27 Really Useful iOS Apps on the iPhone

Life is what happens to you while you’re looking at your smartphone.
From an illustration at http://www.cinismoilustrado.com
(cool illustrations by the way, I wish I could understand … Spanish?)

I’m currently doing some user testing for an app that I have developed. In talking to the student assistants who tried out the app, I found out that I could probably be considered as a “power-user”, or at least as someone who knows how to use an iOS device. Well, mobile media is one of my research topics and I’m very interested in its potentials and challenges — it’s normal that I look around and find/use apps to support my creativity or my life in general.

So here are a couple of Apps for the iPhone I use almost every day. Some are probably widely known, others not so much.

AnalyticsPro: This app offers easy access to Google analytics data for my WordPress blog(s). I admit, it’s a kind of vanity search, but still, it’s nice to know that my postings are read, or that my book is downloaded frequently. A little “pick-me-up” during the day. Very helpful if you are a blogger or use Google Analytics for your website.
Apple’s Calendar App: Digital calendars take some time to get used to, but once you religiously enter your appointments on the Mac or the iPhone and use sync, the advantages become obvious: The appointments can be easily accessed anywhere and on any device, you can set default alarms, easily access needed URLs, jot down notes or the place where the appointment takes place.
Apple’s Calculator: I blame the calculator I had in school, but I am miserable at mental arithmetic. Luckily, the calculator is easily accessible from the control center — perfect to calculate that tab.
Camera+: While Apple’s camera improved significantly over time, I still love Camera+, especially the ability to control focus and exposure separately. Postprocessing has also a few nice options, esp. “Clarify”. The only time I use Apple’s camera app is when I do not want to unlock my iPhone or need to shoot a video.
Apple’s Clock App is invaluable and all four options are highly useful: World clock for getting the correct time for international deadlines/appointments (yes, this is reality in Academia). Alarm wakes me up in the morning — I’ve set up five alarms, separated by a couple of minutes (not a morning person), with the first alarm starting an iTunes track. Easy to activate in the evening by switching five switches. Stopwatch is very useful when you need to time presentations. Simply press lap when needed and it gives you a better overview how much time you did need for which part of the presentation. Timer is extremely useful for cooking (unfortunately, only one timer alarm is possible at the same time) and remembering when the washing machine is finished (which I would otherwise forget).
Apple’s Contacts is extremely useful — but like Calendar only when you automatically sync it with your device. I took a couple of hours when I started at my current job to copy-paste the data of the employees I work with (only about 100 people) and insert their photos. Might seem like a huge effort, but it pays off later.
DB Navigator App is only useful in Germany, as it is the app by the German rail service. It informs me much quicker than the website about the trains I need to take and gives me information about the frequent delays German trains have — usually prior to the announcements made at the train station. (No, German trains are not punctual, they only seem to be so because the German rail services counts anything up to a 15 minutes delay as being ‘on time’.)
DEVONthink: Like written in prior postings (DEVONthink To Go — A Second Look and DEVONthink To Go – Advantages and Risks) the DEVONthink To Go app is not without risks, but the ability to have your files available on the go is invaluable. Cloud storage might have its advantages, but if you have crappy Internet access you really learn to appreciate using part of your GBs worth of storage space on the device for files you might need. Especially helpful if you digitize your literature (Creating a Virtual Library, 109 scanned books later …). Strange times when you wake up, notice an interesting posting on Twitter, and contribute by adding a screenshot of the cover of a book that is also interesting … all without leaving your bed.
dict.cc plus: I guess it’s no secret that I’m not a native speaker, although I usually get confused with a native speaker high-school drop-out. Anyway, occasionally I stumble upon words I do not know and the dict.cc plus app allows me to quickly translate them into German — without needing network access. Very useful.
DueTime: Unfortunately, I am required to log the time I work in a spreadsheet. Unfortunately, because I usually end up with a day or so overtime each month. To make it easier to log the time, I use DueTime, a time tracking app. While it would be possible to enter the times I work directly in the spreadsheet, I find it very inconvenient to do so. It just happens to frequently that I did close my notebook or started going to lunch without jotting down the exact time. With this app I can do so while walking. At the end of the month, I simply export the data as an Excel sheet and (manually) transfer the data into the work time sheet.
FirstClass: The name “FirstClass” is to apps what the name “Patriot Act” is for civil rights — a terrible joke. A really, really crappy eMail-program that I have to use for work. Frequent error messages, crashes, and even updates that render the app unusable are just part of the low points of this app. Still, I (have to) use it every day, so it’s included here. I guess the only way it survives is because it’s a data island — exporting the eMails is difficult which explains part of the reluctance to exchange it for something better.
Flashlight: While there are flashlight apps that offer more functionality (e.g., sending SOS Morse codes), the flashlight available in the control center can be activated even with a locked device (depending on the settings). This is a very useful and helpful solution. In an emergency you have light even if it’s not your phone — who ever came up with that idea — kudos. Easily the best feature in iOS7. (I still keep the flashlight app I bought a year ago, who knows, I might need that SOS feature …)
