[dropcap]I[/dropcap]phigenia the iPhone holds a boatload (or maybe a phoneload) of apps, those intriguing little chunks of software that do…stuff. I’ve a bit more than 100 of the little critters stuffed in there right now.

I regularly use 10 or 12 of them, though (if you don’t count games).  The rest I keep around for rarer tasks, like checking with my bank, making doctor’s appointments, matching colors, or connecting into a videoconference system.

Here’s my list of most USEFUL apps, in no particular order (I’ll do this later for favorite games, art, etc.). I’ve indicated where there’s an Android or Windows version of the app, if there is one.

Note: If you’re using an Apple device, these apps are all available from the iOS app store. If you’re using Android or Windows, well..you’re on your own. I’m including a link to the developer’s site for assistance.


[toggle title=”1. Google Maps (free)” open=”no”]

googlemapsiconYes, I know the iPhone comes with its own Apple Maps app. Yes, I know they’ve made it a lot better since the days when it would (literally) tell you to jump off a bridge.

But the parts that WOULD make it better, i.e., the ability to use Siri to seek something nearby and get there without ever touching the phone, still don’t work very well.

In fact, I sometimes wonder what Siri IS useful for, after we’ve exhausted the coy little “What is the meaning of life?” kinda questions. If it takes me three tries to persuade Siri to cough up a friend’s phone number, have I really gained anything?

Google Maps integrates with my Googlish locations, i.e., home, work, friends, works through my Google contacts, and does a better job of searching nearby for things. Apple Maps has a direct link to the contacts on my phone, which is nice…but I can start getting voice direction in 3 taps with Google. If Siri doesn’t get it right, Apple Maps needs up to 8 taps to do the same job. (people who do usability for a living have a tendency to count such things)

Now, technically, I don’t NEED to use Iphigenia’s mapping skills, since I have a GPS in my car. But she’s saved me a bit of walking in dicey downtown areas (like the time the parking garage completely vanished at 10pm–but that’s another story). And she’s useful when I’m traveling in rental cars, since you pay extra for their GPS.

Ideally, I should simply approach my vehicle and have the car suck in Iphigenia’s stuff–maps, contacts, music, whatever–and give me an identical, voice-managed experience without a second thought. Toyota’s in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) systems are (not to put too fine a point on it) awful.

Apple CarPlay promises to do exactly what I’ve described in new cars, and iOS 8 promises a better Apple Maps experience (or at least it should, given that the majority of recent Apple acquisitions involve geolocation and mapping in some form or other)…but until then I’m sticking with Google.

Google Maps

  • Apple iOS: Yes
  • Android: Yes
  • Windows: Yes


[toggle title=”2. Mynd Calendar (free)” open=”no”]

myndiconIphigenia comes with her very own calendaring system, too, and it dovetails quite nicely with the iCloud-based stuff that drives my other devices. So how come I use the calendaring/life-management tool Mynd?

myndscreenBecause it sticks a whole bunch of stuff into a single screen, making it very easy to find. Mynd pulls in all my appointments and reminders for the day, and includes images/info for the folks I’m meeting with as well as the locations of each meeting. It’s hooked into my LinkedIn account, and compiles a little dossier on them. It’s turned out to be useful, a couple of times.

Mynd will propose meetings (and offer multiple meeting times) to attendees, and send off the invitation through my email account(s). It maps out my route for the day and calculates how long it should take me to get to the next appointment based on current traffic conditions (and it tracks the distance I’ve traveled).

It will notify me to let me know when I’m running late or the traffic is especially bad, and gives me weather reports for wherever I’m going. It learns the locations of my most frequent connections, so that when I visit the hairdresser it already knows where I’m going and calculates accordingly.

It’s not infallible, and if you must scrub or replace your phone (as I did recently), you’ll find yourself re-inputting more stuff than you should. And if you have multiple calendars (I think I have six), you must be careful to choose the correct default, or you’ll miss a lot of important things. Also, Mynd relies on the phone’s location and background app refresh services, which means it’s a bit of a power hog.

