Tim Hordern

I ♥ building amazing products and teams. QA + Product + DevOps + Fast = Awesome.

Recommended iPhone and iPad Applications

Blog zero: This is an unfinished draft that I am posting. I originally wrote it back in 2012 for a guide to help some friends out, but it’s probably out of date. Some of the recommendations are still valid, but the notes below are rough. Please enjoy them as they are. At a future stage, I will clean this up and make it a separate page that I can update.

I’ve had a couple of friends mention to me that they didn’t know what applications were good for their new iPad or iPhone, so I decided to write a quick big giant list of apps that I use so I could point them at it. I’ve included a few apps that I don’t personally use but have heard good things about, so you might like them.

This list is broken down into iPhone and iPad categories, and as well as links to the iTunes App Store for each application also includes a brief explanation of why it’s included in this list.

The iTunes App Store still struggles with finding helping people find the right application for their needs, so hopefully this list helps you guys to discover something useful!

As a general rule, the iPod Touch should run all the iPhone applications, but I haven’t specifically screened for them. A lot of the iPhone applications won’t really be usable without a phone/WiFi signal, so you may not find them as useful as my recommendation (eg. NavFree requires a constant internet connection, which the iPod Touch would suffer from. You could try a different standalone GPS app instead.)

All of the iPhone-only applications will also run on the iPad (you can run them at iPhone size or 2x size) - if you can get an iPad-specific version, I highly recommend doing so. Most iPhone applications (especially non-retina ones) look pretty ordinary on the iPad (and it’s doubly worse on the iPad 3).

The best solution of course are Universal apps (works on iPhone or iPad), as they allow you to buy one application that works across any iOS device.

^1 If you’re after Android app recommendations, I can’t really help you. App identification and selection on Android is about 100 times worse than iOS with multiple app stores (Google Play, hardware manufacturers, phone carriers, etc). Some of the apps and services listed here have Android versions but it’s hit and miss, and the quality of those apps will vary from device to device.

