In this issue’s column, I want to point you to some apps and Web sites that will help find the ones tht are really useful. Plus, I’ll look at a great free service that helps you organize your apps by letting you add labels on your home screens.
The App Store has a number of features that help you identify good apps, including prominent listings of new apps, hot apps, and staff favorites. In addition, you can view the top 100 paid and top 100 free titles in each of the 20 app categories. However, well over 1,000 new apps may be approved in a single day. Not all of them will make it to one of these lists, and one of them just might be the app for which you’re looking.
Fortunately, there are other ways to find apps. One good method is App Genius, a new feature in iPhone OS 3.1. Go to the App Store on your iPhone or iPod touch and click on the Genius tab at the top right. Once you’ve enable this feature by following the onscreen prompts, it will show your apps and, for each one, will recommend a similar app.
Like iTunes, the App Genius function works by pooling the preferences of all those using the function. For example, I have the AP Mobile news app on my device. App Genius detected it and “knew” that other users who have this app also have the Reuters app installed, so it suggested that one.
Unfortunately, not all suggestions seem to be the work of a genius. For example, I also have Wikipanion installed on my iPhone. Based on that, Genius recommended the Japanese Phrases app and The Declaration of Independence for iPhone and iPod touch.
Web sites that help you find useful apps
There are a number of Web sites that review and identify useful or entertaining apps. They use a variety of approaches, including reviewer rankings, Digg-like voting systems, social networking input, and more. Of course, I can’t cover every site. A more comprehensive listing of sites can be found on the iPhone Life Web site (iphonelife.com/bestsites). Let’s take a look at some of the more helpful ones.
Apps for Everything
This is Apple’s effort to expand on the 20 broad categories used to organize the App Store. It lists apps by common subjects, such as Apps for Cooks, Apps for the Great Outdoors, Apps for Work, and Apps for Students, etc.
The page currently has a dozen collections. In those cases where the collection overlaps an App Store category, such as Apps for Students and the Education category, then the page for that specific collection also lists the top 10 paid and free apps for the other category. Apps for Everything also has staff picks, which includes a Pick of the Week.
AppGuide is Macworld’s database of most of the apps in the App Store. The site has reviewed a large number of apps, and for each of Apple’s 20 categories, Macworld lists the apps that it has given the top rating. In addition, the site breaks each of the original categories into 20 subcategories that mirror the main categories. For example, the Business category has a Games subcategory that lists Millionaire Tycoon and other games that relate to business.
The site lets you list apps by category and subcategory and sort apps by site rating, user rating, price (low to high), and more. You can view the apps that are on sale or limit search results to titles that fit your budget (e.g., less than $1, less than $5, etc.), age restrictions, and compatibility (e.g., only show apps that work with the first-generation iPhone).
App Essentials (macworld.com/appguide/collections.html) may be the site’s best feature. It lists the top apps for over 50 specific topics (e.g., puzzle games, Facebook add-ons, getting a job, racing games, multimedia apps, etc.).
This site gives you the tools you need to find and track iPhone apps. The site lists all iPhone apps from the iTunes App Store and aggregates the latest news, reviews, and media reports related to the apps from YouTube and other news and content sources. You can sort apps by Recent Activity, Most Active, Popular Apps, Newest Apps, and Updated Apps. You can also filter apps by Free/Paid, Category, Price, and Activity Type.
Some additional useful features include Comparisons, Related Apps, e-mail & SMS alerts, a Watch List, Version History, and more. Check out Apptism’s About page for a more complete list of features.
This site has reviews of over 35,000 apps, providing a hands-on evaluation of each app’s core features and functions. Each review evaluates the app on its own merits and compares it to similar apps. Each app is assigned a rating of “good,” “better,” or “best.” You can sort and view the apps by rating, name, date of release, or price. The site also lists new apps and has a recommendations section.
This site has five, very helpful, top 148 apps 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. (In case you’re interested, the name comes from the maximum number of app icons you could have on your device when the App Store first opened.)
