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15 Really Popular Productivity Apps for the iPhone

15 Really Popular Productivity Apps for the iPhone

    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.

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    AirSharing

    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

    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

    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.

    Todo

    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.

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    OmniFocus

    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

    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

    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

    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.

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    HanDBase Database Manager

    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.

    iBlueSky

    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.

    iMExchange

    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

    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.

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    Equivalence

    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

    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.

    jfControl

    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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    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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    Last Updated on August 20, 2019

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

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    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

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    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

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    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

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    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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