My iPhone App Playlist



The iPhone changed everything. It redefined what “delight” in software means. It pushed the needle of mobile and touch computing far forward. It opened up a massive ecosystem of apps and services and has been a key player in the boon of social networks.

I’ve had an iPhone within arms reach since 2007 — it is one of the most important gadget I own (if not the most important). As the software and hardware have evolved over the years, here’s a look at what apps have settled in as the ones I use every day to get things done and communicate with other people.

Let’s start with the apps I use on a regular basis for work and for play, these are my Mission-Critical Apps

  • Simplenote: My thoughts on Simplenote always start along the lines of how it’s the app I’d chose if I had to pick just one app only for use on all my iOS devices. For me, hands down the most important “workflow thing” is to have text in sync between my iPhone, my iPad, and my Mac. There are a lot of apps which do this well, but for my needs, Simplenote is the best.

    When it comes to my writing workflow, I’ve basically got two buckets for all my text. First there is my bucket of ideas, lists, thoughts, and all sorts of other miscellany. And second is my bucket of current articles I’m working on. The former is what I use Simplenote for; the latter is a Dropbox folder filled with markdown files.

    What makes Simplenote my favorite here is its search functionality. Simplenote has amazing and fast search. Searching for a note searches both the note’s title and the contents within. Then, tapping on a search result from the list takes you the search results within that note where you can the see all instances of that term within the note’s contents.

  • Byword: Byword is my next favorite text app on the iPhone, and it’s the app I use for my second aforementioned bucket. For any article I’m currently working on, if I want to edit, add to, or create a new one from my iPhone, then I use Byword to access my “Currently Writing” folder.

    Byword has some awesome features that I wish Simplenote did — namely, fantastic Markdown support and a dark theme. Byword’s search functionality is also fantastic — better than any other app I know of, save Simplenote. Byword would make a great app for all my “little notes”, but it doesn’t (yet?) show search results for terms within the note’s content (though it does search a note’s content when searching at the list level).

    For more about why Byword is awesome, read our review at The Sweet Setup (written by Federico Viticci) where we crown it the best Markdown Writing App on the iPhone.

  • Fantastical: I’ve spent hours and hours testing, trying, and using many different great calendar apps for the iPhone. And Fantastical is the best. Natural language entry for creating new events is the easiest way to go about it, and Fantastical has the best natural language engine. Not to mention Fantastical has several excellent design layouts (day ticker with list view; month view with list view; and landscape mode’s week view) as well as reminders support. The only thing I dislike about Fantastical is that it lacks an iPad version.

  • OmniFocus: I’ve been using the OmniFocus suite of apps (Mac, iPhone, and iPad) for over three years now. Once a year, usually around the New Year, I like to step back and consider if the tools I’m using are still the best tools for me. If the answer is “yes” then I leave things alone and get back to work. But if the answer is “no” then I try to consider if its my use of the tools or the tools themselves that are flawed.

    Lately, I have been wondering if OmniFocus is now too complex for me now that I’ve somewhat settled into a grove with my work-from-home schedule. But as I’ve considered other alternatives, I just can’t conceive of quitting OmniFocus because it’s a task management system that I trust — I know that if and when an important task becomes due, OmniFocus will show it to me.

    This is something that I will be revisiting in the near future but for now, OmniFocus remains one of my “mission critical” apps (on all devices).

  • Day One: This is certainly the best journaling app out there. I keep Day One on my iPhone’s Home screen and write in it often. I have no rules for how I use Day One, nor for how often I use it. My entries are all sorts of things, including photos, one-line milestone mentions about my kids, deep thoughts, brain dumps of ideas, and more.

  • Tweetbot: My go-to Twitter app, and arguably the best Twitter client on the iPhone. I’m a huge fan of the big update Tweetbot received a while back and look forward to that update influencing the iPad and Mac versions as well.

  • 1Password: I sometimes like to refer to my iPhone as “Command Central”. It’s great for a lot of things, and then okay at a lot of other things. And while it may not be the best device for some tasks, I can still do pretty much anything from the iPhone if and when I need to. And since I have my iPhone within arm’s reach pretty much 24/7, it makes sense that I should be able to access critical information when I need to. And that’s why 1Password is so great.

    1Password is far more than just a password manager. If that’s all it was then the updates to iCloud keychain sync would have negated the need for 1Password. However, 1Password also stores secure notes, bank information, and pretty much anything else I can think of.

  • Rdio: This is the app I use for listening to music on my iPhone, iPad, and Mac. The $10/month plan is well worth it for getting unlimited access to pretty much any album I want.

  • Instapaper: It seems everyone is using Pocket these days, but Instapaper continues to be my go-to Read Later app. I love the design and I’ve got an IFTTT recipe that takes all of my Instapaper “liked” articles and drops them into Pinboard for me. Since having kids I now use the iPhone version almost as much as the iPad version. There are often times I’ve got just one hand free and it’s a great time to catch up on some reading.

  • Poster: This is the app I use to post links to shawnblanc.net; alas it’s no longer available for sale because the developer, Tom Witkin, now works for WordPress. Fortunately for those who already have Poster, it is still being updated.

