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My Must-Have iPhone Apps, 2013 Edition

Must-Have iPhone Apps 2013

Must-Have iPhone Apps 2013

For the past three years, I’ve been running a series called “My Must-Have Mac Apps” that, once a year, would list the apps that I found indispensable on my Mac. This year, considering the changes that I went through from a workflow perspective, I thought it would be appropriate to start focusing on iOS as well. The first installment was about the iPad; then, I covered the Mac; today, I’m going to conclude this year’s series with the iPhone.

Like many others, I don’t use the “phone” part of the iPhone much. The iPhone is my portable computer. And I have lots of apps on it.

My workflow has changed a lot over the years. I used to have a MacBook Pro and I later got an iMac and replaced the MacBook Pro with a MacBook Air. I thought that I’d always need the Air but then I was forced to work from an iPad and I didn’t like it. As I kept trying, I ended up liking my iPad setup so much that I turned it into a tool more versatile than my Mac and wrote a book on it. But the way I use my iPhone has never changed: the iPhone is the computer that’s always with me. If anything, the software that runs on it has evolved through the years, with apps getting more powerful, inter-connected, and, in some cases, “desktop class”. And then, earlier this year, iOS 7 happened.

As expected, iOS 7 provided a fantastic opportunity for developers to reimagine and redesign their apps to take advantage of Apple’s new OS features and design language. Three months into iOS 7, I think that the developer response has been remarkable, but the results are very much still in flux. For the apps that I use on a daily basis, I’ve seen a few major relaunches of apps rebuilt from the ground-up for iOS 7, apps that still have to be optimized for it, and a lot of “compatibility redesigns” that brought lighter color schemes and translucencies without substantially altering the way an app works or is structured for iOS 7. As Apple itself is still trying to fully understand their own new design language, I think it’s fair to assume that third-party developers will need more time to really “get” iOS 7.

As I thought about the apps I wanted to include in this year’s last installment of the Must-Have Apps series, I realized that there was a good mixture of software that was built before and after iOS 7. As usual, my goal was to mention apps that I consider must-haves for my daily workflow, and for this reason you’ll find a mix of brand new iOS 7 apps, minor iOS 7 design updates, and a few pre-iOS 7 apps too. When it comes to having the best tool for the job, I value utility over fashion, and I cherish an old app if it still is the best for me.

The list below includes my 50 top picks and is organized in four sections: Main, for apps that I use several times every day; News, for discovering links and staying on top of RSS; Entertainment, for media consumption; and Utilities, for single-purpose apps that I use often but not heavily every day. Each app is listed with its App Store link and, at the end of the article, you’ll find my iPhone app of the year.

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My Must-Have Mac Apps, 2013 Edition

Must Have Mac Apps 2013

Must Have Mac Apps 2013

For the past three years, I’ve been running a series called “My Must-Have Mac Apps” that, once a year, would list the apps that I found indispensable on my Mac. This year, considering the changes that I went through from a workflow perspective, I thought it would be appropriate to start focusing on iOS as well. The first installment was about the iPad; today, I’m going to talk about the Mac.

As I wrote when Mavericks was released, I don’t need my Mac as much as I used to. I can do most of my work from iOS (particularly from my iPad mini), but that doesn’t mean that I don’t need a Mac for some tasks or that I’ve stopped using it altogether. I still have to use a few OS X-only apps and tools to get work done – stuff that wouldn’t be possible on an iPad, no matter how hard I try.

I may not be covering new Mac app releases on a weekly basis anymore, but, honestly, 2013 has been the year of iOS 7, with thousands of third-party developers shifting their focus to Apple’s mobile platform in order to update and redesign their apps in time for September. And the fact that Mavericks didn’t bring a radical new design or groundbreaking user features didn’t help either, as developers of Mac apps chose to release updates that focused on under-the-hood improvements and general optimizations.

And yet, in spite of a new design direction and several changes to built-in apps, iOS 7 still doesn’t come with valid alternatives to the stuff OS X is great at: a filesystem with easy management of files that can be opened by multiple apps, precision editing with a cursor, command line utilities, system-wide automation tools, and more. For as much as the iOS ecosystem is maturing and changing at an incredible pace, I haven’t stopped using my Mac and there are some things that can only be done on OS X. And therefore, like every year, I have put together a list of the apps that I consider my must-haves – apps that I install every time I set up my Mac and that I use regularly.

This year, I’ve simplified the list and gotten rid of extra layers for apps that I’m no longer using. You can compare the 2013 list to last year’s one and follow links from there to go back to previous years. You also won’t find last year’s section for price and Mac App Store stats at the bottom: developers often make price changes and release new versions of their apps outside the Mac App Store, so, ultimately, those stats couldn’t be properly contextualized over time.

