Saturday, January 18, 2014

JW's Favorite iPhone & iPad Apps Of 2013

For the sixth consecutive year, I’ve compiled a list of the iOS apps that I’m using the most across my iPhone & iPad. In 2013, I mostly used a 3rd generation iPad and iPhone 5, but upgraded to an iPhone 5S in the fall and continued to use my iPhone 4S for shooting video and docking in my car to use the BMW Connected app.

When I think about 2013, it was really characterized by the proliferation of app-enhanced hardware. Some people call the combo "packs". These connected devices, whether wearable tech or smart home tech, illustrated the continued maturation of iOS as a platform. I’ll talk about some of those apps working in tandem with devices below.

2013 also saw the arrival of iOS 7, unquestionably the most radical change to the OS since its introduction in 2007. The impact this had across the 3rd party developer landscape can’t be overstated. The retooling of apps to adopt the new design language was so non-trivial, that some developers chose to release new versions of their apps not as updates but entirely new apps. Two of my most used apps from 2012, Tweetbot & Reeder, took the path of releasing as entirely new apps given the radical iOS 7 optimization work.

Now read on for the breakdown of how I got things done on mobile in 2013.

iPhone Apps

Most Used Apps

Google Voice

I’m leading with this one because I have a feeling it won’t make the 2014 list. I’ve used Google Voice since 2009, but the product seems to be languishing with only a single minor app update in 2013. Google seems to be pouring more effort into their Hangouts app, but currently there’s no direct tie into the Voice service on iOS. Further diminishing my enthusiasm for the Google Voice app is the increasing role of OS-level hooks for things like Siri texting or dialing. Unless Google Voice gets some attention in early 2014, I’ll likely port my number out to Verizon. But in 2013, Google Voice was how I did all my texting & outbound calling on my iPhone.


The Facebook app got updated no fewer than 20 times in 2013, and each release showed continued improvement. It’s gotten so good, that I’m rarely interacting with Facebook on my MacBook Pro anymore. Occasional quirks still appear (like some posts missing in the iOS app that are still viewable on the desktop), but for most of my Facebook needs, the app fits the bill.


I’ve bought into the Evernote system. I’m using their Moleskine notebooks, scanning all my mail & other documents into it via a ScanSnap, and taking the dozens of whiteboard photos for archival into Evernote. Having all of that data searchable and instantly accessible wherever I am is beyond awesome. The iOS 7 refresh of the app is gorgeous, too.


Although video capture was added here in 2013, I still find myself using Instagram mostly as a daily photo journaling tool. I keep the app on my main home screen to remind me to look for photo opportunities throughout the day.


My own personal time machine. I check this app every morning to see my digital snippets from that date in previous years that I’ve captured on Twitter, Foursquare & Instagram. It’s entertaining seeing trends, especially around holidays.


This app was previously branded Pair and mentioned in my 2012 roundup. Couple is the messaging app my wife & I use for daily communication with each other. Sticker packs were added this year, too, and my wife seems to be rather fond of the Pug ones. A little more intimate than just using the stock Messages app or Google Voice for general purpose messaging.

Withings Health Mate

I really ramped up my interest in the quantified self movement this year, and this app is kind of the hub of that activity. In April, I ordered one of the Withings Smart Body Analyzers, picked up the Withings Blood Pressure Monitor in May, and finally added the Withings Pulse activity tracker in June. All of the data provided by these 3 devices is collected and displayed within the Health Mate app so I can track progress over time.

iPhone Apps I Began Using More Frequently In 2013


After becoming a paid subscriber in 2012, I effectively centralized all of my non-music files on Dropbox in 2013. Since all my iPhone photos auto-upload to Dropbox, it’s more convenient just having all of my photos, documents, and other files all accessible via Dropbox than having to log into my PC back at the house via something like LogMeIn.

