Free apps for the iPhone and iPad

A few weeks ago, I wrote about some Web sites that evaluate and rate free Android apps (tinyurl.com/d9mjm6j). Since that column was published in The Examiner, I have received numerous requests from readers asking for a similar column on iPhone apps. This is my response to those requests.

My perennial choice for locating recommended applications (apps) for any operating system is Gizmo’s Freeware (techsupportalert.com), which is best known for is canonical lists of free PC software and ratings, but Gizmo has also diversified into other operating systems, including iPhone and Android. If I were to want to find ratings and evaluations of free iPhone apps, techsupportalert.com would be the site that I would first reference. For those who might not be aware, Gizmo’s Web site contains the continuously updated software evaluations of a massive community of volunteer geeks from which the ratings, evaluations and recommendations are derived. For the iPhone, the Gizmo community has recommended about 100 of the best free iPhone apps, each one being considered the best in its class of applications. Gizmo lists 20 categories of iPhone apps, including business, education, entertainment, books, news, games, healthcare, lifestyle, reference, social networking, travel, weather and several other categories. Under each category is the recommended apps for that genre, each of which has been tested and top-rated by the Gizmo community.

I tried several of Gizmo’s recommended apps for the iPhone (many of which will also run on an iPad), and found several of special interest. A recently upgraded (Version 2.9. dated May 21, 2012) free iPhone app from NASA, which will also run on the iPod Touch and iPad, was very interesting. Provided by the NASA Ames Research Center, this app included the latest news and features from NASA, weather forecasts and satellite sighting opportunities, user selectable NASA real-time feeds, and the capability to print from the app. What was especially interesting and attractive in this NASA app was the thousands of high resolution images from NASA, as well as videos, and other educational and entertaining content. Another iPhone app that I have used several times is the free version of TeamViewer, which allows for secure remote access and control of another device, such as a computer, from an iPhone or iPad. An appropriate version of TeamViewer must be installed on both devices, and the device acting as the host will generate a unique access code, which must be entered on the remote device in order to create a connection over the Internet. Once an iPhone or iPad is connected, it can effectively control the host device, as if the user was on it. There is a full image of the screen of the host device, and the remote pointing tool (finger or mouse) appears, allowing access to anything on the host device, just as if the user was sitting in front of the host! TeamViewer is very popular, with more than 100 million copies downloaded for a variety of devices and operating systems.

Since the number of available apps for the iPhone and iPad has been rapidly increasing as the number of iPhone and iPad users has been exploding, it is inevitable that there must be some method of determining the best of the newly released or upgraded apps for these devices. Gizmo accommodates those users with its “iPhone Apps of the Week” listing at techsupportalert.com/ipaotw. Each week a member of the Gizmo community reviews the best of newly released or upgraded free iPhone software (again, most also run on iPads). Among some of the current reviews of the week are a password manager, news resources (including the satirical Onion News network), shopping apps, and other fun and useful apps. One that I found especially interesting was Put Those Fat Fingers to Work, an app that helps the user find bargains on eBay by finding listings that other users might miss due to the seller incorrectly spelling the name or description of the item. According to Gizmo, “The app Fat Fingers searches eBay not only for the product you want, but uses countless misspellings of the product as well.” It is likely that other potential buyers will not find that particular listing, reducing the competition, which might result in a bargain.

Another Web site that evaluates and lists iPhone software (as well as other technical products and services) is MakeUseOf, which has a large and loyal following. The MakeUseOf listing of recommended iPhone apps is online at www.makeuseof.com/pages/best-iphone-apps, and consists of well over 100 recommended iPhone apps, listed in a dozen categories. The categories of iPhone apps listed by MakeUseOf includes Audio, Browsers, Drawing, Finance, Games, Health, Movies, Navigation, Photography, Productivity, Reading, Social, Travel, and Others. Under each category is a list of recommended software along with a link to a full review, and a download link. While most of the recommended apps are free, a few are paid apps, and the price is clearly disclosed in the listings.

Many users simply use the default Web browser provided by the manufacturer of the device, but there are several excellent free iPhone and iPad Web browsers that may offer more speed and functionality than the browser provided by Apple or the device maker. One of my personal favorites is Opera, which is arguably the fastest browser available and (according to Opera) the world’s most popular mobile browser. Opera uses a cloud-assisted technology that it says compresses the Web data as much as 90 percent before downloading, enabling Web pages to load as much as six times faster than its competing browsers, while reducing data usage by up to 90 percent. Opera also offers a Speed Dial feature where the user’s commonly visited Web sites can be opened with a single click or touch. Other features of Opera include visual tabs that display thumbnails of open Web pages, and a synch utility to synchronize bookmarks between the iPhone or iPad, and the Opera installed on a computer or other device.

One of the recommended free navigation apps recommended by MakeUseOf is the latest (June 7, 2012) version of MapQuest. MapQuest, currently owned by AOL, was one of the first Internet mapping utilities, and this new free iPhone version is a powerful mapping utility that includes live voice driving directions, displays cheapest gas prices, displays many of the live traffic cameras allowing the user to see what is ahead, live traffic reports (updated every five minutes), simple search for nearby gas stations and restaurants, customizable avatars, walking directions, and more. AOL says that this MapQuest is among the most popular navigation apps with more than 7 million downloads. According to AOL, “MapQuest is truly a free product – there is no trial period, subscription or upgrade necessary.”

Another very popular free app recommended by MakeUseOf is Trapster, which is also a very controversial app. With more than 14 million registered users, Trapster alerts the user to likely speed trap locations, red light and speed cameras, highway accidents and road hazards. Data is gathered and disseminated in real-time by its “crowdsourced” users, providing what Trapster claims is the world’s most accurate real-time road conditions. Trapster includes (for free) the same commercially available NAVTEQ Live Traffic reports and alerts utilized by many of the expensive GPS units. Trapster offers a “Search & Routing” feature which offers local search capabilities, along with driving directions, as well as a “Patrol” feature that alerts the user that other Trapster users have “patrolled” the road ahead, indicating that it is clear of traps, as indicated by a blue line displayed on your route. I tried Trapster, and it is not perfect, in terms of Beaumont traffic alerts; in many cases, Trapster users have incorrectly reported in real-time that the traffic light mounted cameras used by the city to monitor traffic congestion at many major intersections are red-light cameras, which they are not.

The battle is on as to which operating system offers the largest selection of apps, Apple’s iOS used by iPhones and iPads, or Google’s Android, the most widely used operating system on smartphones and non-Apple tablets, Many, if not most, of the apps listed are available for both Apple and Android devices. The field will shortly become much more crowded now that Microsoft is heavily promoting its new version of Windows for smartphones, tablets and PCs, and is now offering its own app store, with thousands of available apps. Whatever operating system is used by your smart device, there are likely hundreds of free apps that you might find both beneficial and useful.

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