The year of 2011 was a fascinating time to be an app consumer. As the iOS platform has continued to mature, the quality of apps has steadily increased. Just perusing the App Store is becoming a sort of leisure activity, and the offerings available are becoming an integral part of daily life.
As I've done the previous three years (2008, 2009, 2010), I've reflected upon my own app usage and come up with the selection of apps I find myself launching most frequently. Below I've categorized them between iPhone & iPad.
Most Used iPhone Apps
This app is my information fire hose. I start every morning catching up on the news with CNN on the living room TV, a cup of coffee in my right hand, and my iPhone in my left hand consuming RSS feeds via the Reeder app. This is the most efficient information consumption mechanism I've ever encountered.
Tweetbot is the app from which I almost exclusively update. Better than Twitter's first-party iOS app, Tweetbot is fast to load, easy to navigate, and leverages the design aesthetic that made the app's developer, Tapbots, famous with Weightbot.
My life revolves around Gmail, both for personal email & work email. Although the Gmail iOS app is little more than a web view of Gmail's mobile site in a native app wrapper, it's still great to quickly apply labels to new messages and for quickly searching email archives.
Remember The Milk
Not since I had the Franklin Covey task management software on my Palm IIIxe have I run my life so thoroughly through productivity software as I have with Remember The Milk. Although I do most of my task entry into Remember The Milk through the Google Chrome TaskMilk extension, the iPhone app is indispensable for reminding me to complete tasks via its Push Notifications.
At the beginning of 2011, the Facebook iPhone app had become nearly unusable. It was plagued by crashes and endless loading sequences. However, with version 4.0 the app became significantly more stable and actually a pleasure to use. In December's 4.2 update, the app gained access to Facebook's Timeline feature, and became even more compelling.
Essentially replacing the Phone app & Messages app built into iOS, Google Voice is my communications hub on the iPhone. While the Google Voice service isn't for everyone, I've bought into the system 100%, and love the flexibility it provides me to triage calls & texts from my iPhone, iPad, Mac, & PC.
iPhone Apps I Began Using More Frequently In 2011
These are apps that I had on my iPhone prior to 2011, but didn't start using frequently until 2011.
This app renewed my interest in casual photography. It's also encouraged me to focus on quality over quantity when it comes to snapping pictures.
On a normal day, I'm likely to interact with 5 different devices to which my Dropbox account is linked. This app is like my window into my daily file-related activity.
If you want to consolidate any miscellaneous information you may need to recall in a searchable tool, Evernote cannot be beat. I take photos of everything from business cards to product manuals and have it instantly searchable within the Evernote app. This is like my outsourced memory.
While I don't do my initial reading of ebooks on the Kindle iPhone app, it's proven very useful for reference and searching purposes. The hundreds of books on my bookshelves behind me have information physically locked inside. For books I have in my Kindle app, that information is always with me and searchable.
I'd been a very vocal advocate of Sportacular as the preeminent iPhone sports app until mid 2011. It just became too unreliable with score Push Notifications. Enter iOS 5 in the Fall of 2011 with its Notification Center feature, and suddenly the ESPN ScoreCenter app with its very customizable Push Notifications became an attractive replacement for Sportacular. While I don't launch ScoreCenter frequently, I find the app's frequent Push Notifications indispensable.
I use Amazon to buy random items the same way I used Wal-Mart 3 years ago. It's just more convenient, and usually more economical, to order an item and have it shipped to my house than it would be to drive to the store and purchase it in person. The Amazon app has become my primary retail entry point as a result.
Favorite New iPhone Apps of 2011
This app allows my iPhone to become the brain of my car. I launch this app, lock my iPhone, then plug it into the dock in the center console of my 328i. As a result, I'm able to get Facebook & Twitter updates on my car's iDrive navigation screen, listen to streaming radio stations via my iPhone's data connection, and see upcoming events on my calendar without ever having to divert my eyes to the iPhone's screen.
JotNot Scanner Pro
Although I'm a big proponent of Fujitsu's ScanSnap scanners for high-quality bulk scanning, JotNot has proven to be my most used scanning tool when I need to get a scanned document to someone fast. It creates PDFs using the iPhone's camera, and then allows easy export to Dropbox, Evernote, Google Docs, and email.
Find My Friends
Similar to Google Latitude, Find My Friends allows you to see the current location of your close friends & family on a map in real time. My wife & I find this is a less intrusive way of finding each other around the greater Houston area during any given work day than text messages or phone calls.
