How to Find Good Apps

15 08 2010

Unfortunately there is no magical formula for finding a good App. The Appstore has well over 225,000 Apps on the store, at the time of writing, and as a result trying to find a good App, amongst the mediocrity and down right rubbish, can be quite a daunting and a time consuming task. However, in an attempt to provide a guide for you, and other weary App hunters, I have put together some pointers for finding good Apps.

User Interface

In a nutshell this is how you will interact and navigate around the Application. A good user interface will promote the use of the App through highlighting and making it easy to use the App’s features. As you may have noticed, through the general day to day use of your iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad, Apple excels at this. As you can imagine, the user interface plays an important role and if you’ve read any of the reviews on the site, you will of noticed that one of the first things I scrutinise is, the user interface, since it heavily influences the final product.

Examples of a good user interfaces can easily be found on the Appstore, through simply looking at the provided screenshots, however, I’ve decided to highlight two Apps; the first being, I’am T-Pain. The developer has spent a lot of time creating a visually appealing interface that not only promotes navigation around and the overall usability, but also encourages user to use the App. While, the I am T-Pain App is a good example of an elaborate user interface, in the opposite end of the spectrum, Spendometer, provides a much more straight forward approach, which when in comparison to the elaborate visual eye candy of the T-Pain App, looks almost bare bones. Regardless, the point remains the same, since Spendometer still provides a good interface for the user, but in a starkly different way to the T-Pain App. Spendometer focuses upon allowing users to easily access the functions and interrupt the data easily.

Price

It would be natural to assume that as the price increase, so does the quality of the Application, and while you wouldn’t be far wrong, as always there are some exceptions to the rule. Such an example of this is the official Twitter Application, which unlike it’s competitors, is free. The Twitter App is arguably the best Twitter client on the iOS platform, since the Twitter service merely bought the developers of the high successful Tweetie 2 App and re branded it as the official Application. Another example of this, can be seen been the paid and free version of the Runkeeper Application. The paid version adds very few additional features when compared with the free version. If you can put up with a small advert banner, along the bottom of the App, then there is no reason why you shouldn’t pick the free version over the paid Runkeeper App.

Relevant Feature Set

A number of Apps on the store have an impressive array of features, however not all are relevant or useful. A good App should tow the line between the quantity of features and the quality and relevance of them.  A good example of this is 2Do, an App that aims to please those with the desire to track, manage and set a vast to do list. 2Do has an ever expanding array of features that are all designed around the core functionality of the App. The App offers a number of relevant features, such as the 2Do sync that backups and updates the 2Do data on your computer. As well as the extensive search feature, combined with the calendar integration, helps the user sort and find tasks.

What do the people say?

One of the easiest ways to find good Apps on the Appstore, is to spend a little time doing some research before committing to a purchase. The Appstore provides a rudimentary way for people to rate and review Apps that they have downloaded, and while some can be unhelpful, you can still get a useful insight into the quality of an App. Rather unsurprisingly, Apps that are good tend to get a higher average star rating than their bad counterparts. Also, make sure that you read the reviews for the latest version of the App

Another good way to find out about Apps is to have a look around the site and search for Apps. If you have a new iPhone, check out my posts, ‘I’ve just got an iPhone, now what?, part 1 and part 2. Furthermore, for an example of a good App, see my review of Flight Control or Opera Mini. For an example of a bad App, see my review of Kickball.

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I’ve just bought an iPhone, now what? Part 2

30 07 2010

Welcome to the second of three posts covering all the categories in the Appstore. This post has been a long time coming but it’s finally here. As before, to download an Application, click on the corresponding icon and those Apps mentioned with a review on the site will have a link to the review.

Health and Fitness :

Runkeeper- This app aims to get us all off our sofa and out into rain and pounding the streets. The Runkeeper App is heavily focused around it’s core function- that of accurately recording your run data, using a combination of the device’s GPS and timing. A good example of the level of care that’s gone into ensuring this level of accuracy, is the traffic light system that has been employed for symbolising how strong the GPS signal is. The feature set of the Application is further extended when it’s linked with a free account at runkeeper.com, which primary role is to allows user to upload their data from the App, to their account on the site. The site provides further statisical breakdowns of your run data and allows you to do other things, such as join a street team, which is a group of locals runners. (Free and paid version, £5.99 , scored 4/5 in an Appjudge review)

iFitness- An App that is aimed at the majority of us, who’d like to do more exercise but don’t know how. The App boasts the biggest array of exercises over any other comparable App on the store, with 300 unique exercises for you to try out and with more being added with new free updates to the App. Each exercises comes with a text and picture demonstration and with an increasing amount also coming with a video demonstration, that helps reduce the learning curve when attempting to learn a new exercise. Exercises can be searched through a number of ways and the App comes with a number of pre-set routines. (£1.19)