Google Maps

Although I have a navigation system built into my car, sometimes it’s just quicker to search for something via the Google Maps app and drive away with my iPhone sitting on the dashboard providing navigation instead of finding the exact address and plugging that into my car’s system. Especially if I’m making short trips within the city, I find myself just defaulting to my phone more and more. For longer road trips, though, I still prefer using my car’s built-in navigation.


I’d been a longtime Splash ID user dating back to my Palm Pilot days in the late 90s, but in February 2013 I decided to switch over to 1Password for my password management needs when the software went on sale. The integration across iOS & OS X at a more seamless level is what swayed me, and I must say it’s been a definite improvement. I’ve finally improved on diversifying my passwords as a result, and given all of the data breaches we saw in 2013, I’m really glad I did.


After its drastic 2.0 redesign in late 2012, this app gained another feature in 2013 that really increased my usage: auto-upload of the iPhone’s photos in full resolution. Although Dropbox is still providing a safety backup for my photos, Flickr is ultimately where all of my photos end up, so having them automatically uploaded from my iPhone is saving me a step.


After picking up a Chromecast dongle earlier this summer, my usage of the Netflix iPhone app skyrocketed. Why? I attached the Chromecast to a small TV my brother gave me when he moved, setup that TV near my twins’ play area in our living room, and now constantly have cartoons playing on that 2nd TV when we’re watching something else on our main TV. As soon as one cartoon finishes, I queue up another one via the Netflix iPhone app, and the girls’ have their own programming available.


I bought my first Dropcam in early 2012 as a baby monitor for our twins’ nursery. On Memorial Day weekend 2013, my house got shot at (yes, in The Woodlands), and I kind of went into papa bear mode in securing the Casa De Western 4.0. I bought a Glock and a semi-automatic shotgun. I installed enough exterior LED lighting to rival airports. And I went crazy adding more Dropcams onto my home network. How crazy? Enough to merit adding another AirPort Extreme Base Station to my home network to help load-balance the influx of 24/7 video recording. I use the Dropcam app to view all of those video feeds at a glance or drill back into past footage to see what activity there’s been around my house. It also makes for some fun clips like this:


In large part because of its integration with the Withings Health Mate app and the Pebble watch, I’ve started using Runkeeper to track all of my runs and dog walks. Although I still keep all of my activity tracked within the Nike+ world via the FuelBand app, the 3rd party support of Runkeeper makes it a valuable piece of my overall logging system.

Nest Mobile

I received a pair of Nest Thermostats for our house as a birthday gift in 2013, and have since been more excited with thermostats than I ever thought I’d be. Using the iPhone app, I’ve been much more in tune with the house’s energy usage, and particularly enjoy turning on either the AC or heat a few hours before arriving home from a road trip so we arrive home to a comfortable house.

Favorite New iPhone Apps of 2013


I backed the Pebble smart watch on Kickstarter during its 2012 campaign, and finally received my unit in February 2013. While it’s still not what I’d deem a mass market product, I’ve really enjoyed tinkering with mine, and have particularly enjoyed it the 2nd half of the year. Once iOS 7’s Apple Notification Center Service was implemented within the Pebble app, it increased the reliability of getting notifications from your phone to your watch significantly. I now wear mine all the time, and really love the Runkeeper app that runs on it that gives me time/distance/pace info on my wrist during my runs and walks. The Pebble app itself is kind of the conduit that facilitates that interaction between the iPhone and the Pebble watch.


Released early in 2013, Vine did to videos for me what Instagram did for photos. I’ve found myself looking for more opportunities to shoot those 6 second video clips that loop endlessly. You can see the nearly 100 clips I shot in 2013 here:

Tweetbot 3

Although Tweetbot has been on my list for several years, this year saw the release of an entirely new app that leverages the new iOS 7 design language. Tweetbot is the gold standard by which all other social media apps are measured, and Tweetbot 3 reconfirmed that. This app is particularly useful if you have multiple Twitter accounts.

