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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It’s been almost 2 months since I last posted anything here (I have no interest in blogging for the sake of blogging, and I’m sure you have no interest in reading self-important daily ruminations on the state of social media, society, or Steve Jobs (RIP)).

So, beginning today, I will be compiling – in keeping with my commitment to publish only when I have something worth publishing – recaps of a few of the various things I’ve discovered and shared during the previous month, be it via Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, or whatever other social brand made sense in the moment. I won’t be recapping ALL my postings and discoveries (saints preserve us!), but only those that I think still merit review, one month later. As noted above, I’ll be calling this regular entry “In Case You Missed It…”, and I welcome any feedback or input, as always.  So, without further ado, here is the first installment of this regular publication for your enjoyment, information, education, and perhaps even inspiration! (this first posting will cover a little more than the past month, just to get us all caught up):

Fundraising in the New Economy

As many of my readers know, I have been dedicating a big chunk the past couple of years to supporting a small variety of Not-for-Profit Organizations, helping them to strengthen their brand and financial positions during this economic downturn. Many NPOs are still wasting a lot of time pursuing legacy funding channels that no longer deliver the returns they used to bring, at the cost of other revenue generation opportunities. Crowd-sourced and network funding channels abound now, including ProFounder, Kickstarter, Razoo and others. NPOs need to have a dedicated New Funding Director, well-versed in emerging channels (from text-based through Social, and beyond). In July, Mashable published an interesting article offering some tips for NPO mobile campaigning. It was a little simplistic, but a great way to help NPOs start thinking along the right lines.

21st Century Pop

Later that month, I came across a very compelling site called thesixtyone, where “new artists make music and listeners decide what’s good”. Why it took me so long to check this out, I’ll never know, but I’m glad to see it still going strong, and now there’s another offering, exclusively for the iPad, called Aweditorium, which is similar, yet just different enough to make it worth looking in to. While Spotify, Grooveshark, Pandora, Mog, and Last.fm are hands down the best purveyors of mainstream music over the Net, it’s great to see intuitive, crowdsourced music experience such as thesixtyone and Aweditorium. Kudos to Reid Hoffman and Joi Ito for supporting such truly grassroots musical adventures as thesixtyone, and I’m eager to see what sort of UX the iCloud offers, to mitigate the lousy experience that is currently iTunes.

Gee, Plus or Minus

Also in July, I began using Google+, and I must say I am still struggling to adopt it as a preferred social network. I can see some potential, but it is so specifically reliant on the input of users that one wonders whether “we” are enough to ensure ongoing and continually expanding usefulness, beyond the fraternity of early adopters. This network may end up becoming little more than a glorified techie BBS, which is not a bad thing, just not perhaps what everyone had initially expected or hoped for. I yearn to be proven wrong, though, and see this evolve into a deeply enriching experience for a vast cross section of society, sufficiently differentiated from Facebook that it moves beyond being an “either/or” proposition. Other niche social networks are growing strongly, meanwhile, including photography site 500px (an alternative the increasingly messy deviantart).

Incremental Change

I’ve been waging a more than 2-year battle to have a major residential street in Burbank calmed sufficiently to allow for bicycle lanes, a center turn lane, upgraded signalization, and safe pedestrian crossing experiences. Just a few weeks ago, with the help of many friends and professionals, the battle was won, and we now move on to the next street, in this war (at least, that’s what it often feels like!) to make urban living safer, more manageable, and more sustainable.  My efforts were quiet and diplomatic (for the most part!), compared to the impressive actions of people like Vilnius Mayor A.Zuokas and Ed Begley Jr. While we may not all have the discipline, vision, & commitment of Mr. Begley, wouldn’t it be nice if we each moved an inch further in the right direction? Standing still on the issue of sustainable living isn’t going to improve air quality, landfill overflows, urban heat island effect, & the host of other challenges bearing down on us. Whoever said “ignorance is bliss” was a fool (Hello, Thomas Gray). As for the tank stunt: Is it all staged? Perhaps. Does it momentarily fulfill the fondest wish of many a pedestrian, bus driver, and bicyclist around the world? Definitely. The streets of our urban areas are supposed to be for ALL forms of transportation, not just cars. Does your city have the legislative tank commanders necessary to ensure you are able to get around a cleaner city, however you wish, and safely? Think about it, and maybe one or two more of us can act upon it…

In the meantime, while we fight to make our cities more inclusive, many among us are worrying about how our privacy is becoming compromised online. Facebook is certainly not to blame, if you are stupid enough to post drunken/naked/awkward pictures of yourself on your profile, or otherwise upload sensitive data. That’s all on you, bubba! However, your phone number, real estate records, social content, name, age, and so much more are easy to find on the web, regardless of your Facebook activity, thanks to a host of sites you may never have heard of. Clearing the data can be a bit of a headache, but finding all those sites has recently become a whole lot easier: Unlistmy.info is a free service that helps you identify those sites and remove your personal data from their records.