Weightbot- Provides an easy way to record, compare and work your way to a new weight. The App features a streamlined interfaces that makes everything from recording your daily weight, to viewing graphs, to setting a new goal, really easy and simple. Weightbot allows you to record your weight, work out your BMI and set and track your progress towards a goal. The App really helps provides an incentive for those who are looking to lose weight, since your progress is easily shown through the created charts. (£1.19)

Lifestyle :

Jamie’s 20 Minute Meals- The App covers 60 meal recipes in glorious detail, each with the all important instructions, ingredients list, voice prompts and step by step photographs. Alongside the impressive catalogue of recipes, there are 21 cooking video tutorials, hosted by the man himself, Jamie Oliver, as well as a shopping list, portion calculator and kitchen essentials guide. All the recipes can be easily sorted through using the comprehensive search feature and the whole app is contained within a gorgeous looking interface that really encourages you to get into the kitchen. (£4.99)

AroundMe- An App that places your device in the centre of your life by telling you what’s around you. You can search for a number of different things, such as Apple retail stores, banks, bars, coffee shops, hospitals, petrol stations and cinemas, just to name a few. AroundMe also pulls down relevant Wikipedia articles based on your location. The App makes use of Google maps to display your chosen category on a map. Once you’ve chosen your destination, you can then import it into the Maps App so you can get directions to it. AroundMe is perfect for finding your way round a new place, and finding new things in places you already know. (Free)

SAS Survival Guide- Written by an EX SAS solider, the App aims to teach you a set of world survival skills from the heart of Britain’s elite army force. The App includes a wealth information, since it includes a 400 page SAS book that has been optimised for the iPhone, videos, Morse code functionality, quiz, sun compass, survival checklist and a first aid section. The sheer amount of content that comes with this App is staggering and is a must have for anybody that hikes, camps or just likes living dangerously. (Free and paid version, £3.99)

Medical :

SOS 4 Life- Health Records- Picture this scene; you’re in a foreign country and you start to feel really unwell, but you don’t speak the local language- how do you convey to  the doctors your medical history, such allergies and medication that you take? Well, SOS 4 Life aims to solve this problem by allowing you to input your medical history into the App and then in an emergency, the App can translate, without the need for a data connection, into Spanish, German, French, Italian, Dutch or Portuguese. (£2.39)

Baby Bump- Pregnant Mothers take note- this App is for you. Baby Bump allows you to track your pregnancy through a journal with common problems and symptoms and cravings that you should expect, as well as weight tracking. The App also comes loaded with other features such as a kick counter, pregnancy forums, weekly info and images, graphical charts and integration with Facebook and Twitter. (£2.99)

The Journey- An App that is designed to help you step outside your hectic life for a few minutes and chill out. The App uses a mixture of animations combined with a rich and dynamic environment and a complementary soundtrack to relax you. The App is simple and light on features, but it allows you to transport yourself away from your life and relax for a bit each day. (£0.59)

Music :

Shazam- Most people will have come across this App in their time with an iPhone or iPod Touch, since Shazam is a unique App, which performs it’s function well. For those who don’t know, Shazam is a music tagging service for the iOS platform. So, say you hear that song on the radio, and you want to identify it, simply fire up Shazam and it will comeback with song name, artist and album. From there, you can purchase the song through iTunes and notify friends of your discovery through Facebook and Twitter. Although this App isn’t one that you will use on a regular basis, the accuracy and easy of use of the App ensures that when you do use it, the end result is good. (Free)

Tunein Radio- One feature that is missing from the iPhone and iPod Touch line, is a radio, and Tunein Radio attempts to bridge that gap. The App boast a massive catalog of radio stations, from local ones that are specific to your area, to national, to international stations. To help the user find their desired stations, the radio stations are sorted by a number of different categories. Users can browser by genre, language, location and local radio stations, which uses the GPS on the device to find the nearby stations. The App works flawlessly over WiFi and a buffering system ensures that playback over 3G is good. Thanks to multitasking, introduced with iOS4, you can now listen to the App in the background. Furthermore, the ability to run the App in the background helps highlight one of Tunein’s best features; recording. The App allows users to setup recordings of shows for later playback, which effectively makes this the ‘Sky Plus’ of the Radio App world. (£1.19)

