iOS apps: Moving beyond the default

Adam Turner
3 March, 2015
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iOS, apps, iphone, ipad, macworld australiaWhether it’s time to work, rest or play, there’s an app for every occasion.

The latest sleek and sexy iGadgets are a joy to behold, but it’s the amazing App Store that helps the Apple ecosystem stand out from the crowd. No matter what your passion, there’s always an app to help you along the way.

NEWS, SPORT AND WEATHER

With an iGadget in hand, it’s easier to keep up-to-date with what’s happening in the world.

Google News is a great starting point if you like to keep track of current affairs. The HTML5-based website looks very slick in Safari and you’ll find it at news.google.com.au, but there’s also a dedicated Google News & Weather app. Sign in with your Google account and it’s easy to customise your news feed.

If you’re specifically after Australian news, then it’s hard to go past the main Australian Broadcasting Corporation news app. It offers easy access to written stories, as well as radio and TV excerpts and a link to the live ABC News 24 stream. You can even set an alarm to wake you each morning with news bulletins or live broadcasts.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation news app allows users to wake up with news, live radio or TV streams.

Alternatively, you’ll find new apps for the major Fairfax and News Ltd newspapers, such as The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Courier Mail and The Australian. You’ll get some stories for free, but a subscription is required for unlimited access. If you’re interested in magazines, check out Zinio as well as Apple’s Newsstand.

If you’d rather collate your own news feeds, then an RSS reader, such as Feedly, Feeddler or Reeder 2, may be the answer. Also check out the magazine-style Flipboard, which lets you flick and scroll through your news feeds as if it were a custom magazine printed especially for you.

Australian sports fans are spoiled for choice when it comes to iOS apps, letting you keep tabs on the action no matter where you are. You’ll find official AFL (Australian Football League), NRL (National Rugby League), A-League and Cricket Australia apps, along with slick third-party apps from the likes of Sportsmate Mobile that let you keep an eye on your favourite teams. If your sporting tastes extend abroad, you’ll find great apps for the Tour de France, Formula One, English Premier League and, in the US, the NBA (National Basketball Association) and NHL (National Hockey League) among many others.

When you need to check the weather forecast, you’ll get the best results from apps that rely on data from Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology. ShiftyJelly’s Pocket Weather Australia is the pick of the bunch, offering easy access to extended forecasts around the country, along with live rain radar so you don’t get caught without an umbrella.

SOCIAL MEDIA

Of course, mainstream media isn’t the only way to stay in touch with the world and you’ll find a raft of great social media apps.

Your first port of call should be the official apps for social media and sharing services like Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Foursquare, Instagram, Pinterest and Vine. Some support two-factor authentication and send you a code via SMS the first time you login from a new device – it’s a sensible extra layer of security to keep unwanted guests out of your social media accounts.

Flipboard provides a magazine-style layout of your chosen news.

If managing all these services becomes a chore, you can simplify things with social media aggregator apps like Hootsuite, Buffer and Sprout Social.

They provide a global overview and make it easy to post to multiple services simultaneously. You can also check out great third-party Twitter apps, such as Echofon, Twitterrific and Tweetbot. Try Flipboard if you want to read through your social media feeds magazine-style.

For most people, social media is about sharing. If you’re looking to share photos with friends, and control who can see them, then the Facebook app offers a simple starting point. If you’re a serious photographer after more advanced features, you may look to photo-centric sharing apps such as Flickr, Photobucket, 500px and SmugMug.

Photo collages are a great way to bring your social media feeds to life, letting you mix and match images from your camera roll to tell a story. FrameUrLife and Insta picframes are useful apps to add to your iGadget – the former gives you a wide choice of aspect ratios and layouts, while the latter includes advanced editing features.

Sharing video is just as easy using apps like Facebook and YouTube, but if you’re looking for alternatives then try Vimeo and some of the photo sharing services.

Instant messaging apps offer another useful way to keep in touch with the world. FaceTime is built into Apple devices, but it’s not much use for contacting people who live outside the Apple ecosystem. Skype is a must-have for voice, video and text messaging, but you may also look to WhatsApp and Viber depending on which apps your friends favour. Meanwhile Skype’s Qik lets you leave short video voicemails for your friends.

HEALTH AND FITNESS

As your constant companion, your iPhone makes a natural personal trainer when you’re trying to get in shape.

RunKeeper has a number of features to track your exercise and workouts.

If you own a fitness tracker from the likes of Fitbit or Jawbone, then you’ve surely downloaded the mobile app, but there are plenty of other great fitness apps to add to your arsenal.

RunKeeper is a great starting point if you’re looking to keep tabs on your exercise efforts. Every time you go for a run, walk or jog, the app can track your efforts on a map and update you on your progress with audio prompts. It’s also designed to track stationary workouts such as gym sessions. RunKeeper lets you set goals, such as losing weight or training for specific events like a 5km fun run. You can share your results online and even search for friends to exercise with.

To better track your efforts, RunKeeper can talk to a range of fitness gear, such as heart rate monitors, sleep monitors and Wi-Fi-enabled scales. It also connects to the Apple Health app.

