With over 350,000 apps and counting, and hundreds of accessories, how can you find the best ones to meet needs? The Internet can help. And if you're looking for answers to your questions, you can go online to get the help. This multipart how-to shows you how to find everything you need online.
How to search for apps
The App Store, with its small number of categories and haphazard assignment of apps to those categories, hasn’t scaled well in terms of finding apps. The App Genius feature in iOS can help somewhat, but to find what you need, you’ll likely want to go online. There are websites that let you sort and filter the search results by price, popularity, compatibility with a particular iOS device, and more.
Apptism (apptism.com) has a database of almost all of the titles in the App Store. You can do keyword searches and then sort the results in a variety of ways. For example, I have a passionate interest in archaeology. I searched on that term and got a long list of results. I sorted that list so that it just showed me the apps less than $1, resulting in a list of 23 apps. I then sorted that list according to popularity in order to find the most popular archaeology apps. I was able to very quickly zero in on apps that I might like. You can sort according to newest apps, recently updated apps, and more. And you can filter the results according to category, price, and more.
Apptism also aggregates news stories, reviews, or videos related to the app. Let's take another example. Say you're interested in free games. First click on the radio button to select Free, then select the category Games. Let's also click Popular so that you see some of the better games, and then click Go. From the list select a game and the resulting page gives your information about the game, as well tabs that take you to news, reviews, and other information about the game.
Additional useful features in Apptism include comparisons, related apps, e-mail & SMS alerts, a watch list, version history, and more.
AppShopper (appshopper.com) is similar to Apptism in that it lets you sort and filter in a number of ways, but it addresses a shortcoming of Apptism: it has the ability to filter the search results in order to see just those apps for the iPad.
MacWorld AppGuide (macworld.com/appguide) is a top choice for finding apps. Sorting by category can be a little confusing. For example, if you search for archaeology apps that are in the educational category and then want to look for travel-related archaeology apps, you have to first deselect Education and then select Travel. You can filter the search results in a variety of additional ways, including by price, age restriction, and which particular iOS devices the apps are compatible with. And you can sort them by Macworld’s rating, user rating, whether the apps are on sale, and more.
The browse feature of the AppGuide is especially useful because it lets you cross-filter by category. For example, let's say you want to browse the reference category looking for apps that relate to music. All you do is select Reference in the browse menu and then click on Music in the same menu. As before, if you then want to browse a different top-level category, such as Photography, you'll first need to deselect the first category.
The App Essentials section (macworld.com/appguide/collections.html) may be the site's best feature. It lists the top apps for a few hundred specific topics (e.g., puzzle games, Facebook add-ons, get a job, racing games, multimedia apps, etc.).
How to find l "best apps" lists
In addition to searching comprehensive app databases, you can also simply search Google for a list of best apps related to your interests. Put the search string in quotation marks for the most relevant results. This search will take you to a number of websites that aggregate lists of best apps and must-have apps:
Appolicious (appolicious.com/curated-apps/featured) promotes itself as the first website to combine social networking, ratings and reviews, articles, advanced content aggregation, and search. The most remarkable aspect of this site is the hundreds of "best apps" lists that people have made on a wide variety of topics. Click on the Best Apps tab to see the best fishing apps, photography apps, best free and paid apps, best apps of all time, and more. They display separate best-app lists for the iPhone and iPad.
148Apps (148apps.com) has five very helpful top 148 lists: All time Top Apps, Free iPhone Apps, Free iPhone Games, Top Paid Apps, and Top Paid Games. The site also provides app reviews and tracks price drops.
Best App Ever Awards (bestappever.com) is an awards site hosted by 148Apps.com. It lists the "Best App Ever" in 30 categories and gives both an iPhone and iPad winner in each category. The categories differ somewhat from the App Store. For example, they offer categories such as Best Parenting App, Best Use of iOS Hardware, Best Publication App, and Best Visual Design. It’s very helpful that, in addition to the winners, they list the top 10 nominees in each category.
App Classics (appclassics.com) rates apps using a formula that analyzes iTunes rating information to identify the "all-time most popular high-quality apps" (i.e., the "classics"). On the front page of the site you'll see the top apps across all categories. You can also use a drop-down menu to view apps by category. Each app is awarded a gold, silver, or bronze medal depending on how much of a classic it is calculated to be. Many of the app descriptions include demo videos.
iPhone Quality index (iphone.qualityindex.com) compiles a list of the top 10 iPhone apps and games each month based on reviews from top online and print media sources.
Time magazine 50 best apps for 2011 (time.com; search on "50 best apps") is a great list of must-have apps divided into the following categories: Games, On the Go, Lifestyle, Music & Photography, Entertainment, and Social.
Macworld Appstravaganza (macworld.com/article/156714/ 2010/12/appstravaganza) was posted last December and includes a selection of apps that everyone should have. It includes 16 collections, in four broad categories: 1) Work smarter, 2) Entertainment, 3) Developing creative content, 4) Apps that showcase Apple’s iOS.
How to find free apps
Occasionally, a developer will make an app free for a limited time. Some of the sites mentioned above, including AppShopper and 148 Apps, track price drops and will alert you if an app you've been thinking about purchasing is temporarily being offered free as a promotion. In addition, there are websites that specialize in alerting you to free apps.
Free App Alert (freeappalert.com) alerts you to paid iPhone and iPad apps that have just become free. You can also receive e-mail alerts with a list of newly free apps.