And strangely, this iOS-only app looks suspiciously like it hails from Redmond and the Microsoft Surface interface. Still, it’s one of my favorites, and as a taste of where smart calendaring could go, it’s pretty impressive.

Mynd Calendar
Alminder Inc.

  • Apple iOS: Yes
  • Android: No (but supposedly it’s coming soon)
  • Windows: No


[toggle title=”3. Calculator (free)” open=”no”]

calculatorThere are a boatload of calculators out there, which will do anything from calculating tips to quadratic equations. I like Tim O’s calculator–it’s simple, works mostly like a 10-key adding machine, and does what it’s supposed to do. No bells and whistles, not many frills…but because there aren’t, you get full-sized screenkeys and no guessing.

The iPad version (yep, there is one), is huge and oversized, so it probably has some accessibility applications as well.

Tim O’s Software

  • Apple iOS: Yes
  • Android: No
  • Windows: No


[toggle title=”4. Sleep Cycle ($0.99) ” open=”no”]

icon_1024Sleep Cycle is a geek’s alarm clock that has kinda become indispensable around my house. I’m not sure it’s really all that accurate, but I do know I’m feeling a lot more refreshed these days.

It uses the iPhone’s accelerometer to monitor your sleep activity; you set it face-down on the bed, beside your pillow, and then it records the movements you make as you sleep. (I’d love to see how this thing behaved on a waterbed) The less movement, the deeper your sleep.

sleepfeatureYou set its alarm to wake you up within a 30-minute window (it will automatically count backwards 30 minutes from whatever time you set). It will wake you up at the lightest sleep point during that window, so that you’re less likely to wake up groggy.

You don’t have to use the alarm; Sleep Cycle monitors your sleep quality and activity through the night, and correlates that with your waking mood, sleep time, the number of steps you’ve taken during the day (when you’re holding your iPhone), a calculated value called “Sleep Quality” and other data.

I think what’s most useful about it, honestly, is its tracking of the hours you sleep. I have a tendency to short sleep in favor of interesting things, and since I’ve been using this little beast I’ve become very competitive about achieving at least 7 hours/night. Given all the research that’s being done on sleep quality, that’s probably a good thing.

If you’re feeling uber-geek, you can add a subscription to Sleep Secure, which stores your data across your devices and gives you more data to play with.

Sleep Cycle
Northcube AB

  • Apple iOS: Yes
  • Android: No
  • Windows: No


[toggle title=”5. Inrix traffic reporting (free)” open=”no”]


My friend Carol turned me onto this one. Inrix Traffic pulls in traffic reports and local traffic cams when you’re driving, giving you a great picture of the road ahead (or why you might not want to be on the road ahead).

inrixappIt’s the most thoughtful traffic app I’ve found so far. Besides the traffic cams, it also lists probable obstacles such as accidents as well as construction zones and the dates to watch out for.

You can save work and home locations, and Inrix will tell you about how long it will take to get there through the prevailing traffic conditions. Or you can save departure alerts for regularly traveled places, and it will pop up a notification to tell you when it’s time to leave to get there on time.

You can upgrade to the paid “premium” version of Inrix for $9.99, and get the ability to save your favorite routes, and get a read on gas prices and stations along your route. I have Gas Buddy for that, so I haven’t indulged.

What’s fascinating about Inrix, however, is behind the scenes: Inrix monitors traffic and roadway statistics for public and private sector. They are often the ones behind those traffic warning signs that tell you there’s an accident ahead, or the data that planners use to figure out toll charges, new roads and the like.

Inrix Traffic

  • Apple iOS: Yes
  • Android: Yes
  • Windows: Yes


[toggle title=”6. eWallet ($9.99)” open=”no”]

ewalleticonApparently there were good ol’ days many years (decades) ago, when you could use one password for everything from ATMs to your computer at work (if it actually had a password). These days, though, that’s asking for trouble. So is trying to remember all those nonsensically secure passwords we need today.

eWallet stores passwords. Well, actually, it stores access information and links in a whole bunch of different ways. You create “wallets” for various aspects of your life (personal, business, family, etc.), create categories of access types (software licenses, insurance card numbers, frequent flier numbers, etc), and basically begin storing your life in the thing.