Spotify- This is an absolute must for those who have a Spotify premium account and a great excuse for free account holders to upgrade to the £10 per month service. The App gives the user the ability to stream their entire Spotify library to their device as well as access to all the songs that are available on the service and any changes made between your computer and the mobile are synced. While for the majority of the time you’ll need a data connection, in the form of either WiFi or 3G, playlist can be selected as ‘Offline’, which means that the App can play the music without a data connection. The App has also been updated to fully support background multitasking meaning, you won’t have to keep the App open all the time. The Spotify App opens up an exciting opportunity for Premium account users, in which they could go without syncing any music from their iTunes library, and purely stream music, while having the ability to find and stream new songs. (You must be a premium Spotify account holder,  App- free)

Navigation

Where to?- A unique interface that allows you to search for places via catagories- through a speed dial style of navigation. Where to? has one the most comprehesive lists of places and each can be easily searched for, via ac atagory method, or simple text search. Similar to AroundMe, this App is great for finding shops, restaurants and public services in an area you don’t know, as well as finding new places in areas that you are familiar with. (£1.79)

CoPilot Live UK & Ireland- This App turns your iPhone into a fully functioning Sat Nav, with the ability to safely and quickly guide you to your chosen destination. CoPilot features both 3D and 2D graphics which help you navigate and more detailed maps are stored on the iPhone, meaning that you won’t have to wait for content to be downloaded. The App comes with a number of features such as text to speech, speed limit warnings, speed camera warnings and lane indicator. Other premium features, such as live traffic alerts are available through in App purchase. CoPilot is also far cheaper than rival Application TomTom, since it doesn’t require a ‘TomTom car mount’ to work and the App is about half the price. (£19.99)

Plane Finder- This App caters for those who travel a lot or who are generally interested in aviation and air traffic control. Plane Finder gives you searchable access to flights taking place across Europe, North America, Australia and South Scandinavia. A zoomed out map view allows you to see all the planes in the area, which are symbolised by little red plane icons. Zoom further in and you can see the flight paths and tapping on planes will give you further details, such as a picture of the aircraft, flight plan, type of aircraft, speed, direction and flight number. (Free and paid version, £2.99)

News

Instapaper-  Allows you to save website that you come across for later offline reading. The App works best when you install the internet plugin for your browser, which allows you to easily clip parts of the web. The clippings are not only synced with your free Instapaper account, but also to your device, so you can consume media on the move. The App comes in two different flavours, one being free and the other ‘Pro’, which come with some nice, but not necessary extra features, such as ’tilt to scroll’, which uses the devices accelerometer to automatically scroll the page. Instapaper can also bring in articles from RSS feeds and other Apps also support syncing with Instapaper, such as the below mentioned Newsrack. This App is a great way to continue enjoying content while on the move. (Free and paid version, £2.99)

NewsRack- The iPhone has encouraged us to consume an increasing amount of content while on the move and the websites and more specifically the news that we consume is no different. One solution to this comes in the form of NewsRack, which is arguably, one of the best RSS manager for the iOS platform. RSS feeds can be entered in the App in a number of ways, with the simplest being the extensive catalogue that comes with the App, however users can opt to enter them in manually using the URL and Twitter feeds can be aggregated into your RSS stream. Viewing your feeds is where the App really comes to life, since you can do it in two ways; One is a simple list view, in which articles are grouped together under their source, while the other focuses more on U.I by displaying the different source as newspapers in a rack. Once read, your articles can then be exported to a number of different services, such as sharing with friends on Facebook, but more handily, the App can also move articles over to Instapaper. (£2.99)

The Guardian- The best official Newspaper App comes rather unsurprisingly from the Guardian. Rather than just offer users a more useable version of the website, the Guardian have provided users with a content rich experience that is tailored made for the iPhone platform. The App has full access to the full array of content, with all the written articles, photo galleries, as well as audio and video podcasts been available through the App. All of this is easily navigated around and searchable thanks to the great user interface. (£2.39)

Photography

Camera+- One of the features that has been neglected on the iPhone is the camera. By now, most of us know that it’s not all about megapixels, but rather, a number of factors- the lens, ISO and shutter speeds. Camera+ is an App that is designed to help you get the most out of your iPhone camera, so you don’t end up with a bunch of blurred and out of focus photos. Camera+ has an arsenal of features such as, scene modes, flash, effects and touch focus and exposure control. The most impressive feature of the App is the image stabiliser, which works by only taking the photo when movement of the iPhone as at a bare minimum. The App also ships with a ‘Lightbox’ from which you can review all the photos that you’ve taken, before you save them to the camera roll. (£1.19)

