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A few of my favorite things

September 16, 2013—In the article "My shirt-pocket iPad" I described some of the applications I find most useful on my iPod Touch. Because it can be hard to find an individual program among the 200,000+ in the App Store, I've put together this list of my most-used apps, with direct links to their product pages.

ThumbTack mike

All of the apps mentioned here will run on an iPod Touch, iPhone, or iPad. Some older iPod Touch models lack a built-in microphone, but one can be added: Griffin's $15 SmartTalk headphone adapter combines a headphone jack, clip-on mike, and control button in one slim cord. And Switcheasy's tiny ThumbTack mike looks exactly like a pushpin and works quite well... but it disables the iPod's internal speaker, so you'll have to unplug it to listen to what you've recorded.

Not everything has to be downloaded from the App Store. More than a dozen applications are built into every iPod Touch and iPhone:

iPod Touch home screen
  • App Store—lets you find and download apps directly to your iPod or iPhone (Requires internet access)
  • Calculator—(tip: turn your iPod or iPhone sideways to change it into a scientific calculator)
  • Clock—alarm/timer/stopwatch
  • Contacts—synchronizes with Mac or Windows Address Book
  • iTunes—lets you find and download music and video directly to your iPod or iPhone (Requires internet access)
  • Mail—accesses all your regular email accounts (Requires internet access)
  • Maps—a small-screen version of Google Maps (Requires internet access)
  • Music—music-playing controls... the traditional iPod stuff
  • Notes—one-page lists and jottings
  • Photos—photo album and slideshow
  • Weather—(tip: you can add several cities, so you can compare) (Requires internet access)
  • Safari—a full-featured web browser (Requires internet access)
  • Settings—lets you customize other apps
  • Stocks—basic stock market information (Requires internet access)
  • Videos—lets you play back movies and videos that you've downloaded to your iPod
  • Voice Memos—only works if you purchase a separate microphone for the iPod

iPhones also have phone, text messaging, and camera apps, among others.

These built-in apps go a long way, but of course there's a huge selection of additional programs available at the App Store. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Air Harp (99¢)—This is actually a psaltery rather than a harp, but no matter... it makes beautiful music and is almost impossible to play badly.
  • Amazon Instant Video (free)—If you have an Amazon Prime account, you can get lots of movies and TV shows for free with this app.
  • Articles for iPhone (free)—Wikipedia reader that presents information in a very readable format—much better than trying to read Wikipedia articles in a web browser. There's also a 99¢ Articles for iPad version that takes full advantage of the larger screen.
  • ArtRage ($4.99)—Award-winning painting program emulates natural media from oils to watercolor to charcoal pencils (you'll probably want a stylus with this one)
  • Assistance (99¢)—Quick guide to emergency first aid.
  • Audiobook Player (99¢)—Loads and plays 2,300 free audiobooks from the LibriVox site (Requires internet access to download audiobooks, but not to play them)
  • Chemical Touch Lite Edition (free)—Periodic table of the elements with many extras
  • Check the Weather $1.99—There are scores of weather apps out there, and of course Apple gives you a free one, but of all those I've tried, this is the best. It tells you just what you need to know in a clean, readable format. (Requires internet access)
  • Dragon Dictation (free)—Apple lets you dictate a sentence or two using the keyboard's microphone button, but this app will let you dictate several paragraphs at a time
  • Compass 54 Pro (99¢)—Apple'sa Compass app is OK, but this one adds information such as speed, altitude, local weather and lat/lon coordinates
  • Data Usage (free)—Keeps track of your internet data usage, to help you avoid exceeding your monthly limit.
  • DarknessDarkness (99¢)—Gives sunrise/sunset, moonrise/moonset/phase, and much more
  • (free)—230,000-entry dictionary (Optional pronunciation guide requires internet access)
  • Escapees Parks List (free web app)—Information about all Escapees RV Club parks
  • CPR GuideFirst Aid & CPR ($3.99)—Excellent first aid guide from the American Heart Association includes instructional video on CPR
  • Find iPhone (free)—This is the first app you should install after buying a new iPhone or iPad! If your device is lost or stolen, this will help you get it back, or at least wipe its memory and lock it so it can't be used.
  • Garmin U.S.A. ($49.99)—Turns your iPhone or GPS-equipped iPad into a Garmin Nüvi navigator. Unlike Apple's and Google's map apps, this is entirely self-contained—it requires no internet access! Expensive, but worth it—see this article for details on how I use my iPad Mini as my main GPS. Note: GPS is required, so this app is not for iPod Touch or Wi-Fi-only iPads.
  • Google Earth (free)—Lets you swoop and soar over the landscape (Requires internet access)
  • Google Maps (free)—Apple Maps have worked pretty well for me, but if you're more comfortable with Google Maps, here they are! (Requires internet access)
  • Google Search (free)—Sure, you can get to Google via the Safari web browser, but this is easier... and it understands voice commands. (Requires internet access)
  • iBirdiBird Explorer 15 (free)—Great way to try out the program for free (has 15 birds)
  • iBird Explorer Western ($9.99)—This is the version I use; it has 828 birds (Optional Flickr search requires internet access)
  • iHandy Level (free)—Beautifully designed and useful carpenter's level
  • iHandy Carpenter ($1.99)—This is the version I have; it has added features (circular level, protractor, ruler, plumb bob)
  • I<DbiMDb (free)—Accesses the Internet Movie Database (Requires internet access)
  • iPharmacy (99¢)—Complete data on more than 5,000 commonly prescribed drugs (Some optional features require internet access)
  • Articles (99¢)—Quick access to Wikipedia, beautifully formatted for readability on the small screen (Requires internet access)
  • jAreaCodes (99¢)—Lets you search by state or by area code
  • Kindle for iPhone (free)—Lets you buy and read Kindle ebooks (but not periodicals) from Amazon. If you already have a Kindle, this app can access any ebooks you own. (Requires internet access to download books, but not to read them)
  • Koi Pond (99¢)—Relaxing to watch and listen to
  • Labyrinth Lite (free)—Tilt the iPod to roll the steel ball through the maze
  • Lazy Daze Pocket Guide (free)—Models, floorplans, specs... everything you need to know about Lazy Daze motorhomes (Requires internet access)
  • LD Pocket GuideNew Mexico State Parks Pocket Guide (free)—Just the essentials: 30 NM state parks you can camp in, sortable by name, altitude or dump station availability, plus names of nearest towns for supplies and other useful info (Requires internet access)