Productivity Applications

  • Evernote (Free, one year Premium subscription $46.99) - this is the Swiss Army Knife of productivity apps. You can store all sorts of notes, pictures, voice recordings and files in Evernote. It’ll allow you to quickly search across all of those, even performing handwriting/text recognition for pictures or scribbled notes. I use this all the time.
  • Dropbox (Free, with 2+GB space, Pro 100GB $99/yr, Pro 200GB $199/yr, Pro 500GB $499/yr) - if you have files that you want copied across multiple devices/computers and the web, or you want a backup of your files, you should be using Dropbox. It’s incredibly simple and works. It does versioning in case you changed something and has an app for pretty much every device out there.
  • iA Writer ($0.99) or Elements ($5.49) - these are simple, clean text editors that hook into Dropbox. In fact, quite a lot of this post and my blog in general were written on-the-go using iA Writer. They handle text files and Markdown and allow you to edit without being at your PC. I haven’t used Elements but enough people swear by it that I’ve put it here for comparison.
  • QuickOffice Pro ($15.99) - Microsoft Office on the go. Can handle most basic edits of Word/Excel/PowerPoint documents on iOS and will also plug into Dropbox (seeing a theme here?)
  • Dunno (Free) - Dunno’s an interesting little app. The idea behind it is that if there’s a topic you hear about whilst you’re mobile, you drop the phrase into Dunno and it starts researching it for you. It looks across Wikipedia and Google and some other sources and then syncs the results to your device. I’ve used it a few times and found it really handy for getting some general background on things. You probably could do it all yourself manually but this is just one less step.
  • EpicWin ($2.99) - the gaming RPG extension to-do list. Instead of just a boring to-do list, your to-dos become quests for your character who ranks up, gets items and loot! This can be a really fun way to handle quite boring chores.
  • SimpleNote (Free with $20.99(!) in-app purchase for full version) - Simplenote is a basic text editor that syncs to the cloud. It’s pretty much Notes.app with a cloud backup. If you feel that you don’t want the heaviness of Evernote, this can be a simple option. Note: the full version appears to just remove the ad banner at the top of the screen. I can’t recommend paying $20.99 just to remove a pretty unobtrusive ad, so my recommendation is only for the Free version.
  • Consume ($2.99) - If you want to track how one of your accounts is going, this is the app for you. Covering everything from package tracking to loyalty programs to your Myki account, this will give you the pertinent details of your accounts. The app developers Bjango are also good with updating the app so you’ll find new providers as the app is updated.
  • Remember the Milk (Free, one year Pro subscription $25.99) - this is the app I use as my to-do list. It’s a nice balance between the silliness of EpicWin and the heaviness of Things, and has a nice interface for managing your to-do list. It also has a fantastic shorthand entry for items and some nice smart filtering to allow you to build clever lists. Buying the Pro subscription allows you to constantly sync your updates but you could survive with just the Free version that syncs once daily.
  • Things ($10.49) - I really only use Things for big, huge personal project tracking. Built primarily to cater to the David Allen Getting Things Done crowd, it’s immensely powerful in task tracking and managing your focus. If you’re interested in this app, you may also like OnniFocus, which has a similar focus. I actually bought Things to go with the Mac app Things ($51.99) for daily task tracking, but have since drifted away because it felt too heavy for just maintaining my chores list.
Productivity: I don’t use these but people seem to like …
  • GoodReader for iPhone ($5.49) - the small sibling of [GoodReader for iPad], this app let’s you read (and edit to some extent) PDFs on-the-go. I don’t use it personally as I find PDFs don’t really suit an iPhone 4S-size screen. But if you rely on PDF reading and editing extensively, this could be for you.
  • Evernote Hello (Free) - A somewhat quirky extension to the Evernote service, Evernote Hello lets you capture and recall more information about people in your contact list than the standard Contacts.app does. I haven’t tried it but there are some really passionate users of the app out there.
  • Evernote Food (Free) - this is the other quirky sibling of Evernote Hello and this one’a focused on capturing meals that you’ve had/enjoyed. If you’re the Quantified Self sort or you really want to remember what you’ve eaten, this is for you!
Productivity: Removed
  • Sparrow ($2.99) - Sparrow is the best mail client for Gmail accounts. It was built from the ground up to do all the things that the Mail.app should have and add in all the features from Gmail like stars and labels. Mute is really the only feature missing, but that’s coming apparently. Whilst I was drafting this post, this had been the top of my list of recommended productivity apps. However, Sparrow was just acquired by Google and has announced that they will no longer be actively developing Sparrow for iOS or Mac. So whilst Sparrow is still a great app in it’s current form, it will eventually die and I can’t recommend anyone spend extra money on a dead client. Hopefully Google will incorporate some of these features into a real iOS client (but this runs into the Tweetie problem, discussed below).

Photography Applications

  • Camera+ ($0.99 with $0.99 in-app purchase for additional filters) - This is by far the best photo taking (and editing) app for the iPhone. It allows you to modify focus, white balance, exposure in a camera-like interface. It also has a remarkably intelligent editing function using filters to clean up lighting, colours, cropping and others as well as a fantastic workflow functionality (and you can import pictures as needed). Used in conjunction with the native Camera.app, I’ve taken some great photos that I’m really proud of and it’s really reinforced to me how great the iPhone can be as a portable camera. This is an absolute bargain, and I cannot stress how much you should buy this if you own an iPhone or an iPod Touch.
  • Instagram (Free) - If you haven’t heard of Instagram and you have an iPhone, you’ve probably been living under a rock. Recently acquired by Facebook for the small sum of 1 billion dollars, Instagram was not the first camera app to introduce ‘vintage’ photography to the iPhone or even the cleverest - that honour goes to Hipstagram, but it certainly was the simplest. It made taking fun photos and sharing them really simple and fast. It still remains the best ‘fun’ photo app on the iPhone and now has tighter integration into Facebook and Twitter.
  • CameraBag ($1.99) - A basic filtering app with some interesting filter styles. I used this really heavily before the Instagram and Camera+ combination was possible. I still use it occasionally when I want to add a specific flavour to a photo that I can’t get out of one of the other apps.
  • PicFrame ($0.99) - A simple app that let’s you built photo frame/collages out of photos you’ve taken. Sometimes if a specific photo doesn’t really capture the feeling of a setting, a collection might do better as a triptych or some other arrangement.
Photography: I don’t use these but people seem to like …
  • Facebook Camera (Free) - If you only use Instagram to post to Facebook, why not cut out the middle man? Actually developed before Facebook bought Instagram, this is the same idea behind Instagram streamlined for posting to Facebook.
  • Pano ($1.99) - Pano makes it really simple to build wide panoramas with the iPhone. I really should get around to buying this. I’m most likely to grab it once I start travelling again, to try and grab the whole view.