OpenFeint (openfeint.com/ios/free_games) is a great website for the gaming community. As a special feature, it offers a free game app each day. OpenFeint works out deals with developers to make apps free for a limited time.
FreeAppADay (freeappaday.com) highlights a free app each day. In some cases, the app is a paid app that’s free only for that day.
How to find video demos of apps
One of the best ways to decide if an app meets your needs is to watch a video demo of the app. A large percentage of app developers post demos on YouTube. So if you see an app you might like, do a YouTube search to see if a demo is available. In addition, the following sites specialize in offering video reviews of apps:
The Daily App Show (dailyappshow.com) is one of the most popular iPhone-related video podcast sites around, offering video demos of featured apps or iPhone/iPod touch and iPad apps by category. The focus of the site is introducing you to new apps and helping you to decide if you want to buy one. Note that developers pay to have their apps demoed.
AppVee (appvee.com) claims that it is the largest resource for high-quality video reviews of iPhone apps. According to the site, they review apps that they think are most useful. In addition to the video walkthroughs, every app they cover includes a written review with screenshots. You can also add your own reviews.
How to get help
No matter how proficient you are with your iOS device, you'll occasionally have questions about how to do things, how to resolve problems, or which app best meets your needs. For example, as you type a word into an app, iOS will guess what the word is based on the first few letters and pop up a suggestion. If you forgot how to accept the suggestion, do a Google search on "iPhone typing suggested text." The very first search result gives the answer: tap the space bar.
If you don’t get your question answered via an Internet search, try asking a question in an online forum. Here are some of the best:
Apple-iPhone Yahoo Group (tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/apple-iphone) is a friendly and helpful discussion group. You can post questions about apps, accessories, and other topics and get answers and opinions from moderators and group members. You'll also see posts about new and/or useful apps, hot deal alerts, helpful online resources, and more. Although the name of this group is Apple-iPhone, it tends to cover the iPad and the iPod touch as well.
Apple Forums (discussions.apple.com) has sections covering the iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, iTunes, and other Apple products and services. The iPhone section has the most sub-categories and posts, but the others are very active and the iPad section is growing rapidly. The iPad section has sub-categories for apps and accessories. The iPhone and iPod touch sections each have sub-category labeled "Installing and Using iPhone Applications" that focuses on using apps and solving problems. Posts relating to apps and accessories can also be found in other sub-categories. The iTunes section has separate sections for Windows and Mac users, covering a variety of topics.
EverythingiCafe Forums (everythingicafe.com/forum) has a wide range of Web-based forums to help you find the best apps and accessories, deal with connectivity problems, get the most out of the iTunes and the App Store, and a whole lot more. Over 125,000 members contribute posts to over 30 iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch-related discussion categories.
MacRumors Forums (forums.macrumors.com) has iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch forums covering accessories, apps, tips, troubleshooting, and more.
How to find accessories
Are you looking for accessories? Again, Google or another search engine is a good place to start. In addition, there are Web pages with articles on the best iOS accessories.
Amazon (amazon.com) is a good first stop for a number of reasons. Select their Electronics category and search on the name of your iOS device (iPhone, iPod touch, iPad) and the type of accessory you’re looking for (Bluetooth speakers, headsets, cases, etc.). You can sort the search results by bestselling, price, and average customer review. The reason I like Amazon is that very quickly you can see which accessory is selling best and see customer review scores. It's a good way to get a sense for which speakers are the best in particular price ranges.
iLounge (ilounge.com/index.php/accessories) has a huge collection of reviews and information on iPhone, iPod, and iPad accessories. It rates all of the accessories it reviews and divides them into over 75 categories that make it easier to find the type of accessory you're interested in. Reading reviews is a good way to help you identify accessories that will meet your needs.
iLounge also offers downloadable Buyer's Guides and eBooks showing you how to use your iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad (ilounge.com/index.php/library). Each of these PDF documents is available in two versions: one suitable for printing and the other suited for viewing on your computer screen. The Buyer’s Guides have extensive information on the best apps and accessories.
TiPb (store.tipb.com) is a well-organized online store for accessories that makes it easy to find the most popular accessories in a variety of categories. Some accessories are accompanied with an expert review and most have customer ratings.
Cablewholesale (cablewholesale.com/buy/iphoneipad-accessories.htm) is an online reseller that offers a wide variety of inexpensive cables, chargers, and other accessories for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.
How to follow the latest iPhone/iPad news
Fans of Apple devices may want to follow related news to see what’s hot, what’s coming up, the best new apps, useful new accessories, etc. If you're a real techie, you may already be using an RSS newsreader and are being deluged with the latest headlines. If you just want a sense for what’s going on, I suggest you pick one of the more active blogs and follow it daily. Here are two that I follow.
Macworld iOS Central (macworld.com/weblogs/ioscentral.html) has solid coverage of iPhone and iPad news.
AppleInsider (appleinsider.com) isn't iOS-specific, but much of its coverage centers on the iPhone and iPad. The site is particularly good for tracking the latest rumors. There are a number of other sites with that have top news blogs, tips, app/accessory reviews. Check out TiPb (tipb.com and tipb.com/ipad), and The Unofficial Apple Weblog (iPhone section: tuaw.com/category/iphone, iPad section: tuaw.com/category/ipad). You can find many more sites listed on the iPhone Life Best Sites Web page (iphonelife.com/bestsites).