Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Small Business and the Internet
My Favorite iPhone Apps
By Mike Gould
'Tis the season for folks to publish top ten lists, so I thought I would jump in with my favorite uses of my iPhone. Yeah, yeah, I know, it's just a dang telephone/appliance/Swiss Army knife... but I love it so. Users of other brands of smart phones will probably be using some version of most of these.
I put off buying a smart phone for a couple of years, figuring I could live without it. And I could, and did. But man, oh man, I sure am glad I got this silly thing because it has changed my life forever. So here are what buttons get pushed the most on my keypad, in the approximate order of usage.
The obvious: I receive and make phone calls. This has worked pretty well; a few "can you hear me now?" moments, but I don't get dropped that often. Reception has been pretty good, outside of my Upper Peninsula experience of a couple of months ago. The speaker phone works well, and I have even set up a few phone conferences. AT&T has been tolerable, although they did cut me off one time for late payment (I swear I paid online, but something went horribly wrong).
My main button is set for favorites, so a double-click brings me to the short list on speed dial. This gets used the most often to phone home. Voice mail is also a delight, although I lost my outgoing message for some reason - gotta remember to re-set that. ("Hi, you've reached Mike Gould of MondoDyne; I'm having an out-of-office experience right now...")
The Recents feature is also delightful; it shows me who called me lately and when. This is probably old-hat to most of you out there, but I get a lot of mileage out of it and it was something I could never figure out on my previous dumb phone.
THE reason to get a smart phone. I have two email accounts I track, my personal Mondo account and my UM day gig Exchange account. Both have worked well and I have not had any particular problem with the Exchange jobbie (much to my surprise). I should qualify that by saying that I rarely send email from my phone; I mostly use it to check my accounts. My thumbs can deal with the key pad, but not with any speed or agility. I have heard of outgoing email problems with Exchange, but have not experienced them.
THE reason to get an iPhone if you are a photographer. I currently have more than 6500 photos on my unit and have plenty of room yet for more. I use this a lot as an impromptu portfolio to show prospective clients, and it's great to pass around at parties to show off my latest shots. I don't use the built-in camera much, but it is good to know it is there for emergencies.
I don't travel all that much, but when I do, this has been really helpful. My wife and I were heading home from a romantic B&B getaway weekend in Grand Haven when we remembered we needed to pick up cat food. A quick visit to the web via Safari, searching on "PetCo Michigan", revealed an outlet in the next town. Another few taps and the Map app showed the store to be 15 miles ahead, just off the highway.
Yes, the iPhone is also an iPod. I recently gave a series of laser light show demos at a tech fair in Maine. I plugged my iPhone/iPod into the sound system of the venue and used it to drive the music response of some of the lasers. I had previously bought some techno/trance music from the iTunes store for this, and it worked out great, something about the thumping bass in the tune "Sandstorm" works really well with lasers.
I use this all the time to locate people with whom I need to communicate. I have directions to the homes of some of my client in the system, and use that when I haven't visited someone recently and need to remind myself where they live. I also use the "notes" feature of my doctor's contact info to list all the meds I take. When someone asks me (during a dentist visit, for instance) what my regimen is, I can dial this up and let the examiner copy from the screen. Being of a certain age (Late Cretaceous), there is no way I can remember all this.
Now we're getting into the more obscure apps. The Level is just what it says, a carpenter's level that shows you when things are truly horizontal or vertical. Somehow, my telephone knows where the center of the Earth is and can indicate when something is tilting. I use this to level our camp stove when on vacation.
I have been bidding on a lot of antique slide projectors and stage lighting lately, getting ready for a several lightshows next year. Long story short: we take antique lighting instruments, gut them, and install lasers in them. Anyway, the eBay app lets me track my auctions and make those last-minute bids that get you your gold.
Why should Windows users be the only ones to waste time with solitaire? This is a free card game that allows you to occupy your time on airplanes after you finish the magazines you brought with you.
This isn't really an app, it is the control panel for everything else on the iPhone. After a year and a half, my battery is starting to lose its mojo, so I keep most of my power-sucking features turned off until I need them. This includes Location awareness (turn on when I need the Map), WiFi (turn on when I am in a place with a good signal and I need to surf the Web), and 3G (turn on when I am doing a lot of email). The vanilla Edge network setting works fine for most things, and uses the least amount of power, so that is the default on my iPhone.
All in all, my experience has been a good one. But I am really looking forward to seeing what Apple comes up with next July when its contract with AT&T expires. That's when I'll update.
Happy New Year!
Mike Gould, is a mouse wrangler for the U of M, runs the MondoDyne Web Works/Macintosh Consulting/Digital Photography mega-mall, is a member of Factotem.com, and welcomes comments addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org.