With the impending pagan holiday ushering in a new flock of Pads and Pods and Phones, now seems like a good time to pick out some tasty software from the Apple iTunes Store That Is Also Actually An App Store Even Though It’s Still Called iTunes. Wading into that armpit-deep morass of cheap cash-ins and fart autotuners to divine what is good and what is garbage can be… well, it takes a lot of time.
These are apps that I may find useful, but not necessarily. There are acres of text out there describing the best productivity apps, or great games, or best knitting reference tools. This isn’t that. Instead, these are what I show someone who just bought an iThing, when they want to see something super cool. It’s boring to whip out an iPad and show off a to-do list, even if the interface is bound in sumptuous digital leather. No, you want to see the thing dance. You want to see something unique.
Without further ado: my list.
Rebirth for iPad (iPad) – $15
When Rebirth first appeared years ago, it was both a minor revolution in digital sound design and a hilarious interface to show off. Whereas previously you would rely on samples, Rebirth took things a step forward and recreated the actual chip math used in the Roland TB-303 bass synth and 808/909 drum machines. These used to (and still do) cost thousands of dollars. Now you can make your own true-to-life beats while sipping tea and looking erudite in front of your touch screen for about $15. It’s also available on iPhone/iPod Touch… don’t buy that version. It’s way too cramped.
GoSkyWatch Planetarium (iPad/iPod/iPhone) – $6
Apple’s touch screen devices are uniquely suited to stargazing, and this is one of the best. This app fulfilled one of my dream scenarios for an iPhone, which was the idea of just holding the thing up to the sky and using it as a “magic window”, panning around and having constellations and heavenly details superimposed on your view. This does that, and it’s awesome. Works great on iPad too, even without a camera reference, just using the magnetometers.
Comics (iPad/iPhone/iPod) – FREE
This is the app that plugs into the Comixology website, and it is fantastic, particularly on the nice big iPad screen. Comixology has access to Marvel, DC and practically everything else (yes Walking Dead too) so this is an easy recommendation. The Guided View style of browsing allows the reader to view individual panels cropped in sequence, or the full page at once. It keeps everything in an iTunes-style library and follows the Apple UI guidelines to the letter. You can also re-download on your other iThings at no extra cost.
AutoStitch Panorama (iPhone/iPod) – $2
The camera on your iDevice is of a fixed resolution. With this, it’s more. AutoStich lets you take a pile of only vaguely overlapping pictures (20% is a good rule) in any direction, and it will magically stitch them together with perspective correction to look like a photograph that god never intended to come out of a mobile phone. I wish my DSLR had such fancy pan options. There are lots of panoramic apps out there, but AutoStitch is the only one I’ve seen that doesn’t require the user to line up finicky guidelines. It just works.
SketchBook Pro (iPad) – $1
SketchBook is AutoDesk’s ridiculously full-featured drawing app. You can also get SketchBook Mobile for iPhone (this one’s not universal) but it really shines on the iPad. Speed of finger-stroke fills in for pressure sensitivity, giving you a shockingly powerful sketching tool. If you like to draw at all, with an optional stylus or just with your sweaty meatpencil of an index finger, this is what you want.
Trails (iPad/iPhone/iPod) – $4
Are you going somewhere? Do you want to see where? Do you want logs and fancy graphs and nice map integration of exactly where you went, for how long, up which hills, and at what speed? That’s what I thought. You want Trails. The export/import options alone make it worthwhile, and they even included some (pre-multitasking) hooks for queuing up your music or taking snaps while staying in the app. Pair this sucker up with Google Earth on your computer and you can plot just about anything.
PasteBot (iPhone/iPod) – $4
This one is a bit of a weirdo, but such a useful weirdo. PasteBot acts as a kind of copy/paste scrapbook, keeping track of things you’ve opted to cut or copy (be they image or text or whatever) and allowing you to store them in a repository where you can edit, find & replace, or run filters on them. I know, it sounds bizarre, but in practice it works great if you’re like me and tend to have random post-it notes around. Bonus feature: if you have a Mac you can also use PasteBot Sync, which lets you Copy something on Mac OS X and then pick up your device and hit Paste. Yes, a symbiotically shared clipboard. It’s a brave new world.
SpyGlass (iPhone/iPod/iPad) – $4
You remember that scene in Star Wars where Luke was looking out at the sand dunes with his crazy space binoculars, and they had all the cool overlays and digital sightlines and stuff? Ok, so this is that, in your phone. A fully featured Augmented Reality app with GPS readings, a milspec compass, constant bearings, sun/moon/stars, camera or map overlay, inclinometer, sextant, rangefinder and a bunch of other crap that I don’t even know the meaning of. You can use this thing to drop a waypoint anywhere. Amazingly dorky and awesome.
VLC (iPhone/iPod/iPad) – FREE
Perhaps you have heard of the VLC application on the desktop? Maybe the best open source video player ever? If you ever want to play a video file that doesn’t end in .M4P, this is the answer. It’s not perfect – no MKV support – but it’s way more flexible than the limited tools that you are given for video by default. It’s free, it’s great, it’s a no-brainer.
Penultimate (iPad) – $4
I’m not sure if you guys were aware of this, but you can use your iPad as a kind of… what did they used to call them? Notebook. That’s it. Penultimate may not be too flashy but it does have a lot of style, and really gets the job done. No, I don’t recommend writing out long notes with your fingertip, but this supports optional capacitive stylii and includes a kind of “wrist protection” to keep the side of your hand from inadvertently screwing up your work. It’s also great for just sketching out a quick map or diagram for someone. Let me tell you, you need this. Sure you could just use one of the other sketching apps but this makes a lot more sense as an actual notebook replacement. Plus the Sharpie effect they put on the ink is cool.