Like most people, I have software tools that I return to again and again. Here are my favorites, the ones that have stood the test of time, along with links where to get them.
I didn’t start out this way, but these days I’m pretty much committed to Apple products. Many of these recommendations are available on multiple platforms, but there are some that are strictly for use with Macs, iPhones and iPads.
- First and foremost, 1Password is simplest way to protect your passwords for safer computing (iPhone, iPad, and also on the Mac and Windows). I’m always surprised when I see people aren’t using a reputable password manager. For me, this one is the best. It works beautifully with all my devices.
- For personal productivity, I’ve wholly subscribe to David Allen’s Getting Things Done philosophy. OmniFocus (iPhone, iPad, and on the Mac) is a terrific tool for managing whatever I’m doing with my time. It’s one of the first things I install on new devices.
- For Twitter, I haven’t found anything better than Tweetbot (iPhone, iPad, and on the Mac).
- I’m a news junky, so I have all the usual suspects, like CNN, USA Today, BBC News, etc.
- Good journalism is worth supporting. I pay to read the New York Times (iPhone, iPad), the Washington Post (iPhone, iPad), the Boston Globe (iPhone, iPad), and the Wall Street Journal (iPhone, iPad) every day with their excellent apps.
- PCalc is the calculator that should’ve been included with iOS. Infinitely customizable (iPhone, iPad, and on the Mac).
- I’ve long ago replaced Evernote with Microsoft OneNote, a tool whose organizational metaphor just makes sense to me. Microsoft has done a nice job, too, and incremental improvements to OneNote and made it freely available (iPhone, iPad, on the Mac and Windows).
- I like to keep a journal. For me, Day One Journal (iPhone, iPad) is the way to do that right. It’s a beautifully done app with plenty of flexibility for doing things the way you like.
- As a replacement for the weak iOS calendar I prefer TimePage by Moleskine (iPhone, iPad).
- For quick note taking, I think that it’s hard to beat Drafts (iPhone, iPad).
- For short-form writing, or as much as you can do on an iPad or iPhone, it’s iA Writer (iPhone, iPad, and on the Mac) for me.
- For longform writing the tool called Scrivener is an excellent mix of writing environment and project management (iPhone, iPad, and on the Mac). It’s also available or Windows.
Magazines and Journals
There are a number of apps that build a customized magazine, of sorts, based on your interests. The best of these, in my view is Flipboard (iPhone, iPad), though I really liked Zite before it was prematurely killed off. Visually, Flipboard is stunning, in my opinion.
If you like reading physical magazines you should try Texture (iPhone, iPad). For a monthly fee you have access to a large and growing collection of periodicals, as well as access to back issues. Texture has all the usual culprits: Time, Newsweek, National Geographic, and Sports Illustrated plus a nice set of business (Bloomberg, Forbes, Fortune), cooking (Bon Appétit, Saveur, Eating Well) and lifestyle (Esquire, Billboard, Atlantic) selections, too. Not every magazine is there, particularly not professional journals, but many are included. You can read online with the app, or download the issues you want to read when offline.
When it comes to professional journals, again and again I’m awed at the vast quantities available to us through the Internet. Services like JSTOR put all of this at our fingertips and many can be accessed free-of-charge using credentials offered as a benefit to alumni of major universities. It’s worth checking to see if you’re affiliations make such research tools available to you.
The NetFlix app lets you stream (and in some cases, download) movies directly to your device.
HBO subscribers should download HBO Go. It’s a very rich app with extensive HBO content, including movies, documentaries, and original series. I really like how it allows you to go back and watch just about any episode of any season of popular HBO series like “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Deadwood,” “The Sopranos” and many more. The same is true for other pay networks like Showtime and Starz.
If you’re a fan of 60 Minutes (iPhone, iPad) definitely buy their app. It doesn’t give you unlimited access to their archives, but it gives you a lot. You can always watch their most recent segments, too. They also provide some “extras” of footage that didn’t make it to the air.
I recommend the PBS app for a ton of great content, though over the years they’ve begun to limit access to some content just to donors.
If you like movies, check out Apple’s Trailers app. There’s also a handy movie reference app called IMDb. The Fandango app shows you what’s playing in theaters nearby along with showtimes and access to trailers. You can even order tickets through Fandango and pick them up when you get there.
In addition to the iBooks app that comes with iOS you should also download the free Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook apps for purchasing and reading books you buy from those outlets. Remember, not all books are available from all outlets, so sometimes what you’re looking for will only be available on Amazon or B&N. If you already have purchased books for an Amazon Kindle you will be able to read them on your iOS device using the Amazon Kindle app.
Food & Drink
I like to eat, I like to drink, and I like to cook and mix cocktails. If any of this applies to you too, you’ll find both the New York Times Cooking and Bon Appetít’s Epicurious worthwhile. They provides access to tons of recipes and instructional videos. They also has great options for filtering down to exactly what you’re looking for (e.g., a low-fat main course with beef that’s prepared on the grill).