Food & Drink Applications

  • Gluten Free Eating Directory (Free) - As a highly gluten-intolerant person, this is a life-saver. It’s basically a copy of the GFED website but is still a really handy list of gluten-free food providers nearby. It’s lacking a lot of features and the content is spotty, but beggars cannot be choosers.
  • Beanhunter (Free) - If you like coffee, this (along with Decaf Sucks) is what you need. I’ve found it invaluable for finding coffee in new or random locations (which happens quite a bit when you’re a consultantout and about). I don’t always agree with the ratings (being user-driven, you’ll often get cafes with high ratings for great food but horrible coffee) but generally sticking to cafes with lots of ratings and a high overall rating is a good sign.
  • Decaf Sucks (Free) - Made by those much-cooler than me kids at Icelab, Decaf Sucks is also a user-generated ratings site. By virtue of having more users in Canberra and Sydney, more cafes are rated in those locales but it’s growing.
  • Broadsheet (Free) - The mobile cousin of a local publication and website, Broadsheet is pretty much your guide to the newest cafes, bars, restaurants, galleries and cool shops in Melbourne. You may be surrounded by hipsters at these venues but hey, they know what’s cool.
  • The Age Good Bar Guide 2012 (Free) - If you can ignore the god-awful splash screen advertising, this free app is actually pretty fantastic. It’s the mobile version of The Age’s printed yearly Good Bar Guide, and has a pretty comprehensive bar listing (with reviews and information) for Melbourne. Handy if you’re wondering if what Friday’s bar is like.
  • The Age & SMH Good Cafe Guide 2012 (Free) - A similar story to the Good Bar Guide, this is the mobile version of the Good Cafe Guide. The ratings here tend towards good food and good vibes over good coffee for my taste, but it’s still a comprehensive listing and really useful for discovering new places.
  • Crust Pizza (Free) - If you’re a fan of Crust Pizza, this is a great app to allow you to order order any of their menu items (including extensive customisation options) for either pickup or delivery and just pay on-the-go. I can order a pizza as I’m leaving the office and have it arrive at my door by the time I get home. I’m a huge fan of Crust Pizza because they do gluten-free pizzas and are pretty careful about preparing it in an allergen-concious manner.
Food & Drink: I don’t (really) use these but people seem to like …
  • Woolworths (Free) - It’s a bit hard to know what to do with this app. I originally used it to find out how many fuel vouchers I had left on my loyalty card, but Consume does that a lot better to be honest. There’s catalogue information and a shopping list function but I don’t find myself using this that frequently. I haven’t really poked around with the Buy Online functionality but I do think that this could be useful, especially for non-urgent shopping.
    • Alternatively, there’s Coles Shopmate (Free) - however, this app is apparently no longer going to be updated, so I can’t really recommend that.*

