There are literally hundreds of thousands of apps in the iTunes App Store store (OK, over 500,000 actually). The large majority are games to be sure, but there are also tons of non-games apps that can turn your iPhone or iPad into an invaluable productivity tool that fits you perfectly.
Since Apple doesn’t allow “try and buy’s” in the App Store, it’s often difficult to know if an app you’re considering is going to work for you before you buy it. Usually, all you have to go on is the screen shots and the ratings and reviews from other users, but you need more information to make a good decision.
For an app to be truly useful to you, it has to do several things well:
- It provides just the functionality you need. A great app is designed to do exactly one thing really well. This is surprisingly hard to accomplish – developers are constantly tempted to build kitchen sinks because of the competition.
- It’s easy for you to figure out how it works. The way a good app works is easily discoverable. You are not left guessing as to how to use it. What’s easily discoverable by me may not be for you, but a well designed app manages to hit the sweet spot where it’s easy for most people.
- It’s designed with the average human hand in mind. A good app is designed with buttons and controls that accommodate fingers of all sizes, not just tiny ones. It’s also designed to require the bare minimum number of touches needed to accomplish a task. Apple encourages this in it’s Human Interface Guide, but developers are give a lot of leeway, not all of which results in something usable by most of us.
- It’s designed with the human eye in mind. A good app doesn’t use eye-strain/pain inducing colors, such as tennis-ball green. For non-game apps, muted colors work better and are much easier on the eye than bright, vibrant (gaudy) ones.
- It won’t kill your battery. Apps that use the iPhone’s radio to pull data from the Internet need to be good citizens of the iPhone’s battery. No matter how much you like an app, if it’s constantly draining your battery down, you aren’t going to be happy with it.
- It’s not advertising in disguise. This is mostly a risk with free or freemium apps, but not always. If there is a pay-for version of an app, you are usually better off simply buying it rather than being subjected to constant spam in the free version. Sometimes a free app is all about advertising other apps and not about providing any sort of useful function at all.
Figuring out whether all these things are true is difficult to do without actually buying the app because it’s entirely subjective based on your personal needs, likes, and dislikes. Your are left with inferring whatever you can from the App Store description, ratings, and reviews, as well as reviews on app-related tech blogs. Comparing apps with your iPhone-carrying friends is another way to try before you buy.
So to try to help you gain an eye for good apps (and avoid crapware) I will begin posting reviews of apps that I’ve personally used – the good, the bad, and the ugly. They won’t be traditional feature/function reviews so much as they will point out why the apps are good (or bad, or ugly). My goal will be to teach you what to look for in a good app, rather than convince you that you should buy or avoid any one in particular. I’ll shoot for one every week or so.
What good, bad, or ugly apps have you used?