TIP: I made those last two apps myself! My Pocket Guides are actually websites optimized for the iPod and iPhone—"web apps—yet either one can be launched just like an app—by tapping an icon on the home screen. You can do this with any website that you use frequently. Just bring up the site in Safari, tap the "+" at the bottom of the screen to bookmark it, and then tap the "Add to Home Screen" button. As long as you have an internet connection, you can treat the resulting icon just like a regular app. You can read more about my web apps on their own page. Moon Globe

  • Mantis Bible Study (free)—Searchable reference Bible
  • Moon Globe (free)—3-D lunar globe with features labeled
  • Nutrition Menu (99¢)—Nutritional values of thousands of foods, including fast-food restaurant dishes
  • OurGroceries (free)—Best of the listmaking apps, this lets you easily add items and then cross them off as you shop, share lists with a spouse, maintain multiple lists (for different stores), add recipes, and much more
  • PocketCPR (free)—Remarkable training aid measures and times your compressions and gives spoken and visual feedback
  • RV Companion (free)—Multipurpose app includes places to record your to-do list, trip log, RV info, and checklists, plus a two-axis bubble level, and even a flashlight. The free version limits how many entries you can make; the $4.99 paid version removes those limitations.
  • Speedtest (free)—A quick way to find out just how good (or bad) your internet connection is.
  • Star Walk ($2.99)—Stunning astronomy app... hold your iPhone or iPad up to the sky and it will show you the stars, planets and constellations "live"!
  • State Parks ($1.99 per state)—This series of apps (one per state) provides comprehensive information on state parks in a dozen states, and they're working on the rest. Internet access is not required for most of the content, but there are some nice extras if you have internet access, such as user-contributed comments and photos.
  • Tide clockTide Clock (99¢)—Live near the shore? You need this!
  • ToonPaint ($1.99)—Automatically turns photos into remarkably good-looking drawings
  • Travel Mate (free)—Simple, fast way to find local businesses and attractions by category. (Requires internet access)
  • Ultimate US Public Campground Project ($4.99)—information about more than 18,000 public (non-commercial) campgrounds—a tremendously useful resurce for campers and RVers.
  • US Constitution (free)—Includes seldom-seen unratified amendments
  • US Declaration of Independence (free)—Includes list of signers with mini-bios
  • Vert (99¢)—Converts all kind of things, from kilometers to Swiss francs
  • Videoscope (99¢)—This "teleidoscope" is like a kaleidoscope, but works with whatever the camera is pointedtoward. Endlessly fascinating!
  • Wikihood (free)—A sort of universal travel guide, this app finds online articles about local attractions and places of interest, no matter where you are! (Requires internet access)
  • World Nomads phrasebooks (free)—Common phrases used by travelers—push a button and the iPod talks for you in the voice of a native speaker. World Nomads has about two dozen of these free apps, in languages from Australian to Swahili.
  • YouTube (free)—Apple used to supply a YouTube app, but now you have to download Google's more fully-featured version separately.
  • Zip Codes (99¢)—Search by town or by ZIP code

