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iPhone apps – some recommendations

By January 9, 2009apple

Several friends of mine have recently gotten an Iphone, and have asked me to recommend some applications that I find useful. Here is my review of a few of the general utilities I have tried:


Weather

No one seems to be able to do anything about the weather, but that doesn't stop people from developing applications related to weather forecasting (and don't even get me started on tip calculators). Apple's basic weather utility works fine, but provides only bare-bones information: current temperature and forecast, along with a five day basic forecast.   

WeatherBug (free) gives more detailed information, such as rainfall amounts wind direction/speed, humidity and dew point. It also provides a color weather radar and some traffic cam videos. And guess what? I never use it.

Recently, The Weather Channel (free) just released an application and so I tried it out. The interface is better than WeatherBug, and they provide just as much information. But, after several weeks of having it on my iPhone, I continue to use the basic Apple weather program.  

Sometimes all you want is the simple thing.

Voice search

One problem with the iPhone is that sometimes it's hard to search for information, especially if you're driving, putting on makeup, and programming your GPS (I tried to go light on the makeup, but sometimes circumstances require it). Anyway, having a program that lets you search without having input information by hand can be very useful.

The first program that I can heartily recommend is called Melodis Voice Dialer (free).  it only does one thing, but does it well. If you want to call somebody in your contact list, you open this application holds down the button and speak the person's name.  For example, I just searched for my friend Robert Peyton's name inabout four seconds, which is much faster than trying to scroll through the address book. The results aren't always perfect, but I would say that it delivers about 90% accuracy.

Google's application (free) also has voice search, but it works primarily for seeking information on the Internet. A program called Vlingo (free) does the same thing and seems to work just as well.  Vlingo also lets you search your contacts. 

Travel

Several programs are cropping up that allow you to track the status of flights.  I've used a program called FlightTrack, which seems to work pretty well. In theory, you can monitor the status of a flight in real time. In practice, it's good at letting you know if a flight took off late, but it seems to be a little behind in notifying you when a flight has actually arrived. Still, it's better than having to continually call and wait for a telephone status update.  And it's cool to watch the actual flight path of your loved one on a map.

Location-based information

Programs that make use of the iPhone's GPS function are useful for finding information about services and places that are close to where you currently are. Finding a good place to eat is always an issue when you're traveling. A few months ago when I was in Austin I was taking pictures and a group of people approached and (thinking I was a local) asked me for a good place to eat.  Preferably, one that was within walking distance.  No problem, I said.  And then I took out my phone and used a program called Yelp (free) to find a restaurant that was close by. The group thanked me and went to off in the direction I pointed them towards.  Yelp is an online community so you'll have to sign up and set up an account. The reviews are pretty uneven but it can be a good way of finding a great off the wall restaurant that only locals know about.

A few minutes later I came across a young couple who also asked me if I knew someplace to eat in the neighborhood. I asked them what kind of food they were interested in. They told me they wanted to eat South Western cuisine. This time, I used a program called UrbanSpoon (free), which is set up like a slot machine.  There are three spinners: location, cuisine, and price range.   you can lock down one or all of the spinners depending on what you were interested in, and then you shake it and it gives you a random choice. However, UrbanSpoon also lets you find restaurants based on their proximity to your current location.

For the most part, yelp and urban spoon are enough to help me find interesting places to eat in any city. However, there's one other program that I can highly recommend.  LocalEats (.99 cents) is great because it compiles the 100 best restaurants in various cities, and it will list those choices based on nearness to your location.  One other program that I haven't used much, but can be useful is OpenTable (free).  To use this program you have to sign up at the OpenTable website and then give the application your sign-in information.  Once you do you can search for restaurants based on when reservations are available.  I find it useful to be able to see which nearby restaurants have open reservations and what times are available, without having to call someone on the phone.  The only downside is that not all restaurants participate in the program so you wouldn't be able to see those restaurants in your list.

P.S. If you appreciate these kinds of observations, you might want to read this as well.

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