Hipestamatic- Arguably the most popular photo Application on the store, Hipestamatic has taken the platform by storm, by allowing users to relive the early years of analogue photography. The App ships with three different lenses, three films and two different flashes, with each producing different end results that are clearly defined from each other. Additional packs of lens, flashes and films, known as ‘Hipstapacks’ are available for purchase through the App for 59p each. The App is beautifully displayed, and really gives the user the sense of shooting with an old camera. This is a must have for any photo buff.(£1.19)

iMovie- The highly powerful and popular OSX desktop application has been distilled down for the iPhone platform. The introduction of the iPhone 4 has given users a HD video camera that shoots at 30 frames per second, so it’s only suitable that they have the right tools to transform their raw footage into a polished final product. As with all Apple products, the App is designed to ‘just work’, and this is clearly demonstrated through the user friendly interface that allows you to easily create a film using five pre-set themes. Familiar gestures, such as pinch to zoom and the ability to ‘scrub’ the timeline, only aid in the creation process. Music and photos can also be added to help fill out your movie and the finished product can then be uploaded to YouTube. (iPhone 4 Only, £2.99)

Got an App that you think should be in here? Let’s hear about it, in the comments section below. Part one is available here and Part three is available here

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Runkeeper- Run Fatboy Run

25 05 2010

The Basics

Category: Health and Fitness

Release Date: 26th April 2010

Seller: Runkeeper, LLC

Price: Free ad supported version and Paid £5.99

Size: 1.7 mb

Version: 2.2.0.18

Requires: Compatible with iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad (Requires iPhone OS 3.0 or later) Please note that we don’t think this app is intended for iPod Touch- since the app requires a constant GPS signal to track your run. Furthermore- we can’t imagine anyone running with an iPad.

Recommended: Works best when linked with a free account at www.runkeeper.com

The Review

We all wish we were fit and healthy, however, in the 21st century, with so many distractions and hectic lifestyles, the sofa often becomes a safe haven for many people. Runkeeper aims to change this, and get us outside and pounding the pavement on a regular basis. The app uses GPS to track you as your run, so iPod Touch users, I’m sorry but, this app is only for iPhone owners. It comes in two versions, one free, ad supported version and the other paid, with some extra features. We’ll be covering both in this review.

Simplicity is Runkeeper’s strong point; to start a run, simply open the app and tap ‘Start” and then ‘Start activity.’ The app uses a traffic light system to symbolises how strong your GPS signal is before you begin a run, with red being poor or no signal, yellow being okay and green representing a strong lock on. I have used the app on weekly basis, in an area where phone reception isn’t great, with most runs starting with the yellow signal, and the app still tracks my run extremely accurately.

The Pro version adds a number of features in an attempt to get you to stump up £6. One of the main marketed features of the Pro Runkeeper, is audio cues, in which the app will inform you of your time, distance and if you set it up, a target pace. Furthermore, £6 will get you ipod integration, allowing you to change your track on the run. All of these, are unnecessary luxuries- with the free version, you can set your music up before you run and the ability to change your track using the free version will become a reality with the introduction of multitasking in iPhone OS 4.0. As for audio cues, this seems to be the only feature, which can be seen as a worthy differentiating factor between the free and paid versions of the app.

One pointless feature included in the paid version, is Geo tagged photos, because the camera on the iPhone isn’t particularly great, so trying to take a photo, while running? Well, I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you what the results would be like. Overall, I don’t see how they can justify the £6 price tag of the pro version.

As mentioned above, the app only really comes into it’s own, when linked with a free account at runkeeper.com. From the website, you can view runs that you have uploaded from the app, alongside a google map with your run and stats such as pace, average speed and time. The website allows you to publish your runs on both Facebook and Twitter, so your friends can track your progress. Another social aspect of the site is a feature called ‘Street Teams’ in which you find fellow runkeeper users based on location, and then form groups and run together.

Conclusion

Overall this is a great app for begginners and professional runners alike. The notion that one can slip their phone into their pocket and go for run is enough to entice most people to start doing some activity. Despite this, I can not recommend the paid app, simply because the price is too high and there isn’t enough features to seperate it from the free version.

Rating :

+ Simplicity- two buttons and you’re ready to run

+ Accurate GPS tracking

+ Extra features when linked with the website

– Paid version is overpriced and lacking in quality features

Click here for paid version