Early on, when the number of iPhone apps was in the thousands, the App Store was a good way for users to find apps and for developers to bring their apps to the attention of users. Now that there are over 200,000 apps, the App Store isn't that helpful.
When you do a search on a topic in the iTunes store, you might get hundreds of results. They are displayed in no particular order and there is no way to sort them according to most popular, best-selling, free vs. paid, etc. The 20 broad categories also aren't that useful, since there are so many apps that don't obviously fit any particular category. Fortunately, the Internet can help. In this article, I'll point you to some useful lists of the best apps.
Best App Awards by 148Apps
Earlier this year, the Web site 148Apps.com hosted a vote for the best apps in 56 categories, including 25 categories of game apps. The utility of this resource is not just in listing the winners; the lists include the top 10 nominees. In addition, the more finely tuned categorization of apps is extremely useful in helping you find what you need.
For example, one category is Best Augmented Reality App. This refers to apps that let you use the iPhone camera to have a live view of your environment overlaid with information or some other kind of content. In the App Store, these apps are spread among various categories, so it's great to see them in one location and get a sense for which ones are the best.
Star Walk ($2.99; app2.me/171) gives you a view of the night sky and superimposes information so that you can identify the stars, planets, and constellations.
Another interesting category is Best Use of Bluetooth. In this list of 10 nominees, you'll find apps ranging from multiplayer games to Wawame (app2.me/140), a free app that lets you "shake iPhones" with another iPhone user and thereby automatically exchange business card information.
Other categories include Best Use of Location Services, best apps for a variety of age groups, Best Feel Like a Local App, and Best Multiplayer Game.
Mashable's Lists of Apps
The iPhone is a hot topic on Mashable, a massive blog with a large number of contributors and a focus on social media and Web 2.0. Go to mashable.com/mobile/iphone to see the latest iPhone-related posts and feature articles. As I write this, the coverage includes the arrival of Google Voice (m.google.com/voice) for the iPhone. Google Voice is a free service that lets you consolidate all of your phone numbers and voicemail boxes into one. It also gives you the ability to set which callers ring particular phones at particular times. Also featured is the recent release of Fring (app2.me/2329), a free app that lets you make free voice calls, free video calls (one way), and live instant messenger chats directly from your iPhone or iPod touch.
One of the best features of Mashable is the lists posted by contributors. Go to mashable.com/category/labels/lists/iphone-lists and you'll see all the great app lists. Some that I found interesting are: 3 iPhone Apps to Help Make a Difference, 5 Fantastic iPhone Chargers to Keep You Juiced, and 10 Fun iPhone Apps for Beer Lovers.
The make-a-difference apps are quite interesting. CauseWorld (free; app2.me/2330) is a very popular location-based app that shows you the stores around you that participate. When you go into one of the stores, you earn karma points. (No purchase necessary.) As your points add up, you can redeem them for real money to give to one of 10 charities (providing relief for Haiti, planting a tree, etc.).
Also posted on Mashable (mashable.com/2010/01/03/iphone-apps-2010) is a list of lists of great apps in over 40 categories. The categories include titles such as "60+ Free Classic Tabletop Games for the iPhone" and "50+ Free iPhone Apps to Make You Richer." This is simply a collection of the best lists over the past couple years posted in Mashable. The person who posted it said he intends to keep it updated, so it's definitely a resource you'll want to keep in mind.
O'Reilly Best iPhone Apps
Josh Clark, author of the Best iPhone Apps book, and the editors at O'Reilly, the company that published the book, maintain the O'Reilly Best iPhone Apps page. Billed as "the site for discriminating downloaders," the site lists "must-have" downloads—5-star apps only. You can view these apps in eight categories (At Home and At Play, On The Road, Tips & Tricks, etc.).
The iPhone At Home category, for example, identifies CardStar (free; app2.me/2331) as the best app for speedy checkouts, Gas Cubby ($6.99) as the best app for car maintenance, wikiHow (free) as the best app for all-purpose advice, and RedLaser ($1.99) as the best app for comparison shopping.
Best iPhone Apps of the Week
John Herrman, a contributing editor at Engadget, appears to be a real connoisseur of apps, and regularly posts "The Best iPhone Apps of the Week" on the Business Insider Web site. Each post is slide-show style, giving images and a description for 10 different apps.
One of the apps he featured in his most recent post was Siri Assistant (app2.me/2332), a free app that combines speech recognition, search, and concierge functionality. Siri allows you to speak a command such as, "Book a table for six at 7 p.m. at McDonalds," and the app then uses GPS to identify your location and speech recognition to process your command. It then responds by confirming your booking. The app does this by accessing one of a number of services that it's paired with: OpenTable, MovieTickets, StubHub, CitySearch, and TaxiMagic.
Digital Trends has a list of the 28 apps they feel are the best, in five categories: Productivity, Games, Video & Music, Utilities, and Fun.
Best Apps of 2009
As you read this, we're now well into 2010. However, I wrote this article in early February, not long after a spate of best-of-2009 lists. Most of these are likely still relevant, and I thought I'd share some of them.
- Time magazine's Top 10 iPhone Apps for 2009 (tinyurl.com/y9hkdeo) is a list of excellent apps. The top favorites include Tweetie 2 ($2.99; app2.me/102), for using Twitter, Yelp (free; app2.me/236), for reviews of restaurants and other business, and Slacker Radio (free; app2.me/2333), for streaming your favorite music. One of the apps on this list as well as on one of the O'Reilly lists which caught my attention was Locavore ($2.99; app2.me/2334). It detects where you are and tells you where you can find locally grown foods using Google Maps to direct you to farmers' markets and other relevant information. Plus, it also connects you to Wikipedia for more info and recipes.
- TechCrunch Best iPhone Apps of 2009 (techcrunch.com/2009/12/27/best-iphone-apps-2009-appvee). The list identifies the top 10 apps and the top 15 games, as well as the top 5 innovations. Each app includes a link to the AppVee Web site review with video demos of quite a few of the apps. Some of my favorite apps that made this list include Dropbox (free; app2.me/127), which lets you access your computer's files via your iPhone, Textfree Unlimited ($5.99; app2.me/2335), which gives you a free texting alternative, and Ustream Viewing Application (free; app2.me/2336), which lets you watch live video streams on your iPhone.
- TouchGen Best of 2009 (touchgen.net/touchgen-awards-2009) named the top games in nearly 20 different categories. The site also named a runner-up in each category. And they selected the best overall game of 2009: iBlast Moki ($2.99; app2.me/108), a puzzle game. The judges felt it stood out as one that "truly feels unique to the platform."
- Macworld's 2009 App Gem Awards (macworld.com/article/145088/2009/12/appgems_2009.html) highlights the best apps in 20 different categories, including 5 different types of games. Some of the picks include CNN Mobile ($1.99; app2.me/278) for news, Boxcar ($1.99; app2.me/265) for notifications, and iBird Explorer Plus ($19.99; app2.me/2337) as best reference app.
Apple's US List of Best Apps for 2009. Apple's own list of the best for 2009 was only up for a short while, but you can find all the info in an article on The Independent's Web site (tinyurl.com/yap7x9u). Apple's offering included lists of top 10 apps and top 10 games, as well as top-10 lists of best-selling games and apps.
I'm confident that if you spend some time perusing these lists, you'll greatly enhance the functionality of your iPhone or iPod touch.