  • Scratch: If you consider yourself an “iPhone toting power user” in any level at all, then you probably want a quick-capture text app such as Scratch or Drafts. I’ve gravitated towards Scratch on my iPhone mostly because I like the design, but that in no way means Drafts is an inferior app. In fact, Drafts does a lot of awesome things that Scratch does not. I use Drafts on my iPad, and have a cool URL-scheme workflow thing that helps me get links and text from Instapaper to Poster (with Drafts as the mediator).

  • TextExpander Touch: Though it’s not really an app that I launch, many of the apps I use support TextExpander snippets.

  • Dropbox: This app/service could go without saying, but yet, at the same time, it’s worth mentioning because Dropbox is such a critical back-end component to so many of the apps I use. I use Dropbox to sync my 1Password database between my iPhone, iPad, and Mac. I use it to keep all my “Currently Writing” articles available to me on all my devices. I use it sync Day One, and my TextExpander snippets. Moreover, since all my current projects have folders in Dropbox on my Mac, I can access those files at any time via the Dropbox app on my iPhone.

And now let’s talk briefly about the apps I don’t use all the time, but which I use often enough and are awesome

  • Check the Weather: This is my favorite weather app. It’s very easy to read, and I like that it has a radar and Dark Sky’s short-term precipitation forecast.

  • Google Maps: It’s just more reliable than Apple’s maps, and it’s far better at finding the place I’m searching for.

  • PCalc: PCalc is one fine calculator app. I use it not because I’m an engineer nor am I an amateur calculator nerd, but because it looks great and it’s fast.

  • Reeder: My favorite RSS reader, though I mostly use the iPad version.

  • VSCO Cam: My go-to app for editing photos I take with my iPhone.

  • Riposte: The best iPhone client for App.net.

  • Mileage Log: For years I used Trip Cubby to track all my business, medical, and charity-related driving. That app was recently retired and out of the ashes arose Mileage Log. I haven’t used any other mileage tracker so I don’t know how this one compares to the others, but I do know that Mileage Log is awesome and it complies with the IRS’s regulations for tracking miles driven for tax purposes. I’ve used the app to log 62 trips so far this year for more than 1,300 miles.

  • QuickShot: I use this to take photos of business-related receipts for tax purposes. QuickShot names them with the date and uploads them to Dropbox. Then I have a Hazel rule that moves those images to my receipts folder and I throw away the physical receipt. It’s faster than scanning them all in at once (especially since receipts are good at getting all wrinkled up in my pocket), and it’s a great way to keep track of receipts when traveling.

  • Loom: After Everpix shut down I switched to Loom at Bradley Chamber’s recommendation. There are a lot of things I like about Loom (such as its design and auto uploading of images from my Mac) and it’s still better than Photo Stream when it comes to don’t-make-me-think-about-it photo syncing from all my devices to all my devices.

  • Paprika: I’ve recently migrated all my recipes out of Simplenote and into Paprika. I don’t have a lot of recipes, but the ones I do have are so very delicious and it makes a lot more sense to keep them in a nice recipe app. Paprika is truly quite great, and having a 3-app suite across the Mac, iPhone, and iPad has proven to be quite helpful. Over on The Sweet Setup we tested quite a few recipe apps and found Paprika to be the best.

  • Checkmark: I don’t use location-based reminders on a regular basis, but when I do then Checkmark is the best there is. It’s fast and reliable.

  • Delivery Status: This is a swell app that keeps track of packages and deliveries I’m expecting.

  • Dropvox: This app is extremely dated, but it still works and I still use it to record Shawn Today episodes whenever I’m away from my Mac. And, so far as I know, there are no other apps which take a voice recording and pipe it to Dropbox.

  • Pinbook / Pushpin / Pinswift / Pinner: There are a lot of good Pinboard apps out there right now. Pinbook was my favorite for a while, but it’s in desperate need of a good update. Pinswift is new and pretty great. Pinner is also nice. The jury is still out on this one, but needless to say, there are quite a few nice options for anyone in want of a good iOS Pinboard client.

* * *

About 9 months ago I began taking monthly screenshots of my iPhone’s Home screen so I could track, over time, how my usage of apps evolved and changed.

This is what my Home screen looked like on March 1, 2013 compared to how it looks today:

Shawn Blanc iPhone Home screen comparisons

As you can see, aside from the visual change iOS 7 has brought, not much has changed for me in terms of my most-used and most-important apps.

I find this awesome and yet also a bit curious. It’s awesome because I feel comfortable with my current arsenal of 3rd-party apps; they do pretty much everything I could ask of them, I know what they’re capable of, how they work, and how to use them efficiently. However, on the other side of the coin, there are some apps I use that don’t have any other top-shelf alternatives which interest me.

Is that a bad thing? No, I don’t think so. Naturally, I want 1Password to stay the undisputed champion of password management apps because not only am I familiar and happy with it but also because I’ve invested a lot of money on it. However, on the other hand, competition breeds innovation. When an app sits as king of the hill, with little to no competition, I can’t help but wonder if it’s the best version it could be or if it’s just the best when compared to everyone else.

But let’s not end on a sad note. To wrap up, let me say that I find my iPhone as interesting, curious, and wonderful today as I did in 2007. My kids will grow up thinking iPhones and iPads are normal, and who knows what this stuff will look like when they’re my age. But I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to be right here, living and working in the midst of what is undoubtedly one the most significant evolutions of personal computing since the 1980s.

But now I’m crossing into iPad stuff. And that’s a post for next week…