If you’re really serious about losing weight, then the Weight Watchers Mobile AU and Australian Calorie Counter apps are particularly useful – their food databases are customised for Australia. Unlike foreign apps, you’ll find most items in Australian supermarkets along with a wide range of store-bought food.

Mental health is just as important as physical health and that’s where Smiling Mind can help. It offers a range of simple meditation tips designed to assist with stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. Smiling Mind is very down to earth, unlike some relaxation apps that some people may find a little too New Age-y.

If you still struggle to sleep after an active day, then Relax Melodies may be the answer. The app lulls you to sleep with soothing nature sounds, which sounds corny, but can be surprisingly effective. There’s a wide range of water sounds, including river, ocean, waves, rain, wind, waterfall and storm. Beyond this you’ll find birds, white noise, campfire and forest noises. You can mix and match the sounds, with individual volume control, until you find the perfect mix to help you get to sleep.

If you wake still feeling tired, then the Sleep Cycle app may be for you. Your brain goes through cycles at night, falling into deep sleep and then stirring after an hour or so before dropping off again. With your phone beneath the undersheet, next to your pillow, Sleep Cycle tracks your movements and aims to wake you in the morning during light sleep, so you feel refreshed.

TRAVEL AND TRANSPORT

When it’s time to explore the world, your iGadget can serve as your tour guide, navigator, translator and much more.

PocketEarth provides both maps and points of interest for those on the road.

When you’re heading into town, you’ll find plenty of useful public transport apps, such as Melbourne’s PTV, TripView Sydney or the Go apps for Canberra, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and several other Australian cities. Melbourne’s tramTRACKER is particularly useful, because it relies on its network of users to monitor trams and update the timetable, so you know exactly when the next tram will arrive.

When it’s time to hop behind the wheel, you may rely on Apple Maps or Google Maps, but if you’re looking for more features consider TomTom Australia. Along with the advantage of offline maps, TomTom adds advanced lane guidance, advanced route planning with multiple stops and alerts for road safety cameras. You can also subscribe to live traffic updates and purchase silly voices from Star Wars and The Simpsons.

When you’re travelling abroad, then offline maps become even more important, as you can’t always rely on mobile internet. PocketEarth offers street-level maps for cities, regions, provinces and even entire countries, along with a built-in travel guide.

PocketEarth uses icons to mark Points of Interest, letting you tap for more information, so the maps don’t become too cluttered. You can also add and remove map layers to make the maps easier to read. There’s also basic routing, offering a list of directions and a line on the map, but not real-time turn-by-turn instructions. You need internet access to plan routes, but you can save them for offline use.

If you’re heading overseas, then you also may need a translation app to help you come to grips with a foreign tongue. Google Translate lets you dictate or type an English phrase and quickly produce a written and spoken translation. It will also translate foreign phrases back into English. It’s not a miracle worker, but it could help you out in a tight spot. Thankfully, you can display the foreign text full-screen in order to show the other person, which helps if you’re struggling with your pronunciation. There’s also a Word Lens mode that lets you snap photos of signs and translate the text.

PRODUCTIVITY

The iWork suite is a great starting point, especially now that Apple has tightened integration with Mac desktop apps, but there are plenty of alternatives if you need a cross-platform solution that lets you jump between devices.

Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive are the two main contenders – both combine online storage with document creation and editing tools. Microsoft’s new version of Office for iPhones brings it into line with the slick iPad version – letting you edit Office files on these gadgets even if you don’t have an Office 365 subscription. There’s also tighter integration with Dropbox.

If you’re looking for a versatile document reader, then it’s hard to go past GoodReader. It can read a wide range of documents, sync with various cloud storage services and transfer files directly via Wi-Fi or USB. If you need to keep digital copies of hefty manuals close at hand, such as the PDF manual for your digital camera, then GoodReader may earn a place on your iGadget.

Evernote is one of the best apps for taking notes, making lists and organising your work life.

 

When it comes to keeping notes, Evernote is still one of your best options. It’s easy to mix and match web clippings, handwritten notes, photos and audio clips in the one note. You can create multiple notebooks to track different projects and also tag notes with keywords and location data to make it easy to search through your note library.

Evernote is also handy for making to- do lists, but other useful options include Any.do, Wunderlist and Remember the Milk. If you’re putting together a reading to-do list of articles you want to read in your spare time, try Pocket, Readability and Instapaper.

These days you can do just about anything from an iGadget, but there’s still the odd occasion when you need to remotely access your desktop Mac or PC. This is when LogMeIn can be a lifesaver – a great remote desktop app that lets you control your computer over the internet as if you were sitting in front of it.

EDUCATION

You Doodle lets you edit images, create collages and overlay text and clipart.

Many of these productivity apps will obviously be useful for students, but you’ll also find a range of great education apps to make life easier in and out of the classroom.

When it comes to jotting down your ideas, Popplet is a kid-friendly brainstorming app that makes it easy to draw mind maps and link ideas in bubbles. You can use text, images or handwriting in each bubble, change their shape and colour and shift them around the page. Once you’re finished, you can export your mind map as a JPG or PDF, or else upload it and share it with others.

