The App Year in Review: My Favorite Apps from 2011

“Hello, my name is Jon, and…

I’m an App-aholic.”

Apps is me. I love ’em and I love to share ’em. And, just for the record, I consider my obsessive behavior with apps of all kinds, especially iPhone apps, iPad apps and small business productivity-oriented web apps to be a healthy addiction. Well mostly healthy. At least I’m learning about the future of mobile computing… and I’m definitely having fun.

Here are my mini-reviews of my favorite apps from 2011 (more to come in 2012). I look forward to your comments and to hearing your recommendations via the comments below.

Note Taker HD: Hand-Written Notes Come to the iPad
This is the app that changed my life. It’s a powerful tool for writing on the iPad in a totally hand-written natural way. I used to prefer using yellow-lined paper writing pads for meetings, and would journal in notebooks, but Note Taker HD has shown me that I can write almost as fast on my iPad tablet (using a stylus) and I’m eliminating the clutter of scraps of paper all over the place.  I use it now for meeting notes, journal entries and brainstorming sessions; and I just love the natural feel, especially the way that Note Taker HD’s window system lets me write nice and big while my writing is automatically resized into a page-sized virtual sheet. This app is so easy and just plain fun that I find myself swiftly moving into the promised land of an (almost) paperless and less cluttered office.

The Hit List: To-Do List Nirvana
In the incessant quest for the holy grail of an Organized Life, I’ve taken more than a few laps around the track with various to-do list programs. Now, I think I’ve finally found the one I’ll stick with forever because, for me at least, this to-do list offers the right balance between features and simplicity. It’s snappy name is The Hit List.  It’s Mac-only (via the Mac App Store), but I also use it on my iPhone and iPad. I can organize lists into categories by client, by project, or by any number of other categories. It’s very intuitive with due dates and priority settings as well as a space for notes on each item. I also like the way that it synchs between platforms and the few dollars I pay per year for that service is well worth it. I’m really pleased I’ve found something that works for me, and I highly recommend that you check it out.

Zite: The Future of News Reading
My new favorite news reader is an iPad app that trumps Flipboard. Zite is personalized news at its finest. It’s infinitely customizable in a very effortless and seamless way. Zite filters what I like according to my initial preferences, and then I continue to let it know what I like and why as I go along. As I interact with it, the app gets smarter and gives me an increasingly better fit for my interests and sensibilities in a clear, interactive, easy-to-read format. The results in terms of valuable articles is the ultimate value, but it’s also easy to share what I read, which is certainly a requirement for me in this social media world of ours.

Google Docs: My New Standard in Groupware
More and more of my clients and team members are now collaborating with me via Google Docs. I gotta believe that that’s because it works. One previous concern of mine was the lack of change-tracking features that are frequently required and available in MS Word. Now I’m enthralled with the newish “See revision history” feature in Google Docs which I like even better than the “Track Changes” equivalent in Word. I am also surprised by the ease of the collaboration process. If you haven’t seen this, you need to try it: When I’m working with someone and we’re both updating a document at the same time, it’s just seamless. You can even see what the other person is doing, in a distinct color, while you are also editing—all via the Web, of course. All the value of sharing and online collaboration is built in. Google Docs is now a standard part of my workflow.

Summify: Socially Aggregated News Delivered Daily
Facebook coined the term “social graph” to describe the mapping of social relationships online. There are clear advantages to extending these virtual relationships via other websites in order to create new kinds of information collections. Summify is just this kind of real time source of aggregated news and blog posts. What I read, pretty much every day at some point, is being sourced by Summify from my own social graph (my online relationships) via their neato web app (a web browser-based app). Summify leverages my network by sending me daily emails containing a linked list of news articles that have been referenced (linked to via Facebook or Twitter) by multiple people from within my social graph. When multiple people from my networks share the same information, that clearly increases the likelihood that I’ll find it interesting. And it works. The consistent quality of what Summify delivers has been impressive. And I like that it can be delivered by email too. I don’t have to go to the app or website to see what they’ve found for me. This is a useful and, to me at least, a valuable preview of the growing power of our social media matrix.

