Most iPhone apps are terrible: they don’t do much at all and what they do actually do, is usually the duplicate functionality of a hundred other apps that already exist. Most of them barely even do that very well. I may be a little harsh: while some people I know have maxed out their home screens and filled each and every one up with apps, I only use about eight apps.
And even some of those, I barely use. I might pop into BOMRadar if the clouds look darker than normal, or Band because I’m utterly bored and don’t have time to get through a chunk of one of the books I read using BookShelf (BookShelf is perhaps the most used app on my phone).
But my point is that I don’t even have enough apps installed on my iPhone to fill up a “15 Productivity Apps for the iPhone” article. One might find that my recommendations are a little too picky and I bypass apps that do the job well enough for most people. Which is why I’ve decided to take a look at the sort of productivity apps that other people are using. And it’s true: I am just an overly picky, cynical Scrooge who doesn’t like Christmas trees nor filling iPhone developers’ stockings by purchasing every app I see. Here are the productivity apps that the masses like.
AirSharing is an application that, in a nutshell, allows you to mount your iPhone on your computer via wifi and transfer files to the iPhone, or vice-versa. AirSharing then allows you to view a myriad of file types that are not supported by the iPhone itself. It’s no wonder AirSharing is popular; it’s always been difficult to get your files onto the iPhone, and even if you did you’d have a hard time viewing the files. AirSharing solves all of that.
Zenbe Lists does one thing and it does it well, and if you hadn’t figured it out already, that thing is creating lists. You can view or edit your lists from the phone (not to mention from the web if you accidentally leave the phone at home), and share your lists between iPhones and via email. It has a few other minor features but that’s about as complicated as a good list program could or should get. While I don’t use Zenbe at this point, my wife uses it to keep a running list of things we need to grab on our next shopping trip.
Things is actually a piece of software I regularly use, both on the desktop and the iPhone. Things is a task management application based on David Allen’s Getting Things Done system, and uses panels representing familiar GTD concepts such as the inbox, today list, next actions list, projects and roles, and so on. If you want GTD task management software that works great both on your iPhone and your Mac, I recommend Things. If you don’t have a Mac I probably wouldn’t, though, since you want to be able to sync your tasks.
We’ve already looked at Zenbe Lists and Things, both apps that can handle task management from each end of the complexity spectrum. The reason I mention Todo — and probably the reason it’s a frequently downloaded, popular application — is that it can sync with a whole bunch of online services such as Toodledo and Remember The Milk. If your system is deeply embedded in one of those services, you can’t get away with Zenbe or Things. You need an app like Todo.
Initially one of the iPhone’s most popular applications, in the few months since the 3G and App Store launch OmniFocus has been surpassed by Things and by the looks of things, is very slowly climbing further down into the pages of the store. That doesn’t mean it’s bad software, though, and it still does remain quite popular among a wide variety of people. When I tried it, I liked it, and the only reason I stopped using it was because Things became my app of choice on the desktop. One of the coolest things about OmniFocus is the way it handles tasks in a location-aware fashion.
eWallet is the App Store’s most popular password manager. Not only does it provide you with secure, encrypted storage for your account credentials, but it also has a cool visual method of storing and displaying credit card and bank info. That’s something I’d probably find infinitely useful, as I’m frequently trying to use my bank’s iPhone website to transfer money to my bank card for lunch and going hungry when I can’t remember the account number! Why I don’t just leave the money on the card beforehand is a dilemma for another time…
SmartTime is an intriguing looking app that uses an interesting interface to organize your tasks in a more calendar/schedule-driven way — at least, that’s what I gather from the screenshots. I don’t fully understand it and I don’t intend to purchase it, but SmartTime’s a popular app and there must be a reason why. The screenshots do seem to indicate a task management style that would be popular for a whole lot of people.
iSilo is a document reader for iSilo, Palm Doc, and plain text formats. Aside from the Mobipocket format, these are some of the most popular formats for reading ebooks on phones today (and let’s not even pretend that anybody uses those Microsoft LIT files). You can also view a bunch of image types, PDFs, HTML files, and Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, and Powerpoint) files — including Office 2007 files.
One thing I don’t get is how HanDBase became a popular iPhone application. It could be the best application in the world, but with an absolute crapper of a name like that, I wouldn’t buy it unless someone I trusted gave me the rave review of a lifetime (my apologies if the app’s namer is reading this!). This application allows you to create a relational database for visualizing, sorting and filtering your information, for everything from home inventory to task and shopping lists.
It has been a while since I’ve been tempted to whip out the credit card for an iPhone application, but iBlueSky tempts me, if not for the curiousity of seeing how a mind map works. Frankly, I think that paper makes a mind map, a real mind map. I’ve never considered software alternatives to provide the same end result, because there’s something about the tangible effort of drawing a mind map that slows you down and allows the ideas to come out. Nevertheless, you can’t always have a big sheet of paper to dream on and iBlueSky has been filling in the gap for a bunch of people.
Exchange users who grabbed an iPhone when Exchange support was announced only to feel disappointed when their tasks and notes weren’t synced can breath a sigh of relief. At least I assume they can, because judging by the number of people using iMExchange, it works quite well. I couldn’t test iMExchange even if someone paid me too because I don’t have a spare random Exchange server sitting around, but if you need your Outlook tasks with you wherever you go, look into this app.
WeDict Pro is a dictionary. These things probably come in handy on the move much more frequently than you’d imagine at first, but in any given day there’s probably a few instances where you need to look up a word’s meaning, and we all know That Guy who you end up getting into a word definition argument with. Solve these problems with WeDict Pro. And learn Chinese while you’re at it thanks to the seemingly random English-Chinese dictionary that was thrown in.
Equivalence is a conversion tool. On the Mac, my most frequently used Dashboard widget is the conversion tool so I can see how this app became so popular — heck, once I’m done here I might just go and grab it myself. Conversion is something I know I have to do every day — US to Australian currency, pounds and feet to kilograms and meters, and so on. You’re probably in the same boat. Equivalence is a bit pricey for a conversion tool, so you use your discretion.
OneDisk provides you with access to a variety of cloud storage services, including MobileMe’s iDisk, MyDisk.se and Box.net. Potentially, OneDisk is even better than AirSharing because you can continue to access your files outside of the home. OneDisk also comes with a built-in viewer for Office, iWork, PDF, TXT and HTML files.
I love Apple’s Remote application, mostly because it works with not just iTunes but the Apple TV too. However, if you’re just using Remote to control your iTunes library on your Mac, here’s a replacement app you may want to consider. jfControl can control iTunes, Front Row, whatever is in your DVD drive, the Finder, QuickTime, and Keynote for those big presentations. Perhaps someone left steroids in Remote’s feeding cage?
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