GoodReader: The name is actually pretty accurate — for me it’s still the best app to read PDFs on an iOS device. Note: With iOS7 the App has an annoying bug of not displaying PDF pages correctly (black page instead). To avoid having to jiggle the page a little, go to settings and “Viewing PDF files” and switch off “Prefer faster engine”.To realize its full potential it needs the screen real estate of an iPad — with at least four exceptions. On the iPhone it is very useful for: 1. Reading fiction books, given that the usual format of fiction books is about twice the size of the iPhone and scanned as PDF its still readable at that size. It is much more enjoyable reading books in bed this way. 2. “Reading” “one-hand” books/texts, given that you can hold the “book” (= iPhone) with one hand and advance the pages with the same hand, leaving your other hand free for “other purposes”. Apple might have a stance against mobile porn, but this does not mean that it does not find its way on mobile devices. After all, it does have a long tradition, compare (NSFW) http://www.asstr.org. 3. Repeatedly watching videos. While apps like vlc might be more suited to videos you watch once, GoodReader has its advantages here, given that it can also play videos (depending on the codecs used) and allows you to treat them like any other kind of file, e.g., putting them into a hierarchical folder structure. Very useful for mobile porn. 4. Having maps and other crucial trip information available: While I usually use DEVONthink to sync files (including maps made via Google or Apple Maps screenshots), it’s useful to put them into a GoodReader folder. I usually have all information I need for conferences and other trips there as well. Apple’s maps app might be more up-to-date, but maps becomes useless if you do not have a fast network connection.
Keynote: I love redundancy because accidents happen. Having the presentation available on my iPhone and having the necessary projector cable with you (Lightning to VGA Adapter, which allows you to connect a power cable at the same time) is an important fail-safe. I haven’t had to use it yet, but the knowledge that I could show the slides with my iPhone is very comforting. Make sure that the presentation is compatible with Keynote for iOS. Some fonts and functions do not work here. Given that I usually look at the presentation once or twice before I give it, I usually spot these mistakes.
Apple’s Mail: A no-brainer — having one’s mails available on the move is really, really helpful. Some people can be more easily reached via mails than by SMS or phone and it’s nice to use down-time, even time without Internet access to read and answer mail that was send to you earlier. Mail is also useful to get information from the iOS device to your Mac, given that many App support an export via eMail. Just enter your eMail address as default BBC in the settings and you can save yourself the trouble of entering a “To:” address. Just press send and via the BBC address it ends up in your Inbox. Note that I do not recommend Google Mail (Gmail) because I do not trust Google with my eMails — they scan each mail to adapt their ads for your, which I find highly manipulative.
Apple’s Maps: It might have ended the career of a VP at Apple, but I never had problems with it. On the contrary. it allowed me to reach my destination a couple of times which I would not have found otherwise (which I am sure, people at Apple can verify). Very useful, especially if you change the settings to your preferred mode of transportation (I usually walk, so this is my default) and if you do screenshots as backups (simply press the home button and the power on/off button simultaneously, the screen turns white for an instant and the photo ends up in Apple’s Photos App). Given that the Maps app does not work without network access this is an important backup.
Momento: A really nice digital diary that allows you to automatically import data from Twitter, RSS feeds and the like. Really well designed and nice if you want to track your life. I did a posting about it two years ago.
Apple’s Music: Another no-brainer, the ability to sync music from iTunes on the Mac is really useful. Unfortunately, the Music app no longer supports podcasts. Still, I would not want to miss it.
Apple’s Notes: Oh, Apple iOS 7, how ugly you have become. Seriously, links and icons in yellow?!?!? But still, notes is very useful to quickly jot down ideas while walking. Given that you can have them synced to your Mac you have your notes available when you reach the office/home. A few postings and great ideas own their existence to this highly useful app. BTW, an added bonus is that it is widely accepted to use a phone in public. Jotting down ideas on paper sometimes gets you strange looks/comments from bleak people, but use a phone and nobody looks twice.
OmniFocus: Actually an example that the iOS7 patterns might work, the OmniFocus App is a good but overpriced task manager. Still, I do not want to miss it, even if I think that better solutions are possible. But until I have programmed that App myself (working on it!) I am using OmniFocus.
Papers: There are many literature/reference management apps available for iOS devices. Personally, I stick with Papers 2 (not 3). However, I only store the literature I have actually read in Papers — literature I want to have available is in DEVONthink and literature I am currently reading is in GoodReader. This keeps things nicely separated. Version 3 seems to offer a couple of interesting functions, but in my opinion, the software company behind papers wants to offer too much too soon, esp. before real user testing. So I stick with Papers 2 for as long as possible. (Another reason is that I like the design of Papers 2 — I really hate the ultra simplified design of iOS7 and Papers 3 just looks sterile.)
Apple’s Safari: While there are other browsers, including those using the TOR network, Safari is still one of my most frequently used apps. Being able to look up/verify terms during a presentation or getting help while playing a game is just invaluable.
Taxi: Another app that is probably only helpful in Germany, although I am sure that apps for other countries exist. This really useful app allows me to order a taxi/cab no matter where I am in the region. It also shows me where the taxi is and how long it takes until it reaches me. Really nice. (I rarely use a taxi, but when I need one I really need one, e.g., when I forgot my iPad in a cafe.)
Twitter: I am not a really active Twitter user, but it does provide me with interesting information, and enough stupid positions that get my blood flowing.
Wikipanion*: While you can access Wikipedia via Safari, this app allows you to queue interesting links on Wikipedia. It also makes it slightly more easy to access Wikipedia. Very useful.
WordPress: I would not want to write blog postings on my iPhone, but this App is very useful for correcting spelling errors and making small changes to postings. Furthermore, it is useful to see when which posting will be published and to approve comments. On the iPad, opening the website in Safari works well, on an iPhone, this app is the way to go.
Zombies, Run! A really well done exergame, this app makes jogging much, much more fun. However, I do not use it on my iPhone 5S, given that I do not have Lifeproof case for that iPhone. However, I use it on my iPhone 4 — which does have a Lifeproof case, ideal for jogging (see Mobile Technology Upgrades — (Mostly) Waterproof iPhone). Still, impressive app and a nice view of the things that are to come with smartphones in the future.

