App Store Trigger App-y

I love my iPhone (can you tell?). Having owned my iPhone now for nearly a month, I can finally comment with some validity about the rest of my favourite apps. These are apps that take longer than a week to really figure out the value of, or apps which I had simply missed earlier and only heard about after that first article was written. One of the interesting things I’ve noticed about the way I use my new iPhone which is different to my old one, is that I use it in bed when I wake up in the morning (more often, the late afternoon) more often than my old one. Due to the marvelous new screen and its higher resolution, and due to my short-sightedness, I can hold my phone about ten centimeters from one of my eyes and check the news and my email without having to go to the huge effort of reaching over and grabbing my glasses or contact lenses. The previous iPhone’s screen’s resolution wasn’t really up to it, and the fact that this new phone can be locked into “portrait orientation” has made this early-in-the-day ritual significantly more pleasant.

Speaking of checking the news, some observant readers will have noticed that I did not mention any news applications in my previous reviews. With my old phone, I only had the New York Times application on my phone, and I wasn’t a frequent user of it, preferring to read the newspaper on my laptop. As you can see above, I’ve expanded the number of news apps on my phone. I’m not often a huge fan of newspapers… if you’ve ever really known about something, then read about it in a newspaper, you’ll know that they often get a lot of things wrong. Science writing in all but the largest, most well-funded newspapers is generally appalling, and most opinion writers don’t have very well-formed (or even well-written or funny) opinions.

Newspapers are, however, good for news. When stuff happens… this is where you find out about it. Finding out about it through the internet is quick, easy, and convenient. Having eight different internet news services to check ensures a reasonable spread and that as little as possible gets missed. As for the quality of their iphone apps, the range is huge. My favourite is the BBC app. It is easy to navigate, customizable, and everything works well.

The categories are organized in rows which can be “slid” to reveal more stories – very elegant

The CNN app is like all the others, just a list of top stories. Changing categories is buried in the menus.
Also worthy of mention is the Reuters app. The news section is like the other news apps in that it is a simple row of “top stories”. Of particular note though, are the markets and stocks section as well as the exchange rate section. The markets section allows you to not only look up where an index happens to be, and how much it shifted in the past day/week/month, but it features interactive charts which can be scrolled, panned, and zoomed to your heart’s content. The reuters app also features one of the most intuitive and user-friendly exchange rate finders I’ve come across (with up-to-the-minute exchange rates, of course).

Bottom of the list in terms of implementation of their app is Al Jazeera, whose app is nothing more than a glorified web browser with the Al Jazeera website as its homepage. Lucky for them, their news coverage, in particular of the conflicts in the middle east, is very good.


I’ve been looking for a good note-taking app for a very long time. Those who knew me in high school know that I used to carry a little notepad with me everywhere I went in case I ever had a good idea. This was eventually replaced by various Palm PDA products, then a Moleskine notebook, and most recently, I’ve been using the plain old notepad on the iphone. (I still haven’t had a good idea, but we live in hope). Evernote combines everything – notepad, voice memo, and you can also make notes with pictures. Your notes are tagged with your location thanks to GPS, and your notes are all searchable.

…and as if that wasn’t enough to convince you that this app was worth getting, it even comes with an icon of an elephant, and everyone knows that elephants are cool.


Apart from being one of my favourite Christopher Nolan films, Momento is also my favourite diary app. Always there on your phone to record memorable moments, you can tag your entries with your location, the names of people mentioned, and even attach photos to them. It also offers passcode security to open the app, so you don’t have to worry about people flicking through your personal diary whenever you lend them your phone. All that I suppose is expected of a diary application, but I have until now struggled to find an app which brings them all together in such a user friendly way.

Another interesting addition to what you’d normally expect out of a diary is that it can import your tweets, facebook stati, as well as activity. This all goes towards giving an effective snapshot of the particular time you’re looking back on. In fact, it somehow managed to import my facebook stati all the way back to August 2008. Tagging people can get interesting over time, because you can look up your tags and see just who ends up getting tagged a lot.

