Dougal Campbell's geek ramblings

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Dougal’s must-have iPhone app list

My brother-in-law, John, recently got an iPhone 3Gs (lucky dog). Knowing that I also had an iPhone (though mine is the older “2G” model), he asked what apps I recommended. I’ve got a ton of apps installed, many of which I never really use, and should probably delete. But here are the ones that I actually find myself launching with some regularity, grouped into rough categories, all free, except where noted:


This is a great note-taking app. There are native desktop clients for Windows and Mac, a web version, and native iPhone and Blackberry apps. It lets you make text notes, photos, web page bookmarks and clippings, and voice notes, and sync them wherever you are.
Lets you bookmark a web page for later reading. When you sync it, it will save a phone-optimized offline version in your phone which you can pull up and read at your leisure, even if you’re stuck without a network connection.
Night Stand
Use your phone to replace the alarm clock on your night stand. Simple. Obvious. Useful.
Snap a picture of an item on a store shelf. It will try to find it on and show your prices for it.
Voice commands for your phone. Dial contacts, post to Twitter and Facebook, select songs in your iTunes library, all by voice. When they add SMS texting as a feature, Vlingo’s Jedi training will be complete.
With a little practice, DialX will let you manually dial phone numbers (you know, for phone numbers that aren’t already in your contacts) without having to look at the screen. I actually used this once, and it made it moderately less dangerous to dial while driving.
Free e-book reader. For free e-books. I’ve read a couple of Cory Doctorow’s free sci-fi novels with this. And yes, it has the ability to download legal, free e-books built right in.

Social Networking

I just like messing with geolocation stuff. Integrates with Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr.
Tweetdeck, Nambu, Twitterific, Tweetie ($2.99), Hahlo (web app), Twinkle
These are some of the Twitter clients I’ve played with. Tweetdeck and Nambu are notable for having support for groups. And Tweetdeck can sync settings between your phone and the desktop version. Hahlo isn’t actually an app, but an iphone-optimized web interface. But it’s so good, it makes you think it’s a native app. Twinkle is…a little different. I never really got exactly how it ties in with Twitter. But for location-based infostream, it’s kinda nifty, and worth a look.
The official Facebook app. Maybe useful, maybe not. Probably depends on how you use Facebook.


The Weather Channel
I like the Weather Channel app better than the wimpy Yahoo-based one that comes with the iPhone.
When you aren’t listening to your iPod, you might be listening to an ancient technology that the Old Ones called “radio”. And you might hear a song that you like, but you don’t know the name of it, or who sings it. Fire up Shazam, and it will magically identify the artist and song for you. And it will provide you convenient links to the iTunes store, YouTube videos, artist bios, etc. I’ve even had this app identify songs while I was wheeling a shopping cart around a department store with a lot of background noise. It just rocks.
Flixster Movies
Info about currently playing movies, theaters, and showtimes. There are many such apps. This is just the one I use.
Up-to-the-minute sports scores. Of course, the only sports scores I care about are usually for Auburn football. But this app gives you scores for other sports teams anyways. I’m not sure why they bother.
The best iPhone interface to IMDB that I’ve been able to find so far. Which isn’t to say that it’s great, but it’s (mostly) better than trying to navigate the website in Mobile Safari. What I do like is that the information it provides is readable. What I don’t like is that it doesn’t present all the information I usually want in the filmography (the number of appearances for an actor in a series, or the character name). You also can only search for an actor by real name, not character name. I’m hoping they’ll release an improved version one day.
I Can Has Cheezburger
I lurvs me some LOLcats. I just have to avoid looking at this in public places, because people start to stare at me when I suddenly burst out in uncontrollable laughter. You might argue that this belongs in games. Go ahead, argue.


There are many beer apps. This is the one I have. It’s no longer available in the iTunes store. Maybe try iBeer for $0.99. Generally impressive to people who still haven’t seen an iPhone up close before.
Popping bubblewrap. As a game. Kids love it. Get a screen protector.
Lightsaber Unleashed
Come on, do I really have to tell you anything about this? Just download it, already.
This is one of the few games I’ve downloaded that I actually spent much time playing. There are zillions of iPhone games based on Tower Defense out there. And I hear that many of them are quite good. Some of them cost money. This one is free, and it’s the only one I’ve tried, because I just don’t have all that much time for games. But I’ve enjoyed it, so it’s the one I’m recommending.
Koi Pond ($0.99)
A tranquil koi pond with (optional) sound effects and other goodies. You can shake the phone to feed the fish. You can splash the water and scare the fish. You can drag the water lilies around. You can hold your finger in the water and the fish will nibble you. Another one that kids like. And me, too.

Again, I have other apps on my phone — over 60 more that I didn’t mention above, not to mention built-in stuff like Google Maps, YouTube, and the Calendar. But these are the ones that I actually launch and use on a regular (or at least somewhat regular) basis. What are your “must-have” apps? Do you know a better alternative to some of the ones I mentioned?

About Dougal Campbell

Dougal is a web developer, and a "Developer Emeritus" for the WordPress platform. When he's not coding PHP, Perl, CSS, JavaScript, or whatnot, he spends time with his wife, three children, a dog, and a cat in their Atlanta area home.
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23 Responses to Dougal’s must-have iPhone app list

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