For keeping track of recipes I use Paprika (iPhone, iPad, and on the Mac and Windows). It’s ability to scrape complete recipes from just about any web page is legendary. It also helps me make a shopping list that sync between my devices, so it’s on my phone when I’m out shopping.
The How To Cook Everything app hasn’t been updated in a long time but it’s an excellent iPad-version of a very good book by former New York Times columnist Mark Bittman, which I highly recommend.
If you’re more interested in eating out, check out Yelp which is a broad community of independent reviewers. It helps you find what’s available nearby (Italian restaurants near where I am right now, for example) and shows you reviews. I don’t always find the reviews reliable, but they’re not altogether worthless, either.
Increasingly, I can view menus and get a reservation at most restaurants using the convenient OpenTable app. There are some loyalty rewards for using OpenTable, though for me, it’s about the sheer convenience.
I’m not much of a gamer, but there are few I’ve found fun. None of these are shoot-em-up style games, so if that’s what appeals to you, these won’t be too interesting.
There’s a few old board games that have been nicely redone on the iPad. You can play by yourself or against people online or sitting side by side with someone. I especially like Yahtzee (iPhone, iPad), Scrabble (iPhone, iPad), Risk (iPhone, iPad), and Monopoly (iPhone, iPad). If you like Solitaire try the Mondo Solitaire app, which has over 50 different solitaire variations (iPhone, iPad).
A couple cerebral games I found fun are Mini Metro (iPhone, iPad), Monument Valley (iPhone, iPad) Osmos HD (iPhone, iPad), and Contre Jour (iPhone, iPad). These are hard to explain but very enjoyable.
Finally, I’ll mention Atari Greatest Hits (iPhone, iPad), which brings to iOS many of the classic old Atari games like Pong, Centipede and Asteroid. Not always so easy to play, tbut nostalgic fun nonetheless.
Odds ‘n Ends
These recommendations don’t really fall into any specific categories.
I can’t say enough about Instapaper. It’s one of my favorite apps, but it scratches an itch you might not realize you have. What it does it allows you to read articles you find on the web using your iPad. This is the use case: you see an article on the web but don’t have time to read it, so you save it to your Instapaper account. Later, when you open the Instapaper app on your iPad, it download the article and strips away everything but the text. There are no ads, not banners, nothing but the article itself. Even if the article spanned dozens of pages, in most cases Instapaper will grab the whole thing so that you can read it using their app. Since Instapaper literally download the article to your iPad you can now read it offline, when you don’t have an Internet connection. The iPad reading experience is excellent, with support for the font choices you like and a built-in dictionary. The guy who developed this software is passionate about reading and, while I may not be describing it well, I feel confident you’ll find Instapaper extremely useful.
I know some educators have strong feels against Wikipedia, the global encyclopedia that can be edited by just about anyone. Still, I find it useful from time to time and I use it knowing full well that I can’t necessarily believe everything I read there. If you do use Wikipedia download the app Wikipanion which formats the Wikipedia website perfectly for reading on your iPad.
There’s a phenomenal, highly-regarded mathematics program for Windows and Mac computers called Mathematica by Wolfram Research. Mathematica is relatively expensive but the company offers very attractive pricing for students and individuals who want to use it for non-commercial purposes. I use Mathematica for fun all the time and find it unparalleled. It can handle complex math like nothing else I’ve seen.
The people behind Mathematica also offer WolframAlpha.com, a web site gives you access to all kinds of interesting, curated information. Because it’s based on Mathematica you can ask it all matter of math questions, but it also offers data on chemistry, physics, engineering, history, weather, geography, linguistics, nutrition, education, medicine, shopping, life sciences, etc.
For example, at WolframAlpha.com you can type in “Norway vs USA education expenditures per high school student” to get an interesting result. Or, type in “2 slices of bread + 1 slice swiss cheese + 1/2 avocado + 1 slice tomato” and watch it produce a standard US Nutritional Label for just those ingredients. You can even ask untechnical questions, like “when did the Beatles break up?”
A few more odds and ends:
- If you have any interest in making music try GarageBand on the iPhone or iPad, which is practically magical. If your interests in music creation run deeper, let me know and I can recommend some other more complex music-generation tools. A lot of talented programmers have put a ton of effort into making the iOS a legitimate music creation platform.
- If you subscribe to Sirius/XM, there’s a decent app for listening to this service through your iPad. Again, this is streaming, not downloading so you can’t (except in limited circumstances that they dictate) save the content for listening offline (like when you’re on an airplane). The Spotify (iPhone, iPad) and Napster (iPhone, iPad) music services are excellent and have huge libraries of content (and will even let you save some content to your iPad for listening when you don’t have an Internet connection).
- For travel planning I really like Kayak.
- If you deal with PDF documents a lot, I recommend a PDF viewer/editor such as iAnnotate PDF (iPhone, iPad) or Documents (iPhone, iPad).
- For access to financial markets and real-time stock data check out apps from CNBC RealTime, Reuters Marketboard, Bloomberg, and Fox Business.
- If you ever find yourself wondering, “what is that song?” check out SoundHound and Shazam, which can listen to a song for a few seconds and tell you in most cases exactly what it is and how you can buy it. These things work like magic.