Navigation Applications

  • NavFree (Free) - If you don’t rely on a GPS daily to get around and you just need something for those random times, this is the app for you. Running off the OpenStreetMaps data, this app gives you turn-by-turn 3D navigation with spoken directions and a whole host of other features for free. The only downside is that it will use your data connection and relies on a phone signal (standalone apps/devices have the whole map stored internally - that’s why they are such huge apps!), so it’s best for driving in city locations.
  • VicTraffic (Free) - If you drive or commute at all, it’s worth grabbing this app just to check on how traffic is flowing along major roads/freeways. You can (sort of) build routes (which are essentially groups of favourites) as well as check on road conditions using their traffic cameras.
  • OpenMaps Pro ($2.99)
    • Alternatively there’s OpenMaps (Free with in-app purchases for features) - This version of OpenMaps, although free, requires you an $1.99 in-app purchase to allow downloads and another $1.99 to allow navigation/routing. So you’re better off buying OpenMaps Pro for the two compelling features to start with in my view.
  • PTV Original (Free) - If you’re using public transport in Melbourne, this is the app for you. It handles timetables, maps, directions and online/offline access quickly and clearly. It lacks polish but works (avoiding the opposite approach that it’s successor took, see below). Make sure you download the Original version to get this.
    • Side note: I cannot recommend PTV (Free), the ’updated’ version of the Metlink app. It’s pretty much a case study for how not to build an app or deal with customers. With a highly confusing (albeit shiny) UI, this is a huge pain in the arse to use. It’s only redeeming feature is that once you’ve finally worked out how to identify your station and your stop and how to create a favourite , then you can sort of see a nicer view of when your next train is coming. But it’s functionally a disaster and should never have been released. It still remains one of the most poorly rated apps ever in Australia (based on the number of low ratings) and that’s a testament to what a failure this project was.
  • Tram Tracker (Free) - If you catch trams in Melbourne, I wouldn’t even bother with PTV on a daily basis. This app, built by Yarra Trams, is everything you pretty much need. It recreates the smart displays you see at tram stops so you know exactly how far away your tram is.

Useful Applications

  • RunKeeper (Free) - If you walk, run or cycle with your iPhone then this is a great app that measure time, pace and distance, and then charts and maps it all out for you. The GPS can get a little confused from time to time if it doesn’t always have a clear shot of the sky, but it’s pretty awesome to go for a run and see your path mapped out on Google Maps afterwards.
  • Househunting: realestate.com.au (Free), Domain (Free), RealEstateView (Free) - if you’re in the awful Melbourne curse of house-hunting, whether for a rental or to buy, then these apps are for you. The realestate.com.au app arguably has the most listings but lacks a synchronisation feature (instead using a bookmark feature on individual devices). Domain synchronises with your Fairfax account, and this allowed my partner and I to have a single shared property listing as we did our house-hunting. RealEstateView is similar to both, so you should consider it in your search process as well.
  • 1Password Pro ($15.99) - If you’re struggling with the amount of passwords you have to remember, or if you’re still using the same password for everything, you should invest in 1Password. Coupled with the Mac App, 1Password lets you store and generate passwords for all of your accounts (and other sorts of personal secret information), secured under a single secure account. This is the Universal app version, so buying this means you get it on your iPad as well, saving yourself $5 or so.
  • Banking applications: NAB (Free), Westpac (Free), Commonwealth Bank (Free), ANZ (Free) - these are presented really without comment. If you need to do any sort of banking on the go, grab your bank’s app.
  • Amazon Mobile (Free) - Quite an impressive app, Amazon Mobile allows you to price-compare, shop and order items from Amazon on the go. It’s got some cool features, like image recognition and barcode scanning for products, as well as allowing you to manage your wish list. I’ve been able to walk into a store, see a book I’ve liked, scanned it and had it paid & shipped to me in Australia all without leaving that store. This sort of innvovation spells death for the over-priced Australian retailer.
  • PocketWeather ($1.99) - Here in Australia, we like our weather information to come from the Bureau of Meterology. The provided Weather.app doesn’t source its data from the BoM and PocketWeather does, with a great UI and solid connectivity. They also include all the radar, synoptic, tidal, warnings and history information from the BoM. They also have the funniest update notices I’ve ever seen.
Useful: I don’t use these but people seem to like …
  • VicRoads SmartPark (Free) - If you’ve ever been done by a parking ticket for hanging out in a space too long, SmartPark could be handy to remind you of times, clearways, etc.

