I got an iPad six months ago, and have spent the time since then exploring far too many apps for my own good, so I’ve decided that my iTunes Store meanderings should do some good for someone, if possible…

Over the next few months, therefore, I’m going to share some of the apps that I have deemed “keepers”, amidst the legion of apps that have sojourned briefly on my iPad, before being unceremoniously deleted for lack of perceived long term value. Unquestionably, many of these apps that today I praise will eventually be usurped by new and improved solutions. For now, though, these are the few apps that have survived my merciless judgment, by simple dint of the fact that they’re better than the rest:

In order to make this review somewhat digestible, I’m going to split the apps into 20 categories, and I warmly welcome your own feedback and input, should you know of any apps I’ve not covered, which you feel are superior.

  • Learn
  • Teach
  • Read
  • Play
  • Create
  • Watch
  • Travel
  • Notes
  • Share
  • Listen
  • Finance
  • Work
  • Research
  • Shop
  • Utilities
  • Photography
  • Communicate
  • News
  • Cook
  • Cure

Please note that in all but one or two cases, I am focusing on apps that are, or were at one time or another, free. With this in mind, let me start with the “Shopping” category:

SHOPPING

Yes, I downloaded the Catalogue app, for all of about 10 minutes. It seemed cool for about that long, before I realized I hate getting catalogues in the post, so why would I rejoice in a flashy digital version of the junk mail tomes? It was therefore the first app to “wiggle” its way out of my iLife. Other apps fared better, however.

AppStart, AppShopper, App Deals, AppPriceDrop

With 585,000 apps in the App Store (as of 03/07/2012), of which more than 150,000 are exclusively for the iPad, how does a new owner know what’s what? A good beginning would be to dive in to the very attractively designed AppStart interface, and learn a little about the device itself, how to maximize its functionality, and then which top apps merit installation as a good foundational collection. At this point, it would be useful to learn the “secret” many iPad users have learned too late: an enormous number of iPad and iPhone apps fluctuate in price on a frustratingly random basis. I rely on a trio of research and aggregation apps (AppShopper, App Deals, AppPriceDrop) to parse these fluctuations, and take best advantage of “sales”.

Flow

Amazon’s AR app takes impressive advantage of your iPhone or iPad camera, and lets you point your device at the everyday products around you to discover more about them, and how much they cost on the site that truly seems to have it all. Audio and video clips of some products are often offered, and the A9 technology makes the pan functionality effortless. I was at a friend’s house and browsed a book they had recommended to me, held my iPad infront of it, and in less than the time it took to say the title, I had added it to my Amazon wishlist. From a consumer perspective this is functional utility through technology innovation at its finest. From a sales perspective this is targeted “pull-push” marketing at its most impressive.

GrouponHD, LivingSocial, Spreebird

The ubiquitous deal companies have efficient mobile apps to accompany their desktop sites. I actually find the LivingSocial one to be a little better designed, but the Spreebird app (and site) allows me to donate 10% of the deal back to my daughter’s school, so the double whammy win is a good twist on a concept that is getting old in the eyes of many vendors out there.

Craigslist, eBay

If you use these sites on your PC or Mac, these apps are great add-ons, to help you track and manage your buying and selling.

Karma

My newest app crush is on Karma. The concept is deceptively simple: tap in to your social network to manage your gift giving schedule; respond to the growing demand for “in the moment” accessibility and ease of process; transfer the choice to the recipient, without diminishing the impact of the gesture. You have to try it out to “get it”, but (as the tagline suggest) “good things will follow”.

On the bubble…

ShopAdvisor, Coupons, RedLaser, ShopSavvy, Yowza!

I love the idea of Barcode scanning for price comparisons, and easy access to coupons in situ, but I’m afraid the value of these apps may be limited to the mobile phone form factor: the iPad and other tablets prove too bulky for the mobile scanning function, IMHO. That said, these 5 apps seem to be the best of the bunch, and I tested a bundle.