Reeder 2

Another app which chose the new app path for their iOS 7 redesign, Reeder 2 is the long-standing favorite iOS RSS client. Even with the shutdown of Google Reader earlier this year, I found refuge in a service called Feedbin that Reeder supported as an RSS backend. The resulting experience transitioning from Google Reader to Feedbin was painless, and Reeder 2 made the whole experience feel right at home on iOS 7.

ESPN SportsCenter

The Push Notifications from this app are what makes it great, and the development team seemed to recognize that, making per game notifications even easier to quickly set in the app’s major 4.0 release that arrived in late November. Since ESPN is the 800 pound gorilla in sports programming, you’re almost always assured of finding any relevant highlights available within the app, too.


This app pairs with a Bluetooth dongle that plugs into the OBD port of your car. Then all of your driving activity is tracked in a way that suggests improvements in your driving style to optimize fuel efficiency and safety. It’s also kind of interesting to have something of a driving journal so you can see trends over time with commute times.


I’ve long been a fan of If This Then That (aka IFTTT), and the arrival of their iOS app this year just made me love the service more. Using a Trigger & Recipe model, this app allows me to link together different web-based services to automate various portions of my life. For some of the recipes I’ve created, check out my shared ones here:

iPad Apps


When I’m working with email on my iPad, I’m usually looking to do a bit more than just read messages like I do on my iPhone with the native Mail app. I heavily use labels in Gmail, so if I’m looking to label & archive messages as I triage my Inbox, this has proven to be the most effective iPad mail client for me.


We’ve been a TiVo household since 2005, and the past two years have been fantastic when it comes to integration with iOS devices. When we’re traveling, we download shows locally from the TiVo Roamio Pro to the iPad and then watch on the road. In 2013, the iPad app also gained the ability to stream live TV, which I used most often to watch NFL games while we were traveling that weren’t available in the NFL Sunday Ticket app. I also downloaded the full Iron Bowl broadcast to watch on our drive back to Houston from Auburn. War Damn Eagle.


This is perhaps my most used iPad app, especially during college football season. Since the Southeastern Conference has a contract with ESPN (and will be launching the SEC Network this August), my wife & I were almost always assured to have either the LSU or Auburn games available on the iPad via the WatchESPN app if we had the other game on the TV in our living room.


In my opinion, this is still the killer app for a second screen experience. When we’re watching a game or some other live event on TV where there’s a high likelihood that people will be tweeting about it, I just set the iPad beside me on the couch with this app running to watch the backchannel conversation roll in. Sadly the iPad version of Tweetbot didn’t see an iOS 7 refresh in 2013, but hopefully that arrives early in 2014.


Probably my second most used app on the iPad, Kindle quenches my thirst for long-form reading. I blew through 10 books in the Kindle app in 2013, and am targeting at least that many in 2014. While I will occasionally read some chapters of books via the Kindle iPhone app, the iPad incarnation is still my favorite.

Reeder 2

While this app sees much less of my eyeballs than the iPhone version of Reeder 2, if I’m looking for a quick fix of RSS feeds before bed, I regularly spend about half an hour reading through articles in this app. Reeder 2 is a universal app, unlike its predecessor which required different purchases for the iPhone & iPad versions.

NFL Sunday Ticket

Hands down the most expensive app in my library, on account of the required subscription at a rate of $300 each year. But as a New Orleans Saints fan living in Houston, this app (reasonably) assures me that I’ll get to watch every Saints game each season. As I mentioned last year, yes, this is insanely expensive, but it’s still cheaper than going to a sports bar each Sunday.

Tweet Library

I discovered this app early in 2013 and it’s changed the way I dig through my 6,500 tweets from the past 7 years. Tweet Library allows you to import your Twitter archive of tweets (which you request from your Settings page on, and then makes that entire catalogue of tweets searchable to you. Tweet Library is also a full fledged Twitter client, but it’s the import/search functionality that makes it truly stand out.

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