Nimble: Cross Social Network Messaging Power
This start-up company is a recent investment of Mark Cuban and a definite app to watch. Nimble is a new breed of virtual CRM software that connects your contacts from Facebook, LinkedIn, Gmail and Twitter into a single interface. From within Nimble’s web-based interface, I can message people on different social networks from within one platform and that message, along with all the others that may have been sent from other sites, is available in one place. Note, these aren’t post or status updates, but the embedded messages from within the particular sites themselves. This is very convenient because you don’t have to go to LinkedIn, for example, to send a LinkedIn message to someone whose regular email address you may not have otherwise. Thus, Nimble is also a great way to keep track of the increasing number of online conversations, all in one place.

Scrivener: Larger Written Documents at Another Level
I want to give an “honorable mention” to Scrivener, a marvelous and powerful writing/document management program. I’ve used it to organize references and new resources by subject area for the social media workshops that I’ve been developing and delivering. But I’m only scratching the surface of this feature rich program. It’s powerfully sophisticated, so there’s a real learning curve involved. However, I’ve heard from multiple, reliable sources that this program has been enthusiastically received by authors and others who work with king-sized pieces of content and/or research. If you’re one of them, I think Scrivener is definitely worth checking out.

iPhone Photography
My app review of the year would not be complete without talking about iPhone photography apps. Taking photographs and playing with the images on the iPhone is a source of great pleasure and fun to me. My favorite app so far is Camera+ by Lisa Bettany. I can crop and I can process with a very creative set of presets. It’s got some great filters and I can also put all kinds of artsy frames on my images, plus it easily posts to the social networks (although I’ve recently started using Instagram for that because it also connects to Tumblr). I’m just starting to explore Camera+’s actual camera features…

ProHDR makes a big improvement over the built-in HDR on my  iPhone. If you haven’t checked out HDR (Higher Dynamic Range) photography via the apps, you must do.  It just makes a huge difference and I can’t imagine doing iPhoneography without it.

Finally, I’m a fan of Auto Painter, which I use on both my iPad and iPhone to create very cool painterly effects on my photos. It’s been a big source of creative delight. And recently I’ve had some fun with SketchMee which turned a picture of my newly-wed son and his bride into a lovely pencil sketch, if I do say so myself.

Bonus List
I had the pleasure of catching up with my favorite uber-geek, Brett Terpstra (@ttscoff) at MacWorld and noticed he posted an awesome 2011 Favorite Mac Apps list. Click to discover more cool stuff.

Thanks for app-ing with me – I’m really happy to share all of this with you. Like I said, more to come (subscribe to this blog above if you want to be notified). I wish you happy app-ing in the year ahead, and I hope you have as much fun checking out these recommendations as I have had exploring them. Please let me know what you think.

17 replies
  1. Sorel Dietzler
    Sorel Dietzler says:

    Hi Jon, Colleagues started emailing me things in Google docs and I got very frustrated with it, primarily because I wasn’t familiar with it. I have since become rather versed in its abilities and I too use it more than Word now.

  2. Lili Murad
    Lili Murad says:

    My father-in-law loves the news and reads the paper from front to back. We got him an Ipad for Christmas and he wondered what he could do with it. I preloaded the Zite app and once he got familiar, there was no turning back. I am glad you mentioned this app because I think (or at lease my inlaws) it’s wonderful.

  3. Erin
    Erin says:

    I am really pleased with my iPhone photos. I have pretty much abondoned the use of my digital camera. The Camera + app is easy to use and my 9 year old keeps busy playing around with it too. If you have an iPhone and like to take pics, get Camera +.