The wallets themselves are password-protected, so heaven help you if you forget the password. They’re also synced between devices so that your computer(s), phones, tablets, etc., all have the same password. It will sync wirelessly, through the cloud, or through USB cable.

In theory. In practice, a new machine or reinstallation seems to bollix things up and start duplicating entries. I’ve gotten so I keep copies on every device but rely on only one canonical source.

(BTW, the license is per device, so if you have a phone, tablet, work computer, home computer, spousal phone, etc., etc., the eWallet system can run into bucks.)

Ilium Software

  • Apple iOS: Yes (and Mac OSX too)
  • Android: Yes
  • Windows: Yes (device and computer)


[toggle title=”7. Tap to Chat ($3.99)” open=”no”]

taptochaticonTap to Chat is a handy little chat consolidation app that lets you gather the chats from Facebook, GoogleTalk and MSN into a unified window. There are free iOS versions of Tap to Chat for Facebook, G’Talk, MSN and AIM, but they’re individual apps; the paid version unifies them into a single interface.

The iPhone version is nice; in terms of design and usability, I much prefer the iPad version.

It’s not perfect; I’m still looking for the app that consolidates ALL my chats and texts. I still spend far too much time swapping between email, text, and chats (I maintain three other chat apps on my phone for work and other things), so something that would simply become a communications center would be a very welcome thing indeed.

Tap to Chat
Osmosis apps

  • Apple iOS: Yes
  • Android:
  • Windows:


[toggle title=”8. GasBuddy (Free)” open=”no”]


It’s kinda falling off my radar now that I have Inrix (which does a rudimentary version of the same thing), but GasBuddy finds the best price for gasoline (and diesel) in your vicinity.

2014-03-13 16.26.29It’s pretty simple to use: You install the app, sign up for membership in the GasBuddy organization (which is free), and then allow the app to use your GPS. GasBuddy locates the nearest gas stations and the prices they charge for different fuels, based on reports by local members and gas station owners who have joined the group.

GasBuddy will include the age of the report (which in Glassland, at least, is often within minutes of being made), to make sure the price is current. GasBuddy holds prize drawings daily for people who make reports; you’re entered every time you update.

As useful as GasBuddy can be, its website is probably more interesting–you can build historic gas price reports, compare price trends in different areas, and view national (US or Canada) trends. There’s pithy blog that discusses motorist issues (especially about fuel) and other information.

Most helpful, though, is a trip planner which calculates the lowest fuel cost for your trip based on the make, model and year of your car. It neatly lists the least expensive locations for gas all along your route, and allows you to specify what types/brands of fuel you’re interested in.

GasBuddy Organization

  • Apple iOS: Yes
  • Android: Yes
  • Windows: Yes


[toggle title=”9. Find My iPhone (free)” open=”no”]

findiphoneiconEvery few weeks, Iphigenia slides down between the cushions, gets left in the upholder of the car, or SOMEbody* plays “hide the phone” somewhere in the house. That’s when Find My iPhone comes in handy.

You should already have this on your phone (and there are equivalents for Android; not sure about Windows); if you don’t, install it and activate it. FMi will trace your Apple devices, so that if you lose one (or it’s stolen), you can get to the nearest Web access, log into your account and get a GPS read on its location.

You can also have the device sound a loud tone (it sounds like the pinging of submarine sonar, which probably explains the icon) until you’ve located it. And, if the device has been stolen, you can remotely wipe your personal information, display a message on the screen and/or lock the device.

It’s also extremely useful if you have an older (or much younger) relative who might lose their way and need help getting home.

Find My iPhone
Apple Computer

  • Apple iOS: Yes
  • Android: No
  • Windows: No

*Hint: Not saying who, but they have four paws, great big ears, and a lot of fur. And meow.