Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Miraculous iPhone Apps

For no particular reason other than the yet unconfirmed news that one of my best friends has got himself an iPhone, I thought I’d list some of the iPhone up which yours truly considers exceptionally good in making a difference.

iPhone apps sphere

Without further ado:
  • Password management: I’ve mentioned 1Password before and I will mention it again. Once you start using it, there is no going back because it will truly revolutionise the way you use the Internet (if only through the introduction of safety to one’s Interweb operations).
  • Messaging: Another app that’s been mentioned here before is Signal. Where Signal rises above the hordes of virtually everything else is its security (the best, and as Wall Street Journal reports, even the White House agrees) and its privacy policy (here is a company that, unlike Whatsapp and Facebook, does not seek to suck your privacy away).
  • Browser: Ghostery is far from a good browser in the usability department, but it’s the best when it comes to protecting you from online trackers (while also getting rid of many annoying ads). You can even set it up to protect everything you do on wifi (with the annoying caveat of protection not working if you're using VPN). Until Firefox joins the iOS party with its plugins, this is probably the safest browser around.
  • Notes taking: Evernote is always a good choice, whether you want to keep notes or keep a collection of your receipts. Microsoft’s OneNote comes close and is probably the better choice for work related stuff. Me, I use them both. Beware, though: as with all cloud storage solutions that do not encrypt your data before you lose control over it, your privacy does depend on the wits of your provider. Evernote’s good privacy policy wins it the day.
  • Project management: I don’t know if you can call it project management or more of a sort of an idea management app, but Trello’s idea of boards and cards is a winner when it comes to my organisation of my personal projects. Beware, again, of your privacy with this cloud based solution.
  • Camera: Since iOS 8, Camera+ seems to provide the best tools for taking photos with an iPhone by offering manual controls (hooray!) as well as auto ones (boo!). Plus, it offers useable post processing options. I will add that the HDR app called simply HDR is quite useful for shooting static objects: it offers true HDR by taking a couple of photos under different exposure settings and merging them.
  • Photo post processing: This is a highly contested area, but my money firmly goes to Pixelmator (the Mac version is also a worthy rival for Photoshop, but that's another story). Also worth mentioning are Enlight (an iPhone only Pixelmator alternative) and Adobe’s Photoshop Mix, which let’s you – well – mix photos ever so easily it could qualify as a miracle. I will add a warning, since Photoshop was mentioned: avoid the iPhone version of Photoshop, which is quite cumbersome and is soon to be discontinued.
  • Design: I am cheating here, since Canva is an iPad and not an iPhone app, but it's just because I love it so much. If you want to create an good looking graphic, whether for a website, a Twitter post or a brochure, Canva will help you get that knockout effect in surprising ease.
  • Weather: One of my favourite hobbies is comparing the weather predictions of different forecasting apps. The one that seems the overall winner is Weather Underground. Not only is it accurate, it also has all the things that need to come with a forecast – a radar map, detailed graphs, and the ability to monitor the weather anywhere on earth.
  • RSS: Feedly took over what used to be once Google Reader’s domain. It’s just a pity it hasn’t got its own login facilities and has to rely on the likes of Google/Twitter logins.
  • Flight tracking: I remember those ancient days when we used to call the airport to check when a flight arrives. Nowadays, you use an app like Flightradar24 to see where a plane is and what its speed and height are – all in real time, over a map. If that’s not enough of a wonder of technology for you, just try pointing your phone at a passing plane and viewing everything you ever wanted to know about that flight.
  • Astronomy: There have been many apps before to help the budding astronomer (or the budding sky photographer) figure out what’s up there in the sky, but Sky Walk 2 is currently the best of the breed. You can learn a lot about the sky or just point your phone up and learn what that particular star up there is.
  • PDF reader: I did not realise why I need a good PDF reader until I’ve started using GoodReader. It’s not only a pleasure to read PDFs with the app, it’s also dead easy to annotate them.
  • Scanner: An iPhone makes for a pretty effective scanner with the right app. There are plenty of good scanning apps out there, but the one that gets my nod is FineScanner Pro for its superior OCR (yes, the app reads the text off the paper you scan!). I will add the usual privacy warning: OCR is done over the cloud, so I would not recommend it for private stuff.
  • Video player: It is costly, but if you seek an app that will deal with all video formats, play from a NAS or a network, retrieve subtitles for you, broadcast to your Chromecast, and just do a great job playing videos then Infuse Pro is the right app for you. If the cost is too prohibitive then the always free and always good VLC (which also does audio only material) is definitely worthy.
  • TV tracking: If, like me, it is hard for you to track what TV show goes on air and when, then TeeVee is the way to go. Feed it with your favourite shows and receive notifications upon the release of each new episode.
  • Keyboard: iOS’ default keyboard is alright, but it takes ages to type on. Swype allows you, well, to swipe instead of type. It can be annoying when it doesn’t get your gist, but most of the time it offers way faster text input then Apple’s. In contrast to most of its competitors, Swype will work well without you handing it Full Access (thus blocking it from informing others what you’ve typed), which is where this particular keyboard rises above the bulk of the rest of iOS’ third party keyboards.

Image by Blake Patterson, Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0) licence

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