Speaking of records, the results from the 2010 Census came online last month, and they’re interesting to wander around, during your coffee/tea break… (some intriguing questions arise, such as: if all designated races experienced population decline in Los Angeles County, how did the overall population in that California county INCREASE by nearly 300,000 people?). Explore the 2010 Census here (courtesy of CNN).

Keeping The Fire Alight

More recently, Lots of new techie toys have been coming out: iPhone 4S, Amazon Fire Tablet, Kindle Touch, Samsung Galaxy S2 for T-Mobile and others, a couple of new Android tablets, some more Windows phones…Despite high unemployment, and a gasping economy, our almost unconscious desire for the newest consumer tech bauble remains as healthy as ever. At some point we will suddenly wake up to the fact that all these devices are nothing more than toys or tools, and as such need to be either mightily entertaining or extremely useful…and, in both cases, firmly reliable.

Let that day come sooner, rather than later.

The speculation surrounding the Amazon tablet release was perhaps the most feverish, with claims being made that the “Fire” was a potential “iPad Killer”. Despite press reports supporting this dramatic contention, nothing could be further from the truth, IMHO. As I said in one of my Quora answers last month, the new device from Amazon certainly opens up the market, with a price point ($199) that will bring fiscal fence-sitters into the arena. However, the feature-set on the Kindle Fire make it more like a juiced-up iPod Touch than an iPad. The Kindle Fire has no camera, no microphone, and no 3G connectivity. That said, it has two things that the iPad does not have: Amazon Silk and a vast content library (remember, Apps are not content, per se, they are applications!). The iPad will continue (for now) to dominate the upper end of the tablet market, with its dominant app collection and solid device performance. Meanwhile, the Kindle Fire represents a price and feature challenge to the rest of the market (Android and Windows8, essentially). To go out on a limb, just for the heck of it, I’m going to predict that that Kindle Fire does very well in the short term, while the new Kindle e-readers do astonishingly well, once they come out in November. Amazon may well take 2nd place in tablet market share, but not for long, as I have to believe the release of Microsoft’s Windows 8 tablet OS will force the Android Tablets and applications communities to mature at an accelerated pace. Amazon will take 1st place in mobile content delivery, and will keep it, so long as they maintain focus on their existing core capabilities.

I don’t think Mr. Jeff Bezos and Co. are looking to secure early advantage in the tablet race. Their objective is loftier. Amazon is in the multiplatform content delivery market for the long haul, as evidenced by their Kindle ecosystem. While the HTCs, Dells, Samsungs, RIMs, and Motorolas of the world (sorry, HP, but a jailbroken tablet can no longer be considered viable competition) fight it out in their respectively scrappy fashions, Amazon would do well to stick to its proven methodologies: manage and enhance a world-leading library of diverse content; produce competitively priced, robust, yet simple-featured devices; tying it all together with a superior (if still prone to outage) cloud infrastructure,

Market analysts have claimed that everyone who was going to buy a Kindle has already bought one, but the new touchscreen functionality and very affordable price point now position the Kindle e-reader as the only game worth playing in town. The Nook is in serious trouble (trapped between the Kindle Touch and Fire, yet costing almost as much as both combined). Watch for massive sales of this new line of Kindle e-readers, assuming the interface is solid, and the Whispernet deal (free wireless content delivery) stays equally secure.

The Kindle Fire represents a widening of the market for tablet users, not so much a direct challenge to the iPad (although it may convince Apple to lower the price on their current model, and keep it on the market when the next iPad iteration comes out, all depending on whether there is sufficient differentiation between their current model and the next release. Most signs point to this not being the case).

The new line of Kindle e-readers positions Amazon to garner such a massive and insurmountable lead over all other book distributors, digital or otherwise, that the Big 5 publishers are going to have to come back to the table soon, with their tails between their legs. Although Apple’s iBook may have better UI, the Kindle App gives readers a degree of mobility and flexibility that is unmatched.

Amazon is pursuing software and hardware innovations in full support of their core competencies, and the company will prosper mightily as a result. If AWS can reduce outages, and their Cloud infrastructure is able to handle the load that might come to bear when 50 million (or more) tablets and e-readers and other devices call for content at the same time, then Amazon will be the new leading entertainment studio of the 21st century: in charge and in control of distribution more content to more people, in more places, on more devices, than any other entity.