Do let me know if you’ve discovered iPad apps that have made your life as a consumer a little easier, or simply a little more fun!

Next time, I’ll be reviewing which Social apps I use on a regular basis.

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As professional reviewers and taste-makers find themselves increasingly marginalized by the aggregate insights and observations of “the crowd”, one wonders whether the demise of printed news may actually be beaten to the punch by the obsolescence of the once-all-powerful critic.

It used to be that we relied on Patricia Wells or Brad A. Johnson to guide us from one fine dining experience to the other. Indeed, reading their restaurant reviews in the Herald Tribune or Angeleno (respectively) represented something of a tasty appetizer, prior to the main experience of visiting an emerging “hot spot” discovered by their renowned palates.

Today, we are far more likely to turn to the legion of self-anointed food critics that live on Yelp, and – by parsing their experiences – so determine our choice of venue.

Of course, this trend is not limited to food: IMDB, Metacritic, and rottentomatoes.com are but a few of the resources available to moviegoers seeking to crowdsource their entertainment choices; a slew of new apps and engines, such as Weddar (location-based, people-powered, social weather reporting) and Fflick (twitter-based movie recommendation engine, recently acquired by Google), to name but a couple, are rapidly making anyone with the inclination a “retail influencer”.

It seems that for every institution, industry, and brand, there’s an app or a site ready to offer up a plethora of user-generated reviews. Amazon’s main value proposition is arguably not so much its products or pricing, but rather the fact that every one of those products is accompanied by a rich diversity of opinions from past shoppers. Groupon and Foursquare give users the opportunity to share “tips” and other product insights, and what’s Facebook if not one big moshpit of “Like/Unlike”? From PCs to software downloads, cars to cancer treatment, the experienced insights of trained professionals or deeply experienced specialists are being usurped, in favor of the massed choir of “fellow shoppers” in whom we prefer to somewhat blindly place our faith – jaded by a glut of advertising, and suspicious of prognosticators that seem less perfectionist and more political…a classic case of “quantity trumps quality”, based on the assumption that a sufficiently large aggregate of diversified opinions and reviews will yield a more truthful mean insight than one or two “professional” perspectives.

During the early days of this trend, the notion that one could turn to our peers for honest pre-purchase evaluations was both compelling and valuable. Sites such as Epinions.com and eBay fostered communities of idealistic shoppers, keen to ensure that their fellow consumers benefited from their prior experiences with a brand or product. As with most movements, the early days were a refreshing and invigorating alternative to what had admittedly become a somewhat stuffy status quo of entrenched, predictable, and unimaginative thinking. However, with mass adoption comes an exponential raising of the volume. The signal-to-noise ratio has diminished so swiftly that  I believe the “great experiment” risks expiring, gorged on the fat of its gluttony. Opinion aggregating sites such as Yelp are working frantically to develop and perfect algorithms that will mitigate the mess, but code often confounds the issue (many Yelp users – consumers and businesses alike – are complaining that their bona-fide reviews are being filtered for no apparent reason, and Yelp representatives explain that they have no control over the automated process of removing reviews that its algorithm deems “suspicious”).

This leaves us at the proverbial crossroad: either engineers or programmers discover and develop a stronger mechanism for managing the overwhelming pool of reviews attaching themselves to every book, diaper, TV, ointment, and car available on the Web; or we begin to find ourselves gravitating toward, and eventually anointing a select few regular reviewers, and making them the professional critics of the 21st Century, hired by their readership/viewership, and empowered to guide us all once more, as we seek out – albeit a little more frugally than our parents may have done – the next great meal, deal, or wheel.

What is certain, IMHO, is that crowdsourced review pools are fast reaching their saturation point and, unless someone begins to refine and maximize the resource, it will be as appealing and nourishing as sitting in a pool-full of marshmallows: the idea was thrilling, and the initial experience inspiring, but eventually the reality proves somewhat mind-numbing, and perhaps even a little sickening.