One year ago, Apple opened the doors to the iTunes App Store. We've been wowed with some of the apps, left longing for others, and we've got a (relatively) small wish list.
At this point, the quick availability and utilities of third-party apps can be worth more to iPhone and iPod touch owners than their standard browser/email/media tools. The best of those apps, at least to our productive-minded eyes, are those that make use of the always-in-your-pocket nature of the iPhone/touch to help you keep everything in sync—your tasks, your money, and every random thought. Here's a few:
Note: For the rest of this feature, we'll be using the term iPhone, but all apps, unless otherwise noted, also work on iPod touch models.
Remember the Milk: Not free, but probably worth the $US25/year (or just over $US2/month) for the Pro account to use this intuitively-designed app. As we noted in our Battle of the iPhone Task Managers, the app syncs to your web-based task list, maintains a badge of your overdue tasks (or just tasks from today), shows you what you can get done nearby with geo-awareness, and has one of the best interfaces we've seen for iPhone apps. This isn't smooshing a platform to fit the iPhone; it's using the iPhone to expand the platform.
Evernote: Note-taking app Evernote's whole thing is universal capture—or, put another, more Pash-ian way, expanding your brain. Like the desktop and web-based extensions of Evernote, the iPhone app manages all your clipped text and links quite handily, whether you're online or not. With the camera and voice input of a phone, however, Evernote expands into a tool to capture literally everything you're thinking or seeing. Got a pitch concept that gets bogged down in writing? Just say it and listen to it later. Inspired by the colours and design on a beer label? Snap a pic, and you're one tag search away from pulling it up later. Or take a camphone pic of the note you wrote out on a paper napkin at lunch, and Evernote's OCR abilities can probably translate your scribblings into search-able text. Oh, and there's a free account for anyone who can get by with 40MB of uploads per month and slightly slower OCR scans.
- Wikipanion doesn't do a ton more than provide auto-complete searching of the massive group-edited encyclopedia, and provide large, landscape-capable text of the results with bookmarking. But in a lot of situations, that's exactly what you're looking for.
Most of the iPhone's real app problems are self-inflicted by its creators, the folks at Apple—which makes them all the more frustrating, as the solutions seem just a few executive meetings and code re-writes away.
Apple's own restrictions: We could understand, if not exactly love, the need to activate and manage your phone's music and media content with iTunes. And if the designers really know their hardware, maybe forbidding multiple background processes makes sense. But forbidding copy and paste functions? How is that actually helping anybody who owns the device? And refusing to let audio, other than the native music player, work in the background kind of kills the fun of the great audio apps out there like Last.fm, Pandora, and the like. We've seen some clever work-arounds, and some jailbreak solutions, but it's hard to believe there aren't secure, stable ways to work both those functions into a phone with all this technology dropped into it.
Finding the apps you want: As noted above, Apple's come a long way in opening up its approval process—so let's see some focus now on better search and discovery powers. The iTunes App Store features a host of duplicates, also-rans, and, as more than five minutes of browsing will reveal, lots of useless crud. You can't have open development without some openly awful apps, of course, but a web-based search utility with big results windows, powerful search tools, and visible ratings—something like Appulo.us—would make getting one's apps a much less arduous task. Or, as CNET suggests (near end of article), create a kind of "Genius" recommendation system for the App Store.
Missing push notifications: Our sibling site Gizmodo has been covering this beat since it started ... well, back when the App Store was announced. Push notifications, which let any software firm's servers publish data updates to your device, were initially due in Sept. 2008, and they're still not here. Nobody knows quite what the problem is, or how big a fix it requires, but the possibilities (VOIP call alerts!) are rich and deep, and we've been left hanging too long.
The little things: We'll keep saying it until it's fixed. It's ridiculous that a phone that can remotely control your computer and work as a WebDAV server can't be made to monitor a folder full of text notes and sync its own Notes application to it. And while we dig apps like TouchType that let you write your email in landscape mode for more thumb room, why isn't that a built-in feature?
What have been your favourite App Store discoveries over the past year? Which apps are you still waiting to see, which utterly disappointed you in their implementation, and which other phone's app makes you green with envy?
Spill your own State of the App Store address in the comments below.