Josh Clark, author of O'Reilly's Best iPhone Apps: The Essential Guide for Discriminating Downloaders says he waited three decades until the iPhone finally arrived in 2007. "Apple's fabulous device is the only thing that's ever resembled my childhood notions of the 21st century, the first time the future got here," writes Clark. "A computer. In your pocket." And for his new book, Clark scoured the App Store to find the best apps that will make your iPhone shine and you more productive, more creative, more happy. The PDF of Clark's Best iPhone Apps is available now. Check these excerpts to find some of the cool apps Clark recommends.
Best App for When You Can't Hold It
When nature calls, it's SitOrSquat to the rescue. The database of public restrooms steers you to the closest porcelain oasis, including photos and ratings from a network of concerned citizens. That includes you: Update listings with photos, store hours, and ratings, or add new toilets as you explore your town's powder rooms. A blog of toilet humor provides bathroom reading, too. It's a full-service porta-potty for your mobile phone.
RESTROOM RADAR: SitOrSquat's map shows you the closest points of relief. Green and red icons indicate open and closed businesses (yellow means the database doesn't have that info). Select a business to see complete details, including photos, comments, and whether the facilities are clean ("sit") or dirty ("squat").
PILGRIM'S PROGRESS: The Search screen shows results in list view, including photos, ratings and distance from your current location. Type a new location in the search box to find restrooms for another place, or filter results for cleanliness, business type, or a remarkable number of "features" (changing tables, handicap access, seat covers).
Best App for Offbeat Inspiration
Far Out Labs
When writer's block strikes or procrastination descends, this app helps you tackle your project from a fresh direction. In 1975, musician Brian Eno and artist Peter Schmidt published a deck of cards titled "Oblique Strategies: One Hundred Worthwhile Dilemmas." Each card featured an enigmatic phrase to help break creative deadlocks by suggesting a fresh mindset. This app reproduces all five editions of the card set, letting you draw a fresh idea from the top of the stack when inspiration runs dry.
PRACTICAL STEPS: Some cards suggest a practical exercise to jog your mind and nudge you out of your rut. "Take a break," one card advises. "Go outside. Shut the door," counsels another. Hey, if you're stuck, you're stuck. What've you got to lose?
OBSCURE HINTS: Most of the cards contain cryptic phrases to remind you that there's more than one way to approach a problem. Here, the card seems to suggest that a more organic approach might be better than a top-down, structured method.
Best App for Brainstorming
Cross an outline with a flow chart, and you get a "mind map," a visual sketch for capturing and organizing stream-of-consciousness ideas. iThoughts diagrams these brainstorm sessions on your iPhone. A bubble represents your topic; draw links to more bubbles for related ideas, which grow like tendrils across the screen. When you're done, prune and organize branches into shape. Email or share maps online in several formats.
BRANCH OUT: Start with a central idea-- starting a new career as a superhero, for example-- and add branches for the concepts and topics to consider. The diagram sprouts clouds and tentacles of topics and subtopics. iThoughts provides a big canvas for your mind map, about 100 iPhone screens. Swipe to move around, pinch to make the map larger or smaller, or flip your iPhone or iPod on its side for landscape view.
BUBBLING WITH IDEAS: Tap a bubble to select it (here, "Billionaire playboy" is selected). Toolbars materialize to let you add a subtopic bubble or add another bubble at the same level. Tap the arrow at top right (or double-tap the bubble) to edit an item's text, color, shape, or add an icon. You can drag bubbles anywhere on the map, or cut, copy, and paste them into different branches, along with any subtopic bubbles.
Best App for Robot Crooners
Let's get the obvious out of the way: Bebot is adorable. Tap or slide your finger around the screen, and your animated robot sings and warbles. Cute! But don't let all this sweetness lull you into dismissing Bebot's ability. Beneath its precious exterior is a sophisticated sound synthesizer with a pile of options to turn your iPhone into a versatile music machine. Bebot delights the kids, sure, but it'll engage musicians and sound enthusiasts, too.
SONG AND DANCE: Tap or drag across the screen to make Bebot sing. Every location on the screen plays a different pitch and volume, and you can use up to four fingers to play multiple sounds at once. You can change Bebot's voice with a wide range of settings; tap the arrow at bottom right to bring up the control panel.
NOT A TOY ROBOT: Use one of several preset voices, or rig your own settings, adding echo or reverb, changing the scale, limiting playback to certain notes, and more. There's some serious sound nerdery under the hood, but mere mortals can figure out the gist with a bit of trial and error (and even the error part is fun).
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