Its not that often that I go completely off topic but with the flurry of excitement over Microsoft, Google, and Apple, of late, I’ve had my mind on that miracle PDA which is destined to transform mobile computing. I am a Mac convert, courtesy of the iPhone. As one who has long panned the promise of mobile, soiled by my experience with an early Palm PDA (which was, in its defense, a fine device but ahead of its time), the iPhone delivers the long held promised-land; the convergence of communications and computing. The iPHONE couldn’t be more inaccurately named, in fact, the quality of its phone is one of its greatest criticisms; it is the simplicity, the breadth of features, the quality, and the beauty that allows us characterize the iPhone as the future ideal.
Enough with the soap boxing, I’m not here to promote this now commonplace device. I want to share my experience as my one great frustration (okay, there is more than one), is that the ability to sort and rank apps is atrocious, exacerbated by an all too easy method for gaming the rankings; stuffing pork into the App Store. The iPhone itself, mind you, is just a brick with a phone, email function, and web browser (yes, I’m being intentionally extreme). The magic of the iPhone, that which Google has yet to crack, is the laundry list of well-developed, established applications that make the iPhone the must have device. What the terrible oversight on the part of Apple means for you, the consumer, is that you can’t find a good app to save your life. More to my frustration, review sites and top 10 lists are no better, seemingly born of PR machines and untested impressions of the photos people see of screens.
So, without furthur adeui, my battle-worn experience from which you can pick the remains.
Let me start by positing that there are 3 types of mobile users. Mobile companies and research firms will claim there are countless dozens, with variations to make your head spin but in my mind, at the end of the day, there are three primary use cases: Chat, Phone, and Computing. Now, my friends in the mobile space are having a heart attack since I don’ refer to it as SMS, MMS, or even text; the fact is, people chat, they need a good phone, or they need a mobile computer (perhaps all 3). Yes too, you want a camera and we all love ring tones but, when it comes down to it, you only carry around that brick in your pocket because it does one or more of these things the way you like it; you can chat with friends, you make a lot of good calls, or have a laptop in the palm of your hand.
I share that opinion only to caveat these recommendations; I was disappointed with my early PDA and have never bothered spending money on a cell phone because I love that the iPhone is a Mobile Computer.
Going live this weekend was one app to rule them all. What was it that the Polaroid did so brilliantly that enabled it to dominate a market before falling victim to innovation? Instant gratification. The era of the digital camera and MMS (happy?) may have evolved our photographic sensibilities but, now missing from the experience, is that tangible photograph with which you can share a laugh or a tear.
Imagine, you are on safari in the mountains of Peru (you can Safari in Peru can’t you?) and the beautiful vistas just have to be shared with friends and family back home. You take a snapshot, upload it to facebook, it makes it rounds amongst your friends, who make snarky comments beyond your control, and it fades into digital history. Most of your family never sees it (come on, are they really on facebook?). Missing from this? (besides the fond memories shared) The tangibility, the permanence, the personal touch. You’d rather send a postcard but postcards are of far off places taken by someone else. Why not ShootIt yourself? Better… ask your Sherpa (do they use Sherpas in Peru?) to take the photo, with you in the shot; then, grab a dozen or hundred addresses from your address book, add a personal note, and in a couple days, postcards arrive on doorsteps.
I’m so excited by this app because I don’t think even the developers realize what an innovative leap they’ve made for an industry which has languished in digital memory cards, digital frames that still don’t automatically update, and massive databases of photos growing in vain attempts to organize them online. Attempts to bridge the gab between the personal and the technical have been made but who wants a printer in their kitchen? ShootIt, delivers.
Urbanspoon. An early app that holds its age so well that it still seems innovative compared to some things coming out. Can’t decide where to go for dinner? Shake.
Almost eliminating the need for the iPod, Pandora and Slacker Radio do for radio what Bruckheimer does for movies. Pure enjoyment. I’m not going to comment on the quality of the content therein (ahem), my point is that these apps make it so easy to listen to good music, you know what to expect; like a Bruckheimer film. (Why both? Slacker is programmed and seems to have a little more variety within pre-defined stations. For example, it is great for Toddler music).
Twitter? TweetDeck. Period. If you really want to follow Twitter, and not just your friends, TweetDeck is the way to go. Doesn’t do everything but does more than anything else.
I say to heck with the various news apps published by brands themselves; troubled attempts to continue to control the content. Download Fluent News.
If you even only have a glass of wine on occassion, WineEnthusiast’s Wine Guide will make you sound like a pro. Keep a list of wines you like and pull handy references to impress your friends.
As far as location based social networking goes, I’m still hopeful for a powerful app but I love Loopt and its ability to track down nearby friends, and foursquare as a way to dominate your town. Problem with both is that they really only get exciting when your friends use them. Then again… someone has to start so get going!
Betty Crocker’s Cookbook! Yeah, I said it. I don’t cook. At all. Ever. Okay, I heat up pasta and make a mean bowl of cereal. Its not that I don’t enjoy eating, I love food, I don’t cook. The Cookbook is a must have.
I’ve long had a dream that MasterCard would rebrand itself out of the credit card business and become just what the name implies, the Master Card that holds all the other cards that stores and business think we want stuffing our wallets so show off our loyalty while getting discounts. Until then, we have CardStar.
Listen to iTunes at home? Get Remote, you’ll thank me.
Self explanatory apps that, though they may get criticized, you’ll love: Flashlight, Camera Zoom, AAA Discounts, WC Finder (almost relegated to my runners up; needs more… WCs), and WebMD.
Runners up (I really wish this were better than they are): iFitness, Stanza, Zillow, HearPlanet, and AroundMe
Bear in mind with this list, I’ve tried almost every app on top ten lists. If you have a recommendation, PLEASE let me know. I expect, that odds are that I’ve tried, and panned, it but, I hope you can prove me wrong.