You Doodle is a surprisingly powerful art studio editor that lets you edit images, create collages and overlay text and clipart. You can also add layers and use masks to create special effects. You Doodle is perfect for creating impressive images to use in school projects and presentations.

Explain Everything goes further by letting you capture your note-taking process to create ‘screencasts’ to use as projects or tutorials. The app lets you import content from a wide range of sources, animate it and add your own annotations, audio and video. You can export the results in various formats, share them online or use the app as a real-time interactive whiteboard for sharing ideas with the class.

There are plenty of calculators in the App Store, but MyScript Calculator stands out from the crowd because it lets you write complex equations with your finger. The app converts your scribble into text and then solves the equation for you on the spot. It automatically balances equations and supports a wide range of operators and constants.

If you’re after a scientific calculator that handles graphing and other advanced features, then take a look at QuickGraph and Calculator+. Physics students should download Phy, which offers a wide range of useful formulas, while chemistry students should check out Molecules, which lets you manipulate three- dimensional renderings of molecules to better understand their structure.

PHOTOGRAPHY

There’s a treasure trove of great photography tools in the App Store, turning your iPhone or iPad into the ultimate photographer’s assistant.

Filterstorm allows for layers, masks, colour levels, high-res image export and more.

iOS 8’s built-in camera is surprisingly versatile, but if you’re looking for more advanced features it’s worth checking out third-party camera apps such as ProCamera 7 and 645 Pro Mk III. Serious photographers will appreciate ISO control to adjust for different lighting conditions, along with histograms to see the tonal range in your shots. If you’re looking to capture long exposure shots, check out Average Camera Pro or Slow Shutter Cam.

If your photos need an once-over to look their best, look to Faded and VSCO Cam for extra sharpening, grain and vignette tools to add polish to your shots. Filterstorm adds support for layers, masks, curves manipulation and colour correction. Color Splash makes it easy to create a black and white photo while leaving some areas in colour, while LensLight lets you play with the light to add lens flare, light leaks and spotlights as well as bokeh background blur.

If your images need serious work, you should look to apps like Adobe Photoshop Touch, which brings a surprising number of Photoshop’s desktop features to the iOS, including Clone Stamp, Healing Brush, Magic Wand and support for layers.

When it’s time to turn to your serious DSLR, the Triggertrap app can function as a remote trigger, either using Wi-Fi or the range of Triggertrap dongles designed to suit most cameras. When the app is controlling an external camera, you can use your iPhone as a sound, vibration or motion detector, as well as access a range of cable release, time-lapse and High-Dynamic Range modes.

Your iPhone can also stand in for many of the other gadgets in your photography bag. Apps like Pocket Light Meter turn your iPhone into a makeshift light meter, while Triggertrap and LongTime Exposure Calculator offer neutral density filter calculators for determining long exposure times. DOFMaster assists with depth of field calculations, and PhotoCalc adds hyper-focal distance calculations, exposure reciprocity, flash exposure calculations and a sunrise/sunset guide.

ENTERTAINMENT

When it’s time to sit back and relax at the end of the day, or you’ve just got a few minutes to kill on the bus, your iGadget can deliver a world of entertainment.

Apple has its own bookstore but, if you’d rather look further afield, there are plenty of options. If you own an ebook reader, then this should dictate your app – Amazon’s Kindle ecosystem is very slick, letting you switch between devices and pick up at the same page. If you prefer to buy Adobe-protected ePUB books elsewhere, however, then you should check out the Kobo and Google Play Books apps.

Music fans should check out Spotify and Rdio, two great apps that offer access to vast music libraries for $11.99 per month. Both services work on a wide range of devices and let you save music for offline access. Meanwhile TuneIn Radio makes it easy to tap into the online simulcasts of radio stations from Australia and the world.

If you want to catch up on your favourite TV shows, then you’ll find apps from all five of Australia’s major free-to-air television networks – ABC iView, SBS On Demand, PLUS7, 9Jumpin and TENplay – plus Foxtel subscribers can use Foxtel Go. ABC and SBS’s efforts are the most impressive, with slick menus and a wide range of content. Finding your favourite shows on the commercial catch- up services is a lot more hit and miss.

TuneIn Radio brings local and global radio in one sleek package.

 

Australians are also spoiled for choice when it comes to subscription video services. Foxtel Play offers access to Foxtel packages without the need for a home Foxtel subscription, but for around $10 per month you’ll find all-you-can-eat video libraries from Quickflix, Netflix, Stan and Presto Entertainment.

Netflix is the pick of the bunch here, thanks to the great picture quality, smart recommendations and ease with which you can jump between devices to keep watching where you left off. If you start using your Netflix account on multiple devices, it lets you create different user profiles – so Netflix’s movie recommendations for you aren’t influenced by the fact that your children like to watch cartoons.

If you’re streaming video around your home, then take a look at the Plex app, combined with a Plex server running on a computer or Network Attached Storage drive. The great thing about Plex is that it can transcode video on the fly, letting you watch formats like MKV, which iOS doesn’t support natively. You can even stream video over the internet when you’re away from home, or save videos for offline access if you have a Plex Pass subscription.

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