Bargain hunting

As you saw, many of the apps I use are free, and others are only 99¢ to $2.99. That's quite a contrast to what we're accustomed to paying for Mac OS X and Windows software! But there's more. Many of the apps shown here as costing money are ones that I picked up for free or at reduced prices. You see, iPhone software makers often put their wares on sale in an effort to gain higher visibility. I monitor the DealMac website daily for announcements of freebies and price cuts, and thanks to them, I've snagged quite a few bargains in the past year.

As I mentioned earlier, most or all of these iPhone/iPod Touch apps should also work just fine on the new iPad. They'll open at normal size in the center of the screen, or you can enlarge them to fill the screen (although they won't look as sharp). Undoubtedly many app makers will be creating new versions that are optimized for the iPad's larger screen and enhanced capabilities, but in the meantime there's no shortage of software that will work on the new tablet. And if you already own an iPhone or iPod Touch, Apple says that all the software you've downloaded will automatically be installed on your iPad—no need to re-buy anything.

How much is enough?

I've mentioned that I have the least expensive iPod Touch, the 8GB model. Friends have sometimes asked, "Is 8 GB really enough for all that?" The answer is, "It depends on what you want to do with it." If you want to put all your music on the iPod Touch, you should buy one that's big enough to hold it. Open iTunes (a free download for PCs or Macs, if you don't already have it), choose "Music" in the column at left, and look at the bottom of the window to see how much space your music collection needs. In my case it says "6922 songs, 18.4 days, 26.91 GB", so to hold all my music, I'd need a 32GB iPod.

But I already have all my music stored on a 60GB iPod. I wanted the iPod Touch primarily to use as a handheld tablet computer, and for that, 8GB was plenty big. Here's how it shapes up:

iPod memory usage
  • 107 installed applications (plus the 16 built-in ones): 1.51 GB
  • 20 hours of audio (262 songs, just to give me something to listen to): 1.55 GB
  • Feature film "Bringing Up Baby" (1938, Cary Grant/Katherine Hepburn): 1.1 GB
  • 1,472 photos: 0.95 GB
  • Misc. other files: 0.52 GB
  • Unused space: 1.43 GB

For my purposes, that's a comfortable margin. If I needed more room, I could always delete the movie—I put it on there as an experiment, but I don't expect to watch it on a regular basis. Again, I'm not trying to store my whole music library on this device.

In short, the $184 8GB model is a bargain if your primary purpose is to use it as a handheld tablet computer, as I do. If you want room for more music or video, the 32GB or 64GB models may be more your style. (As a bonus, the two larger-capacity models include a headset/mike and have 50% faster processors—not that the 8GB iPod Touch feels slow, mind you!)

iPod case

Just in case

One more suggestion: the iPod Touch comes without a case, and you'll want one to protect it. Stretchy silicone-rubber cases that snap over the iPod are fairly popular, and I tried a couple of those, but I wasn't crazy about them... the rubber made for a good grip, but also made it hard to pull the iPod out of my pocket. And I needed to add a clear screen protector, since the rubber case doesn't cover the screen.

I ended up with this $7 leather case. It has a flap that protects the screen and can be held either open or closed by its magnetic catch. Good protection, good grip, and all the controls are still accessible. I'm very happy with it.

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