So I get asked every so often to recommend a few apps for a friend's new iPhone or Mac. I figured I could write a post listing a few of my favourites. I'll list them by device/OS, starting with the ones that cross devices. This list may be more indicative of my slightly odd computing habits than the general user experience.
Mac and iOS Apps
One of the things that became apparent while constructing this post was how many of the apps I use that are cross-platform. A strength of using a Mac and an iPhone/iPad is the level of integration that is possible, and the capability provided by iCloud for syncing documents and data. In fact the majority of my regular-use apps have either migrated across devices or were chosen in part because of this feature. It provides a level of consistency and convenience that is not unique to Apple, but certainly is nowhere near as user friendly on other platforms.
Tweetbot is probably the reason I use twitter so much. It is so much better than either the web interface or any of twitter's mobile apps. Even as twitter actively starves the third party API of new features the user experience remains vastly superior. It's more expensive than many apps, particularly for the Mac, but given the frequency of use and the excellent design it was more than worth it. There is an updated iOS 7 iPad version of the app due in the near future; the iPhone app has already been redesigned. The design of this app has always been a leading demonstration of iOS design philosophy and capability, and you probably have to use it and experience the interface to really understand the nuances and thoughtfulness of the interface.
"Tweetbot 3 is a fantastic iOS 7 app; its new design, animations, and navigation improvements will be instrumental to Tweetbot’s future on the platform."
I'd probably describe Ember as your own personal Pinterest. It's a database of images and web clips that you can tag, organise and search using a number of built in functions. It's probably a little bit specialist, and not the cheapest app in the App Store but I get a lot of use out of it. I used it when I was hunting for, and considering commissioning, a new desk. I've used it to collect ideas for characters and locations. Sometimes I use it just to dump things that I think are great and want to be able to come back to. It's an app made with very much stock interface components, but executed with a lot of flair and attention to detail. It has solid functionality for organising collections of images either manually or automatically. With a bit of up front effort to tag and organise images as you add them, making the most of that database later is trivial and productive.
"Ember is a very polished app with a fantastic UI, slick animations, full-screen mode and it's simply a fun app to use and organize images with. If you're a digital creative person and want to organize your screenshots, inspirational images and reference files, Ember could be what you need."
A journalling app and another exceptionally well-designed interface. It syncs over iCloud or Dropbox and the iPhone app integrates location and motion data if you like to keep a record of that kind of stuff. It also supports Markdown, which is a big plus for me. I use it half as a conventional diary and half as a scrapbook of odd photos and events that I wouldn't necessarily have a place to keep them otherwise. While it doesn't do anything unexpected, its strength is in the presentation and cool details. It will record the current weather when you write an entry, note your location, even keep a record of the song playing on iTunes at the time. The numerous little touches make it stand apart from other, similar apps.
"In this age of oversharing, Day One might seem like a quaint idea, but just a few days in its company was revealing. With tagging and favouriting, the tools it gives you are very similar to several social media services (Path springs to mind – a service for life-tracking online). But without an audience to cater to, the results are quite different."
A markdown based plain text / rich text editor that I use pretty much exclusively when I need to write something these days. The fullscreen mode on the Mac is wonderfully minimal, and everything syncs via iCloud or Dropbox. After having to use Microsoft Word for decades (and still being reliant on it at work) the uncluttered, focused interface makes for an ideal writing experience. It has few advanced options or features however, so if you need particularly complex formatting or desktop publishing features it may not be the app for you. I particularly like being able to create a new file and fill it with a few post ideas at any time on my phone, and being able to pick that up and flesh it out on any of my devices when it is convenient. I keep Pages installed for when I need more complex formatting than markdown affords, but that happens so rarely.
"Byword 2 fits somewhere in between a full-fledged word processor (like Word or Pages) and TextEdit. The focus here is on your actual content. Like other text editors, Byword ignores stuff like mail merge, page layouts, tables, and other advanced bells and whistles common to modern word-processing applications. Instead, Byword offers a clean, minimal interface to keep you focused on creating."
Not only is it, in my opinion, the best of the password management apps out there but it's also the most well designed and feature rich. It syncs via iCloud but for many its Dropbox option will be of greater benefit. It allows for access anywhere and there are clients for other platforms if you use other operating systems such as Windows or Android (which do not have iCloud access), but iCloud serves my needs perfectly. 1Password was not affected by Heartbleed recently, and the developers were prompt in providing advice to users and also additional features to help spot and manage compromised web services in the future. They have an active and forward thinking development team, which is a great thing when you're putting a lot of faith in a piece of software. It still requires that you observe some good practice in your approach to online security, but it's a massive help.
"In short, 1Password is the best app for managing your passwords because it does the best job of taking hold of our slippery digital identity, all the myriad digital bits of ourselves we use to prove who we are, and helps ease the friction of our travels through the digital world."
Compared with most of my smartphone using friends I install few iOS apps. These are those that I feel are currently noteworthy and that aren't covered above.
Pushpin is a Pinboard client. Pinboard is an interesting pseudo-social, pseudo-RSS, link aggregation database service that I don't find easily described. I use it in a pretty simple way to keep a history of articles I've read and feel are worth remembering and sharing. My list is available to anyone who cares to take a look. Pushpin itself is a beautiful iOS native reproduction of standard functionality. I originally looked at Pinterest on the strength of Pushpin's reviews and the high-end design work. It might be a bit niche, but you should check it out if you think it might be useful. I am absolutely not using this service to its full potential.
"Pushpin is one of the best ways to interact with Pinboard on iOS. If you’re a fan of Pinboard (and you should be), do yourself a favor and buy this app because it’s the best."
Reeder is my RSS client of choice, and as I write this Reeder 2 for OS X is undergoing public beta (likely to be launched within a month or so of my publishing this post). Reeder is, as are many of my app choices, simple and easy to use, focused on functionality and extremely well designed. The death of Google Reader and the move to other services was tough on Reeder, which has taken longer than some to catch up to the new world order, but its elegance has easily been worth the wait in my opinion. It supports integration with an impressive list of third party apps and services, which I make use of to save articles for later reading, archiving to Pinboard or sharing with friends. I am so impatient for the new OS X version.
"I am also conflicted because, if you consider the app’s new gesture and design direction, Reeder’s overall experience could be considered the fundamental feature of version 2. I can’t stress enough how the app’s transitions, animations, one-handed operability and details contribute to making Reeder a pleasure to navigate, especially on the iPhone."
OS X Apps
I have a single, solitary app to include in the OS X exclusive section. Though I use more, this is the app that I feel has the most value but isn't covered above.
One of the things missing from the software that comes pre-installed on a Mac is an image editing app. It's understandable; something on a par with MS Paint is virtually useless to everybody, and most people that edit images professionally or as a hobby will have fairly specific requirements and features that they rely on. I'm not sure there's a one size fits all solution. Bridging the gap between basic image creation / photo touch-up and a high end professional image editing tool is Pixelmator. It's easy enough to get the basics for those of us who only need to occasionally do some image tidying or add a caption to a lolcat, but it also has advanced capabilities that you might otherwise look to Photoshop to fulfil. I can't speak to the technical limitations of Pixelmator, but for its modest cost I have all the power I will ever need.
"Despite the fact that certain Pixelmator features resemble those found in Photoshop, Pixelmator is not Photoshop, and it does not pretend to be. Still, it will likely please many photography enthusiasts who do not have to work in CMYK or other color spaces or modes, and who don’t need video capability or sophisticated Photoshop-style nondestructive adjustment layers. Moreover, while photo pros who collaborate in groups or work in standardized environments still need Photoshop, most hobbyists probably do not."