Social Applications

  • Tweetbot ($2.99) - Arguably the best Twitter app there is. It has a bit of a learning curve in the gestures, but advanced Twitter folk will love how good it is at conversations, tagging, mentions, discovery and multiple accounts. You can pretty much customise the app to your needs, whether you favorite everything or you use extensive lists. They also It’s pretty regularly updated and doesn’t have any of the promoted rubbish that Twitter insists on spamming its users with.
    • As an alternative, Twitter has their own app, Twitter (Free), but I prefer not to use it. It used to be called Tweetie and was probably the best Twitter client for iOS. Unfortunately, Twitter purchased it, rebranded it and stopped improving it, so there are significant bugs in the app and development is now centered around things that increase Twitter’s profits. To give you an idea of how much Twitter cares about its users, a recent comment on the Mac app was that two whole versions of OSX had been released since they last updated it.
  • Alien Blue (Free with $1.99 in-app purchase for pro version) - Made by a fellow Melburnian, Jason Morrisey, if you’re a Redditor, you should be using this. It’s the best interface to Reddit (even potentially better than the website itself) and has had a lot of thought and work put into it to make the best Reddit interface possible. From gallery functionality to deep commenting functionality, this has a huge community using it and testing it, so it can only get better. Highly recommended.
  • Skype (Free) - If you need to use Skype on the go, this is it. Great for Skype phone calls, not bad for Skype video, decent for Skype chats, it’s allowed us to have really long chats with overseas friends who wanted to say hello at parties or at the pub. Even better, some phone providers now count Skype traffic as free data, so you can use this on your 3G connection to your heart’s content.
  • Tumblr (Free) - Tumblr is essentially a micro-blogging tool with really simple sharing and commenting social media functions. Of late, it’s had some renewed growth because of the renewed interest in animated GIFs and videos, but you can pretty much find a Tumblr to suit your interest. I actually maintain a Tumblr myself to collect and share things that I like on the web that aren’t really big enough for this blog.
  • Pinterest (Free) - If you use Pinterest, you probably already have this app. If not, Pinterest is essentially a visual bookmarking tool, but it has a really strong positive community (compared to the hate on Facebook anyway) and some people seem to think it’s most amazing thing since sliced bread.
  • Facebook - I guess I have to include this here, but it’s not strictly a recommendation. If you’re a Facebook user (and you probably are, statistically speaking), you’ll probably end up installing this app. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s particularly good. In fact, on iOS it’s seriously lacking and struggling. It suffers from being a slow web-app stuck inside an iOS app, and is pretty much unusable on anthing except a really fast, strong WiFi connection. You’ll use it if you have to. This is not the primary reason that I’ve stopped using Facebook regularly, but it certainly hasn’t helped Facebook’s case. Rumour has it that Facebook has gone back to the drawing board and is looking to rebuild the app natively, so this recommendation (and my personal usage of Facebook) may change in the future.
Social: I don’t use these but people seem to like …
  • Facebook Messenger (Free) - This is the Facebook messaging functionality cut out into a separate, standalone app. If you live and die by talking to your Facebook friends (shudder) or want to have all of their detais in your contact list, then you may really value this app.