So, this was a short overview of the apps I frequently use. Which apps are indispensable for you? Drop me a line.


  1. Unfortunately, this list is far too Apple-centric.

    For a clock app, I’d suggest recommending anything but Apple’s Calendar. The city list in it is a joke. For the U.S., it doesn’t include the state with the town, making it worthless. It lists some obscure US towns with just a few thousand people, while leaving out cities and metropolitan regions with a million or more. Some states, in fact, have no cities listed. Some island chains, such as the Falkland Islands, aren’t listed, although the exist in a time zone all their own, while nearby research stations in Antarctica with a winter population of around a dozen are listed. That list is weird almost beyond belief.

    You really should check out before you recommend. The city list in iOS 7’s Clock application is the stupidest feature I’ve ever seen in any app for either Macs or iDevices. Nothing else comes even close. Spare us the misery of using the silly thing. Ridicule may be the only way to get Apple to release a fix for that city list.

  2. Hoi Michael,

    well, it’s about iOS apps and I did get the impression that it is helpful to know what one’s tools can accomplish. Furthermore, I recommend what I use and I do use the clock app. Perhaps it’s different if you are living in the US where you need a higher degree of differentiation, but for me this app worked really well in keeping track of deadlines. Never had a problem with selecting the right city — not sure whether I had ever resort to finding another city in the same time zone instead.

    Hmm, I think it shows beautifully that the value of the tool — here the clock app — lies to a high degree in the goals and requirements of the user. And if it does work, I see no reason not to recommend it.

    Ah, another issue — I guess I’m used to selecting a major city to set a time zone. After all, for Germany there are only four major cities — the former capital is not included. But that’s okay because I know that all cities in Germany have the same time zone. If I would travel to a small city in England, I would use London, as all cities in England have the same time zone. In the US I see no problem of selecting a major city in the same time zone either. Having the App display all cities would totally overcrowd the list and make selection really tiresome.

    But I’m curious, what do you use instead to keep track of the different time zones that are relevant for you?

    All the best


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