  4. Cathy Valtorez
    Cathy Valtorez says:

    Nimble is cool, especially if you use a lot of different social pages. One thing my wife has mentioned (she’s not an avid user of social media) is that she hates logging on to so many different things to reach out to her different friends and clients. I heard about Nimble a little while ago and I am slowly gettng her adjusted. I think it is going to help her out.

  5. ComBridges
    ComBridges says:

    Thanks for the comments all! True that there is frequently a learning curve, but for the really good apps, it seems well worth the effort. As Lili said about her in-laws and Zite, some of these are so much better than the old ways that “there’s no turning back.” Great feedback. Stay tuned (via the Subscribe by Email above if you are so moved). More to come!

  6. Jack Hamilton
    Jack Hamilton says:

    The Hit List is great! I highly recommend it, too. I too have used a few different apps and this has been the best for me. I learned of it from a friend and when I tried theirs, I got rid of my Blackberry and went Mac. Thanks for the great post, Jon!

  7. Kemal
    Kemal says:

    For the gazillion or so apps out there, you sure have a pretty good little list. I have heard about most of these and have tried nearly all of them. I have a high school teacher and I always ask my students what they newest app is that they are using. I try to stay away from the ones that cost money, but occaisionally I will spluge. I really like the Note taker, Hitlist, and Sketchme. Nice article.

  8. Kim Swanson
    Kim Swanson says:

    I want to say thanks for adding Summify to your list. I had not heard of it before, but after checking it out I found it was something that can really be useful to me. Thanks again!

  9. ComBridges
    ComBridges says:

    Thanks for all the comments, every one. Your encouragement is greatly appreciated! Please consider subscribing to this blog via the links above. I’ve got a lot of great stuff coming soon. No kidding. In any case, thanks again.

  10. Mark Goodman
    Mark Goodman says:

    Seriously, Jon, did you just plug your subscription and not reply directly to any of these comments? What are your intentions with this blog, to simply grow your subscription list?…

  11. Missy
    Missy says:

    I used Note Taker HD for about a month at work. I was actually quite pleased with what it could do for me, but I just lost interest since I didn’t use my Ipad as much as I could have. If I get back to taking more notes I plan on using it more.

    I also agree with Mark though, what’s with the subscribe plug Jon?

  12. Lisa Jenkins
    Lisa Jenkins says:

    When I read about all of the apps for the iphone I just want one even more. I am stuck with the phone I have for another 7 months, but as soon as my contract is up I am going Mac. Thanks for the insight on the cool and useful apps that I need to check out for my “future” phone.

    P.S. Mark / Missy give Jon a break!

  13. Brian Greig
    Brian Greig says:

    Thanks for a great list and link to get more info on apps available. I am new to using them as I haven’t had much experience with my phone other than calls and texting in the past. I finaly feel I am getting in the know with my phone (thanks to my teenage kids).

  14. Indelicato
    Indelicato says:

    My kids use the Auto Painter app on our iPad a lot, especially when we are at dinner or waiting somewhere. They really get creative and it’s a better use of their time rather than just watching some mindless video to pass the time.

  15. ComBridges
    ComBridges says:

    Hey I’m just glad you care, Mark. 😉 My “intention”/purpose/mission is and has been for a long time: Spanning the Grand Canyon Gap between people and technology. I’m sincerely grateful for all of these comments and I’m gratified that it seems that I’m on purpose in that people are finding this post useful. Frankly I didn’t think there was a lot to add. Everyone seem encouraged by the experiences they have described, which is GREAT. And I love hearing all the different experiences as people take advantage of these new tools. And, thanks, Lisa for the defense. 😉 I trust people only to subscribe if interested, but many people don’t think of actually doing it, so I figured a reminder couldn’t hurt. Pretty innocent really. As you’ll see in future posts, Mark, I am interested in building my Tribe, and by that I mean long-term, sustainable, authentic virtual relationships with people who are engaged by what I offer. I’m completely clear that building a list for the sake of the list without me offering real value via the quality of the content is completely meaningless. ‘Nuf said?

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