News/Reading Applications

  • Instapaper ($2.99) - Instapaper is a fantastic app that legs you save articles from the web and other apps for reading later. Marco Arment, the developer, is really passionate about typography and user experience, and really sweats the small details. If you find yourself wanting to catch up on your reading with a bit of downtime, I cannot recommend Instapaper enough.
  • Flipboard (Free) - Originally built for the iPad, Flipboard is essentially an electronic magazine built out of the links that your Facebook and Twitter friends are talking about as well as some curated content that Flipboard selects. It has really nice style of presenting content (especially graphics in those articles) and really does feel like you’re reading a magazine. The format doesn’t hold as true on the iPhone as for the iPad but is still one of the better news apps out there.
  • Zite (Free) - Zite is similar to Flipboard in that it’s an electronic magazine based on sources of data (Facebook, Twitter, Google Reader and others) but also learns what you are interested in. If you are diligent about rating articles that you’re reading, Zite will find articles that it thinks you will like and builds a magazine out of that. Really good for coming across articles from sources you haven’t been actively monitoring, the content definitely feels more engaging than what comes through Flipboard. Honestly, both apps are free so there’s little harm in having both apps.
  • Reeder ($2.99) - If you use Google Reader, you probably find the web app pretty lacking on the iPhone and iPad. It’s simplistic, insists on forcing Google+ links everywhere on you, and is limited to a max of 200 items at a time. Reeder is the app for you. Not only does it have a fantastic design, it can download your whole Google Reader feed (pics and all) for offline reading, as well as some great integration into your other favourite apps. It’s an absolute bargain for the price.
  • Downcast ($1.99) - Before Apple finally woke up to how badly podcasts were handled on the iPhone, there really was no easy way to listen to podcasts (or watch vodcasts) on the iPhone without relying on iTunes to download it and then sync it to the device. Instacast is the answer - it handles podcast downloading, playlists, search and discovery, batch downloading and more easily. This is what I use to download podcasts for listening to in the car, as well as some regular video podcasts from some of my favourite shows.
  • Stanza (Free) - One of the first iOS eBook readers to appear, Stanza was originally built as a multi-platform eBook reader, able to read a whole range of eBook types including ePUBs. It was wildly popular as it allowed people to finally read eBooks that traditionally had been locked to a very clunky reader, as well as having a really straightforward interface. It was bought by Amazon and it seemed as though it was pretty much killed - it wasn’t updated for several years (it was completely dead in iOS 5 for quite a while). A suprising update restored access in newer devices, and still remains an essential app if you have a large eBook library.
News/Reading: I don’t use these but people seem to like …
  • Kindle (Free) - The iOS version of the Amazon Kindle, this app lets you browse, purchase and read Kindle books.
  • iBooks (Free) - Apple’s version of the Kindle, it has it’s own library of books to purchase and read. As an Apple-written application, it has very tight integration with the iPhone and iPad.
  • Instacast ($1.99 with $0.99 in-app purchase for Pro version) - Similar to Downcast, Instacast is a podcast management and listening app.
  • Podcasts (Free) - Apple’s standalone podcast app. It has a very unique design, modeled after a reel-to-reel casette player, but that can turn some people off.

Entertainment Applications

  • Triple J (Free) - as an avid listener of Triple J, this is a handy app not only for live streaming Triple J but also those “what-was-that-song-called” moments. We also have an unlimited Internet at home, so this is pretty much our FM radio.
  • ABC iView (Free) - Recently made available on the iPhone, this is the ABC’s fantastic app for streaming their shows. With a broad selection of current and back-catalogue shows, it’s a fantastic way to catch up on missed episodes or just browse to watch something.
  • BBC iPlayer (Free with $69.99 subscription in-app) - Similar to iView, the BBC was the first broadcaster to come up with the idea of streaming TV to an iOS device. It’s been hugely successful, and with a rather pricey in-app purchase, you can stream the entire BBC catalogue. Fantastic for the Olympics.
  • VLC Streamer ($1.99) - If you need to watch videos stored on your PC on your iPhone or iPad, this app is the simplest way to do it (there are more complicated methods such as Plex, but there’a a lot of overhead in those). Simply install an app on your PC, then on the same wireless connection open VLC Streamer. You’ll see your computer and can pick videos - the computer will do all the encoding for you and in a short while, it’ll start streaming to your device. You can even save streams to your device for later, which is fantastic for watching stuff on the plane or train.
  • Apple Remote (Free) - if you play music on iTunes or via an Apple TV, this app from Apple lets you control the playlist, volume and browse the iTunes library all from the device.
  • IMDb (Free) - If you don’t know what the Internet Movie Database is, it’s pretty much the repository of all movie & TV information. This companion app is an excellent view into all of IMDb, allowing you to find out every little detail about that movie, as well as watch trailers, see sales charts, ratings, trivia, everything. A really well-done app that fully complements your movie & TV watching experience.


Games: I don’t use these but people seem to like …
  • Angry Birds ($0.99) - If you haven’t heard of this, then you probably haven’t used a smartphone in the last 2 years.
  • Doodle Jump ($0.99)

iPad-Specific Applications

iPad Productivity Applications

iPad Useful Applications

iPad Social Applications

iPad News/Reading Applications

iPad News/Reading: I don’t use these but people seem to like …

iPad Entertainment Applications

iPad Games Applications