Truthfully, I need another social network in my life like I need a hole in my head. However, Path looks & feels so cool, that I've found myself launching it to update my status just to experience the UI & UX in the app. The menu animation alone is justification to download the app.
Similar to Rdio & Spotify, MOG allows you to stream a library of 14 million songs from a giant jukebox in the cloud, without having to sync over music to your device. I started using MOG as a research exercise as my company was developing a similar streaming music app called DeliRadio. In November, MOG announced a new version of their iPhone app which supported the BMW Apps standard to display app data on your automobile's iDrive system. This catapulted MOG to the top of my preferred streaming radio apps, by virtue of the amount of time I spent in my car each week. MOG has a great library of electronica albums, too.
In 2011, I ramped up my business development efforts for my company, and became more active in the Houston & New Orleans tech communities. As a result, my desk has a stack of 100+ business cards sitting on it, which does me no good when I'm away from my desk. CardMunch allows me to quickly scan these business cards by taking a photo of each, and then automatically connect with the person via LinkedIn.
My week starts each Monday leading our company's morning standup. I use Evernote to compile and display the agenda for that meeting, and I can quickly toggle between notes while standing in front of a room of people thanks to this app.
This is how I've read 90% of my books in the past 20 months. I like the fact I can be in my living room recliner, with the lights off, and still read. And while I was always hesitant to write in or highlight physical books, I find myself doing many annotations within my Kindle library.
While I don't compose many tweets within the iPad Twitter app, I do find myself reading tweets primarily through this app, especially in the evenings. The horizontally sliding paned view pioneered in this app really set the design trend in motion in 2011.
When I've zapped all the juice on my iPhone and have it on its charger, I can still compose & respond to SMS messages on my iPad via this app. During football season, this was my primary messaging tool while watching games on my couch.
Although I don't use this multiple times each day like I do with the Reeder iPhone app, when I have some down time to catch up on RSS feeds, this app still can't be beat for reading news on your iPad. Flipboard is sexy, but Reeder is both elegant & efficient.
This was the most glaring omission from the iPad app library prior to its eventual release in October 2011. The 18 month wait was worth it, though. Much like the Twitter iPad app, there's no better way to read your Facebook news feed than via the Facebook iPad app. I find myself looking at photos posted on Facebook much more frequently thanks to this app, too.
Remember The Milk
Another app that was late to the iPad party, but like the Facebook iPad app, this one has rewarded patient Remember The Milk users. As has been the theme with other iPad apps I've listed here, I don't compose many tasks within the Remember The Milk iPad app, but I do use it heavily for viewing my task lists when doing my weekly planning on Sundays for the upcoming week.
If I'm in a meeting where a laptop isn't practical to use, this note taking & audio recording app is my go to solution. What's novel about SoundNote is that it maps your typing action to a time-stamped audio recording of the meeting. That allows you to tap any point in your typed notes and be taken directly to the point in the audio recording so you can glean additional context. Then you can export the notes & audio via Dropbox or email if you want to transfer them back to your laptop. This has proven to be extremely effective when I'm leading client meetings.
I have 7 different computers in 3 different cities on which I have the LogMeIn software installed. This allows me to remotely login to those computers and then control them as if I was sitting in front of them. Thanks to the LogMeIn Ignition app, I can do this all from my iPad. Inevitably I need to do this once or twice a week, so it's become an important tool in my personal & professional workflow. If you're new to LogMeIn, I recommend checking out their new LogMeIn iPad app. It's free instead of the $99.99 LogMeIn now charges for their Ignition app. The free app doesn't have all the functionality of Ignition, but gives you likely all you'll need as a casual user.
History of Jazz
To end the 2011 list, I wanted to highlight perhaps the coolest & most educational app I have on my iPad. The History of Jazz is what you'd imagine an interactive textbook from the future would look and feel like. It allows the user to navigate jazz artists and subgenres from the past 120 years, listening to full songs in each of the styles and showing how and why the musical genre evolved. Even if you know nothing about jazz, you'll enjoy the fluidity of navigation and the ability to read, listen, and watch all the content referenced without ever leaving the app. As a bonus, the app is AirPlay enabled, so you can stream video content to your TV if you're on a Wi-Fi network with an Apple TV connected. This app really shows the kind of artistic innovation the iPad platform allows, and I'm truly excited to see other apps in this vein come to the App Store over the next few years.
Hopefully you were introduced to some new apps as a result of reading this post. Check back this time next year for my 2012 picks.
If you enjoy staying abreast of what's happening in the mobile space, I encourage you to check out my posts on the ChaiONE blog and follow my regular updates on Twitter. Have a great 2012!