirmation emails (or use the Gmail plugin to do it automatically) for your flights, hotels, rental cars, and more to Tripit and it automatically organizes them into trips with all your details and confirmation numbers.
Twitter has largely replaced RSS for me for finding and filtering the latest news. However, I still track some RSS feeds and the best tool I've found to do it with is Reeder. It syncs with Google Reader so it's easy to flip between the mobile app and the desktop, plus the app lets you share to Twitter (and Facebook) and save to Instapaper and ReadItLater.
11. Amazon Kindle
I've never fully warmed up to the Amazon Kindle e-reader, but I'm a big fan of the Kindle iPhone app. Since it was released I've read a lot more books simply because my phone is always with me and I can pull it out and read a few pages anytime I've got a couple minutes free. Alternatives: Nook, iBooks, and Kobo.
As much as I like the Kindle ebooks, I actually consume more books as audiobooks via Audible. In the past you could download these and sync them via iTunes. But Audible now has its own app, which lets you connect to your Audible library and download over the air, and even gives you a self-contained player optimized for audiobooks.
Sure, you can use iTunes and the built-in iPod app to listen to podcasts, but if you're an avid podcast listener (I regularly follow This Week in Tech, Buzz Out Loud, and Tech News Today) then the app Podcaster offers a better experience. You can download over the air (so that you don't have to constantly sync to a computer to get the latest episodes), you can skip forward and backward 30 seconds, you can increase playback speed to 1.5 times normal speed, and the app is even compatible with AirPlay.
14. TEDThe TED conferences feature a meeting of the minds of some of society's most influential thinkers. You'll disagree with some of them since there's a large diversity of viewpoints, but many talks are worth listening to in order to catch the latest creative thinking on society's biggest challenges. The cool thing is that they've taken the videos from the conference and made them freely available on the Web. The TED app provides a great way to access the videos on a mobile device, and they release new TED talks as videos every work. They are short (usually 5-20 minutes) and almost always inspirational.
Pano makes it easy to take excellent panoramas with the iPhone. It helps you line up your shots and it automatically corrects many of the imperfections. My wife is a photographer with a big, expensive Nikon camera and she's regularly jealous of some of the shots I can get with the iPhone and Pano. (By the way, Android is looking to take panoramas to the next level with the new continuous panorama mode in Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich.")
The official Twitter app is still the best Twitter client on iPhone (although Osfoora is catching up). Twitter itself is an amazing instant-intelligence engine. Two other great social media apps for iPhone are Google+ and Foursquare.
I used to carry a separate Garmin GPS unit for turn-by-turn directions but I eventually got rid of it and decided to just use the iPhone instead. In researching the various apps, I eventually decided on NAVIGON, which is a company that makes a lot of the built-in navigation systems for many cars. Tip: Make sure your iPhone is plugged in to power when you run a GPS navigation program like this because otherwise it will quickly drain your battery.
18. Where To?
A great companion to a GPS system is the app "Where To?" which lets you quickly look up various types of shops and services, from Cuban restaurants to medical specialists to animal hospitals to local museums and much more. Two other great resources are Google's Places app and iExit, which shows you the restaurants, gas stations, and stores at upcoming exits when you're driving on an interstate highway (in the U.S.).
This is an app plus a website and you can quickly sync between the two. The way it usually works for me is that my wife makes a grocery list, enters it into grocerygadgets.com, and then it syncs to my iPhone so that I can swing by the grocery store and pick up the stuff.
This is a great app for shoppers. It turns the iPhone camera into a barcode scanner and it's pretty accurate. You simply scan a product's UPC code and let the app go to work to find it in Google Product Search and TheFind. For food it will even look up allergen information and for books it will scan to see if you can get it in a local library. You'll be amazed at how fast it works. A similar product is SnapTell, which not only scans barcordes but you can also take a picture of the cover of a book or DVD and it can look them up that way. These apps are great when you're shopping at a retail store and want to check the prices of products online before buying. It also reads QR codes.
- The 20 most useful Android smartphone apps
- The 20 best apps for the iPad
- Do yourself a favor, use Camera+ to replace the iPhone camera app
Your picks?What are your picks for the most useful, valuable, and productive iPhone apps? Post them in the discussion below.
Jason Hiner has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Jason Hiner is Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.