AppSpace lets you create an account and then specify the App Store categories you favor, your interests, your favorite apps, and your ratings for the apps that interest you. Based on this info, AppSpace recommends apps. The site was still in beta when I used it, and while a couple of the recommendations it gave me were helpful, quite a few weren't relevant to my interests. But the neat thing about this site is that it learns based on your feedback and gets better with its recommendations. This is an amazing site with a lot of potential.
The App Classics Web site rates apps using a formula that analyzes iTunes ratings to identify and grade truly classic apps. On the front page of the site, you’ll see the top app classics across all categories. You can also use a drop-down menu to view apps by category. Each classic app is awarded a gold, silver, or bronze medal depending on how the site rates it.
InfoWorld no-junk business iPhone apps finder
InfoWorld’s app finder site helps you to sift through the huge number of apps in the App Store’s Business category to identify those that are really solid and useful. At launch, their business apps finder listed over 200 apps in two-dozen categories. They exclude apps that aren’t really business apps or are of dubious value.
Social network/social media sitess for finding appss
This one promotes itself as the first Web site to combine social networking, ratings and reviews, articles, advanced content aggregation, and a search function. The social networking component lets you get app recommendations from friends and others who have used the app. The Appolicious editorial team also makes recommendations, telling you which apps to download and which to avoid.
LivingSocial iPhone Apps
This Web site and Facebook application lets you identify your favorite apps, organize them, and share your opinions about them with others. It will also recommend apps based on the ones you list as favorites. According to the Web site, you can link your LivingSocial iPhone Apps account to Facebook, MySpace, Bebop, HI5, and Orkut.
I use this
“I use this” is similar to Digg, which is the most popular social news site. On Digg, people mark news items they find interesting (i.e., the ones they really “dig”). Those with the most “Diggs” make the front page of the site. “I use this” uses a similar “crowdsourcing” approach that allows site visitors to vote on the apps that they’ve used. You can sort the apps listed on the site by New Apps, Interesting Apps, and Top Apps (those that have gotten the most votes). Users can also write reviews.
Similar to “I use this,” Freshapps lets you vote for the apps you like and write comments or reviews about them. You can sort the app list by Newest, Most Fresh (the most votes), and Most Discussed.
Video demos and reviews; podcastss
This site claims that it is the “largest resource for high-quality video reviews of iPhone applications.” According to the site, they review apps that they think are most useful. Every app they cover includes a written review with screenshots as well as a video walkthrough. You can also add your own reviews.
The Daily App Show
This site offers video demos of apps on a regular basis. Sometimes, as many as five demos are published in a single day. You can watch the demos online or subscribe to their video podcast via iTunes and watch them on your iPhone or iPod touch. Developers pay to have their apps demoed, so it’s not a typical review site. But it’s hard to beat a video demo for getting a quick feel for an app.
Today in iPhone
This general interest iPhone-related podcast can be accessed via iTunes. Typically, each podcast includes a discussion of a number of apps. The Web site lists the topics covered on each show, with a separate section listing the apps and software covered in the show.
Getting advice from a forums
Another great way to find apps for particular purposes is simply to ask a group of hundreds of dedicated iPhone users. There are many on the Internet, and you can see a list of them on my Best Sites page.
Apple-iPhone Yahoo Group
The iPhone Yahoo Group is my favorite forum. I’ve never met so many helpful people—it’s almost like having dozens of experts standing by. You can interact with the forum via the Web, or have the posts sent to you via e-mail. Even though it’s a high-traffic list, I prefer the e-mail approach. I have all the messages from this forum diverted to a special folder and glance through it when I have time. And whenever I have a question, I fire off an e-mail and wait for the answers to come flowing back.
Apps for finding useful and bargain appss
Another way to identify useful apps is to use these useful apps. There are quite a few dedicated to helping you find apps and track those that are either on sale or are temporarily free of charge.
Every day, this one highlights an “App Gem” that’s highly recommended by their staff of experts. It also includes Essential Collections of great apps, which are handpicked by the editors and writers at Macworld. You can also see lists of top-rated apps by category. And finally, App Gems includes news stories, blog posts, and tips posted on Macworld.com.