That brings me to the end of September, and I haven’t even mentioned my Twitter postings (tweets). So I’ll just post a few from the beginning of July below, to give you a taste of what you can usually find there! In the meantime, I look forward to next month’s recap and, if you prefer to connect in a more timely fashion, I encourage you to follow my regular (almost daily) tweets on Twitter, and/or my weekly short posts on Facebook.

A few Twitter tweets of note for early July:

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(Updated content post-unveil, at bottom)

Just a few hours before the Big Unveil, and I wonder whether Steve Jobs may not be revealing 2 big deals: The iSlate (as I think it should be called) is certainly newsworthy, although I don’t think (or – at least – I don’t hope) it will be the Kindle-killer so many are predicting. It’s probably going to be as different from the Kindle as a Victorinox SwissChamp is from a finely crafted Henckel. It’ll do a lot more, but what the Kindle does, it does so well…That said, I think that the probability of an iTunes store for e-books and e-Mags, with a plethora of already forged publishing house and media organization deals struck, would be a massive piece of news indeed!

As far as the tablet itself, I think the folks at Doghouse Diaries have a pretty good handle on things:

UPDATE (11:00am, Wednesday, January 27):

OK, so I was right, and I was wrong. He’s calling it the iPad (which sounds like a women’s personal health product to me). No big surprises as of yet, but the anticipatory coverage of this product was so intense that it was nigh impossible to present a piece of information that had not been discussed exhaustively by one camp or another. This is certainly an impressive product, however.

I suggest that, instead of being an e-reader killer, it is a Netbook killer. Netbooks have always been essentially little more than shrunken laptops, with reduced functionality to boot! Here’s something that does all that and more. The battery life is impressive (10 hours), but nowhere near the weeks of battery life offered by the Kindle. The functionality blows the Kindle out of the water, but then why buy the Henckel knife in the first place, when you are looking for a multifunction Victorinox?

As I predicted, the introduction of the iBooks store is compelling, and THAT’S where the fire is being lit under the Kindle a***. Bookshelves, categories, ePub, oh my!

I don’t think the “page turning” experience was terribly innovative. I agree with Bezos’ assertion that it is a cop-out to try and replicate the “real book” experience on an e-reader. It is simply a different way of navigating the content, but the essential immersive reading experience is the same (if not better) on a successful e-reading device.

the iWork demo confirms that this device may truly replace laptops for some people, but I don’t think it will be a “laptop killer”. Apple has positioned it well in the “larger than we might have imagined” gap between the mobile phone and laptop.

For $700-900 (including tax and 3G coverage), this is going to appeal to a diversified cross-section of consumers, but none of them are going to be schoolkids and college students in lower income households (a $300 Kindle DX, with ebooks at less than half the price of “real” books, is a much more viable financial proposition, but still a challenge. Will Amazon move on this, or will they fumble?). This is not the device for people who are looking for an alternative to books. This is the device for people who are looking to own and experience the evolution of the mobile technological consumer gaming/communication/application device, to hold and cherish the love child of the laptop and smart mobile device (although, with no telephonic capability of note, it’s not truly the confluence point between laptops and smartphones, and that may be a good thing).

The Apple iPad is an impressive (though not as miraculous or magical as some might have wished) advance in computing and mobile technology. It is a thrilling “next step”, but not quite a “leap”. Unless Amazon mishandles this stage of their Kindle development and market penetration, this should certainly not pose a substantial threat to their goals.

That said, Amazon has goofed up a few times already: first with the “1984” mess, then with the “let’s insult existing Kindle customers by offering them for free to people who have expressed zero interest in them” fiasco, and of course we must not forget all the complaints about the Amazon cover and customer service failures. Amazon has an opening to become the next “Apple”, oddly enough. They have a devoted (but recently abused) fan base. They introduced a new concept in content experience. The Kindle has been birthed at a moment in history when social media and crowdsourcing are growing exponentially. With strong marketing leadership ( I do NOT mean conventional product marketing, but rather cross-functional product/strategic/brand marketing that SHOULD be the purview of all senior marketing leaders), Amazon could retain and enhance its innovator position, all the while recognizing and addressing the fact that it’s no longer enough to appeal to a small tribe of early adopters…

I believe that Amazon and Apple are both sitting in their own respective sweet spots of opportunity, and it remains to be seen which, if either, will successfully manipulate and manage the next few months…