Apple's iPhone contains several handfuls of apps that are pre-loaded on to the phone and included in the purchase price. That's a good start...but it's only a good start. There are now hundreds of thousands of additional apps in Apple's online App Store, any of which can be downloaded on to your phone to give it greater versatility. Thanks to these apps, you can turn your iPhone into a mini-TV, a GPS gadget, a portable documents editor, or a machine for playing Angry Birds and zillions of other games, to give just a few examples. What types of iPhone apps might come in handiest for you?
Here's my list of ten types of apps that you might want to download. Fortunately, most of the iPhone apps in Apple's App Store are free, although a few range upward to the $500-and-more bracket. Unless otherwise indicated, the apps below are free.
A word to the wise, though, Unless an app is free, take extra time to read app-specific reviews on Brighthand, the App Store and elsewhere prior to downloading. The iPhone doesn't give you the same "try free before you buy" option that you can get with desktop software.
1. A Social-Networking App (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
Many of us make regular use of "social 2.0" applications/sites/services, whether for work, pleasure, or both. Apps specifically tailored to the iPhone's form factor will be a lot easier to work with on the phone than the site's default Web page accessed through the mobile browser.
Social networking services with iPhone editions include Facebook, Flickr, and Google. Beyond that, Twitter client apps are available for the iPhone in a variety of flavors, such as Twitter's own iPhone app, Tweetdeck, and Tweetlogix for Twitter ($1.99).
2. An eReading app (for eBooks)
Quite obviously, the iPhone is smaller than an iPad, a Kindle, or a Nook. So it might not be your first or even second choice for extended reading. But if you're already carrying an iPhone anyway, it can't hurt to be ready to read e-books in your spare moments, instead of gaming or instant messaging (IMing).
Popular e-book apps for the iPhone include Apple's own iBooks, Kindle for iPhone, and Overdrive, an app used by many public libraries.
3. A Photography App
Apple's built-in Camera app isn't bad, and the new version for iOS 5 brings many new features. But what if you like to edit and share photos, or if you simply want features that Camera doesn't include? Well, then, consider downloading one or more photography apps. You can put several on your phone, and they'll all work with the same pool of photos.
Do you like messing around with frames and effects? If so, you might want to check out MacPhun's FX Studio ($1.99). Do you Want quick-click posting to Facebook and email? Try Corel Slingshot. If you simply want more camera features, Camera Plus Pro ($1.99) is an option.
4. A GPS (or other) Route Mapper
If you're a fitness or sports type, you probably don't need me to sell you on this. But even if you simply do a bunch of walking, driving or traveling, these can be highly useful.
Fullpower's MotionX-GPS app ($2.99), for example, not only maps the route you've been walking, biking, driving, etc. (complete with time, distance, speed and other statistics), but it can also show you nearby points of interest, and lots more.
5. Voice, Text, and/or Video Chat App(s)
Lots of people use their iPhones for real-time chat over the Internet, whether through voice, IM, or video conferencing. Although the iPhone includes a Phone app (and iOS comes with the new iMessage app), you might want to expand your choices through additional app(s).
Why the popularity of Internet-based chat? First, using carriers' services for SMS and MMS messaging doesn't come cheap, even though industry estimates say that these messages only cost carriers about a cent each. (At ten or twenty cents each to you, messages can add up in price. A monthly "unlimited" plan can also be expensive.) Second, in some locations, you won't be able to get cellular voice service, just WiFI.
In the IM category alone, there are loads of IM networks, including AOL, Google Talk, MSN Live, Messenger, and Jabber, plus chatter via Facebook, Twitter, etc. You'll want an IM client app that supports the networks you want to access. Aside from the new iMessage feature in iOS 5, IM apps for the iPhone include AOL IM (free edition), Meebo, and Fring, to name a few.
6. A Flashlight App
Yes, it might seem like a lot of overkill to use your much costlier iPhone like a three-dollar mini-flashlight. But why tote a (physical) flashlight along with you when you own an iPhone?
Flashlight apps can suddenly come in handy more often than you might think. These apps are great for when you're looking for the right key or something you dropped in the dark -- or when you're trying to read a map or directions while sitting in a car.
There are lots of flashlight apps out there, ranging from free to a buck or two in price. Some light up the screen, whereas others use the photo-flash light. Some incorporate additional useful or whacky features, like strobing or blinking. Check out John Haney Software's Flashlight app and Blue Sky Flashlight ($0.99).
7. QR and/or Bar Code Scanner
Two-dimensional QR ("Quick Response") bar codes are showing up on more and more products, as well as in newspapers, books, TV ads, and posters at travel spots. Typically, these QR codes include a URL for accessing a Web site which will give you expanded information about the product you own or what you see advertised. A QR app for your iPhone will take your browser there.
Bar code apps, on the other hand, let you check prices from your phone while you're shopping, among other things. Bar/QR code scanner apps for the iPhone include Occipital and Red Laser.
8. A Password-Security App
You're probably not carrying as many sensitive files on your iPhone as on an iPad or notebook. Yet the apps you've loaded on to your phone, and the web sites you've accessed from it, could include your bank, Amazon, eBay, and a whole lot more.
A password security app gives you a secure place on your phone to store and manage what might amount to as many as dozens of passwords. Two often recommended ones are iPassword and Ascendo, each priced at $9.99.
(By the way, also in the name of smartphone security, be sure to initialize the Find My iPhone app that comes with your phone, just in case your iPhone ever gets lost, stolen, or simply misplaced under a pile of papers or laundry.)
9. An App for taking credit card numbers by iPhone
An app like this can come in handy for more than just selling crafts at a flea market on a Sunday afternoon. If you're a small business owner, you might want one of these.
Even if you're not, this kind of app can make it easier to split the dinner tab at a restaurant. You merely accept payments from your fellow diners before paying the full tab. A company called Square makes software of this sort. Square's app and the accompanying hardware card reader are free, but Square takes 2.75% of each transaction.
10. Your Favorite Type of App Here
In browsing through the App Store, you're sure to encounter, try out and use much more than these ten types of apps. Depending on your tastes, your own favorites might turn out to include music/radio apps like Pandora and TuneRadio; news aggregators like Pulse or FlipBoard; dining and travel aids like Yelp and TripIt; streaming entertainment services such as NetFlix or Hulu Plus...The list goes on almost endlessly.
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