PandoraBox is a great way to track new apps and those that have just gone on sale. Often, developers will temporarily reduce the price of an app or even make it free as a promotion. The On Sale section shows you the apps that have been reduced in price that day. You can view just those apps that are temporarily free or those with a temporary, lower price. You can also view the newest apps in the App Store (all new apps, just free, or just paid). PandoraBox also lets you specify your favorite apps and notifies you if any of them go on sale.
AppMiner monitors the App Store for price changes, new releases in categories that interest you, and temporary sales. You can browse App Store categories to look for New Apps, Sale Apps, and Top Apps. You can set target prices for specific apps and receive alerts if that price is reached. Other features include searching by title and keyword, and filtering by paid, free, and release date.
$1.99; Free “Lite” version also available; iviewr.com/toptens
This one helps you find undiscovered apps—ones that may be good but haven’t received much attention. It lets you automatically track top tens lists related to your interests, including movies, albums, books, Disney rides, places to visit in London, and much more. The latest version of the app includes a list of Top 10 Undiscovered Apps. In order to qualify, the app cannot be listed in the top 100 of its respective App Store category. iPhone users submit their favorite undiscovered app to the Top Tens Web site, and the entries are then collated and the most popular submissions appear in the list. The Lite version of the app shows you the top three entries in your lists.
This is a companion app for the AppReview Web site mentioned earlier. It gives you access to the thousands of reviews and ratings on that site, and it identifies apps best suited to your profile. If you find something you like, you can connect to the App Store directly through the app.
This one tracks apps that are on sale and notifies you when apps that you’re following have met your target price.
BargainBin With Push!
BargainBin tracks app prices and alerts you via a push notification when an app in which you are interested goes on sale. You can set watch lists for particular apps or specific types of apps. You can also set a filter so that it only shows free apps.
Tii Podcast App
This companion app to the Today in iPhone podcast lets you stream the show to your iPhone or iPod touch. In addition, it gives you “bonus” audio and video content and other extras, including a feature that allows you to call the show and leave audio messages of app reviews, comments, or questions. These may be included as part of the podcast. As mentioned above, Tii podcasts often include app reviews.
Free service helps organize your apps
I love the new feature in iTunes 9 that lets you organize your installed apps on your desktop computer and sync that with the iPhone or iPod touch. It’s quicker and easier than doing it on the mobile device, but you still have to page through a bunch of Home screen pages to find the app you want, and it’s hard to tell at a glance which page you’re on. This solution will help you identify those pages.
Free Web service at iphone.appbutler.com; App in development
AppButler is a clever service that uses a built-in feature of your iPhone to create icons that you use to organize your app screens. You can use them to number your app screens or put labels on your screens such as Business, Entertainment, Utilities, and Games.
To understand AppButler, it helps to understand the feature on your iPhone that lets you access your favorite Web pages, not by going to Safari’s Favorites menu, but by tapping an icon for the Web page on your Home screen. You can place icons on the Home screen for any Web page by opening a Web page in Safari, tapping on the “+” button at the bottom of the screen, and selecting “Add to Home Screen” from the pop-up menu. When you tap that icon on the Home page, it opens the Web page in Safari.
AppButler uses this feature to let you create icons for your app screens. They have simply made some attractive Web pages that, when added to your home screen, function as icons that help you organize your apps. For example, you can add icons that are large numerals so that, as you page through your apps, you see a large numeral at the top. They have also created Web pages that have labels for each of the 20 app categories and the 19 game categories. You have a number of designs and colors from which to choose.
To use this free service, point Safari on your iPhone or iPod touch to the AppButler Web site (appbutler.com). It lets you select and create your icons in just a few simple steps. The created icons appear on your iPhone, but you still need to move them to the relevant location on your app screens. These icons aren’t something that you tap: rather, they are there as page identifiers. (Note that the developer also has an app awaiting approval that will cost $2.99.)
I hope that the resources in this article will help you find apps that meet your needs. In the beginning, developers and consumers used the App Store as a way of marketing and finding apps. Unfortunately, the App Store is getting so crowded that that developers can’t rely on it to get noticed, and users can’t rely on it to find what they need. The store is now primarily a mechanism of exchange, with other mediums evolving to help developers and consumers connect with each other.