So far, I’ve made at least one entry every day. Something I’ve found, is that since my phone is the first thing I reach for whenever I wake up (before my glasses!) I have been using this as a “dream diary”, jotting down what I’ve been dreaming about before I forget. Like I said before… looking back to see who’s been tagged a lot is very interesting.


Budgeting is not one of my strong points, so it’s a good thing that I have an app that helps me do it. Apart from being a combined notepad and calculator which helps you keep track of your inflows and outflows from day to day, it has a “reporting” function which constructs a summary, some bar charts and (and this was my favourite) a pie chart showing a breakdown of which categories consumed what portion of your budget. Those who know me will not be surprised at what the following pie chart looks like.


I recently purchased a 10-day eurail pass so that I could travel more cheaply by train across Europe. When one purchases a eurail pass, it comes with a booklet with train timetables in it. LOTS of train timetables. Convenient as this is, you still have to figure out connections and routing yourself, and if you’re not very familiar with the European rail network, and need to make a long trip which is not serviced by a direct route (or if you’re traveling in or out of a not-major train station), then it can be fiddly and time-consuming to look up. The iRail application does it for you. With a very simple interface, you can get from just about anywhere to anywhere else in Europe. It will tell you how long it will take, how many stops, where they are, and it will give you various options.

Just for fun, I searched for a journey starting in Paris, and ending in Vladivostok. Turns out the train leaves tomorrow (Tuesday 5th October 2010) at 6pm and arrives at midnight in a little over a week.

boy am I glad they give you a sleeping car on the 6-day-train from Moscow to Vladivostok… I see it this way – it’s a week of comparatively cheap accommodation.

(notice how all the stops in Germany already have platform numbers assigned)


Those readers who have gone backpacking will know what I’m talking about when I say that your phone’s most common use in a youth hostel is as a light (not for cigarettes). With the advent of smartphones with maps and GPS (and entire travel guidebooks stored in them) this has probably changed a little, but I’m sure many of you have wondered about somehow being able to use the small LED-flash on the phone’s camera as a torch. I know I have.

This app is relatively simple, and does what you’d expect. It also has a very nifty “safety mode” (not to be confused with the “safety dance”) for emergencies, where you can type text into a box, then it can translate that text into morse code and signal it using the LED light. Who needs walkie-talkies when you’ve got a morse-code translator? (ok, I realize it’s on a phone)


They say the best camera is the one you have with you. I often tote around a very chunky Nikon D700, but sometimes I can’t be bothered. I don’t like being “that guy” at parties carrying a huge camera around (it only seems to be acceptable practice when the party’s attendees are all photographers). For parties where carrying such a large camera was inappropriate, I used to carry my point-and-shoot around, tethered to my wristwatch, which worked moderately well during the Vancouver Olympics’ afterparty, but was still a bit of a burden. Finally the iphone seems to have a fairly decent camera in it. It even comes with a flash. It even comes with a ton of processing power that is totally useless for a small 4 megapixel camera… unless… you’re into lomography.

Pick your lens, pick a flash, pick out some film… then shoot. This application basically simulates the effect of the diverse variety of unusual and low-tech cameras used in lomography. The results are interesting, and often quite amusing.

And once you’ve taken your photo, you can review it, then do what everyone obviously wants to do with their artsy photos, and that is share them with their friends. The app offers a number of way to accomplish this.

And… just in case you’re crazy like me, and aren’t sure about what film, lens and flash combinations work best, I’ve included a chart in which I combine every different lens type with each different kind of flash. (click the images for larger versions, the first row is without flash).

(if anyone would like the full-sized version of this, (a 25 megabyte png file) I can email them). The next chart shows the combinations of film with or without flash, and using the first kind of lens from the above chart.

Oh… and in other news, after agonizing over whether to use this, or that photograph for my laptop skin, I have found a use for the photo that I didn’t use – as my iPhone lock screen. The higher screen resolution really does do it justice.

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