The list below is organized in four sections: Main, for apps that I use several times every day; Writing, for tools that I employ to research and craft articles for MacStories; and Image & Video Editing, listing apps that allow me to put together screencasts, GIFs, and images for the site. Each app is listed with its App Store/website link and, at the end of the article, you’ll find my Mac app of the year.
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My Must-Have iPad Apps, 2013 Edition

Must Have iPad Apps 2013

Must Have iPad Apps 2013

For the past three years, I’ve been running a series called “My Must-Have Mac Apps” that, once a year, would list the apps that I found indispensable on my Mac. This year, considering the changes that I went through from a workflow perspective, I thought it would be appropriate to start focusing on iOS as well. I’d like to start with the iPad.

I’ve been working primarily from my iPad for the past 15 months. For a variety of personal reasons that I’ve discussed before, I found myself unable to work from my Mac every day, so I decided to try and see whether the iPad and iOS could be viable OS X replacements – not just companions. I ended up enjoying the iPad as a work device and, eventually, as a primary device powered by terrific apps that allow me to be more efficient on iOS.

From a high-level, conceptual standpoint, this isn’t a new topic for MacStories readers or listeners of The Prompt. In the end, though, it all comes down to the apps – the software that I use on my iPad for work and play, for productivity and entertainment.

Hence, “My Must-Have iPad Apps”. I consider this the first installment, even though it technically isn’t: I published similar articles in 2010 and 2011, but I skipped 2012 – the year when I really got serious about working from the iPad. This year’s installment is a reboot of the iPad series, which I’m going to publish regularly from now on; if you want, you can check back on the old articles linked above to see if there are apps that I’ve been using for three years (spoiler: yes).

The list below is organized in four sections: Main, for apps that I use several times every day; News, for discovering links and staying on top of RSS; Entertainment, for media consumption; and Utilities, for single-purpose apps that I use often but not heavily every day. Each app is listed with its App Store link and, at the end of the article, you’ll find my iPad app of the year. Read more


My Must-Have iPad Apps, 2011 Edition

Last year, six months after the release of the original iPad, I published an article called “My Must-Have 20 iPad Apps” in which I collected my favorite iPad applications – the ones I used and enjoyed the most – as of September 2010. Fast forward thirteen months, the iPad’s software ecosystem has matured into something completely different from last year’s “experimentation” stage, when third-party developers, and quite possibly Apple as well, were still trying to figure out how, exactly, the iPad would change our digital lifestyles. Looking back to the iPad 1 and the App Store in 2010, it’s no surprise the list of apps I have today is so much different.

In the past year, Apple has sold millions of iPads and has seen the device being used in far more variegate scenarios than they initially expected. The whole point of the iPad: Year One video presented at the iPad 2’s introduction in March was, in fact, to showcase not only the hardware and software capabilities of the device, admittedly improved over the past months, but to demonstrate how the iPad has entered more markets than “consumer technology” alone. The iPad is being used by pilots, doctors, teachers, parents and artists who have found a whole new dimension through the tablet’s multi-touch screen. If the demographics of the iPad expanded to new segments and usage scenarios, so did the kinds of apps that are available on the App Store.

Once again, Apple itself has set new standards for developers to write their apps against. With iOS 5 and iCloud, released in October, the company is providing third-party app makers with powerful new tools to optimize their software and make it interconnected across devices and platforms. But I believe that there’s been a shift in “iPad development mentality” among developers and users alike that goes way back prior to iCloud’s announcement and launch. Sure, iOS 5 and iCloud will lead towards a future of invisible cloud backups and app connections, but Ambitious iOS Apps started making their way to the App Store before iCloud and all these latest, greatest software updates. It was immediately after the 2010 holiday season and the “second wave” of iPad apps that developers realized the iPad could be so much more. And so they wrote great, innovative, standard-setting apps that shaped the past thirteen months and are helping us transition to the next great revolution – the cloud and the post-PC device.

It’s always been about the apps. And I’m fairly certain that as long as Apple doesn’t focus on hardware specs alone and stands at the intersection of technology and liberal arts, it’ll always be about great software, rather than processors and RAM amounts. And more importantly, it will be about the people creating the apps that we use every day.

So here’s my list of “must-have” apps that have improved my workflow and ultimately made it more fun to use the iPad in the past year. And here’s to another year of iPad. Read more


My Must-Have 20 iPad Apps

Following yesterday’s post about the must-have Mac apps I install every time I have to play with a new installation of OS X, I thought it would be interesting to talk about my iPad setup as well.

Of course the iPad is a different machine from MacBooks: not just because it’s an entirely new kind of computing machine, the concept of “OS installation” itself is radically different. On OS X, installation is a clunky process that can take up to several minutes at best; as for the transition from an OS to another, OS X doesn’t come with the simple Backup / Restore system iOS  has. Sure you have Time Machine and Migration Assistant, but those tools aren’t as consumer-friendly as iOS and iTunes.

Speaking of which, that’s exactly what makes iOS different: iOS devices live inside iTunes. iTunes handles the updates, backups, restores, fresh installations and applications. For these reasons, installing apps on an iPad running a fresh new OS is a different story then OS X. Most users have never messed with restore and betas, so they never really had to deal with “starting anew all over again”. I did, and here are the apps I install every single time my iPad needs to be synchronized for the first time. My must-haves. Read more