As a longtime Android user I can’t deny Apple’s dominance in apps. But as other mobile platforms have caught up on all the major categories, Apple still totally owns niche mobile apps and probably always will. The benefit of innovation and first mover advantage.
This year marks my third with Android so I thought I might start a new year’s tradition of listing my top 10 third party Android apps from the previous year. Most of these were available earlier than 2012 but they are the ones that I depend on daily on my phone and tablet. The core of the Android experience are the great first party apps Google provides but I find the usability of the platform much enhanced by the work of third party developers.
So in no particular order, here are my picks for the year (with links to the Play store in each title):
- Flipboard – A lot of my time with my Nexus 7 is spent reading and Flipboard is my top pick for catching up on what is going on. I have connected all the social networks I use to curate links but also use some of the topic-based channels. I also have this installed on my phone for those times in line at the store.
- Pocket – One of the great features of Android is the application sharing API which connects apps together. I use Flipboard, Google Reader, Zite and other apps to find articles and then share them to Pocket for reading later. I have used this app since it was called Read It Later Pro and still see no reason to switch to anything else for reading web content on a phone or tablet.
- Evernote – The only single app pinned to my dock on my Nexus 7 (the rest are folders of apps), I use Evernote frequently to save ideas, photos and code snippets across all my devices. I use it so much I’ve paid for the Premium version which unlocks a number of useful features such as OCR.
- Any.DO – Another very useful app I use across all my devices to keep track of tasks. I especially like it on my phone where I can schedule missed calls and other tasks and then take action on my computer or tablet later.
- Plume – I’ve used the official Twitter app and Hootsuite but find Plume the best app for getting the most out of Twitter on the go. I especially like the universal inbox for managing multiple accounts and ability to adjust the look and feel.
- Netflix – The Nexus 7 is the first Android device I have used that supports Netflix and it is fantastic for watching TV shows and movies when traveling or when something else is on your Netflix-connected TV.
- Kindle – As I mentioned earlier I spend a lot of time reading on my tablet and Amazon’s Kindle app is as good as it gets for ebook reading. Syncing across devices works much better than anything else I have tried and the selection of content and pricing is second to none.
- Pocket Casts – If you like to listen to podcasts Pocket Casts is the only app you need. I use it on my phone for audio podcasts and on my tablet for video podcasts. While the user interface could use some improvement the rest of the app works well for downloading and listening (or watching) podcasts. Well worth the $3 charged.
- 3M Cloud Library – A new entry released only last month, this app gives you access to the ebook selection from your public library. The interface is intuitive and the reading view is comparable to the Kindle app. The integrated user experience beats the heck out of dealing with Adobe Digital Editions and manually loading ebooks to your tablet.
- Amazon Appstore – I have almost 100 apps “purchased” from Amazon’s app store. Most of them are the free app of the day variety which is a great way to find new paid apps with no risk.
It seems inevitable that Apple will announce a smaller iPad next month. From leaked photos, parts and careful math the product will sit between the full sized iPad and iPhone/iPod Touch. The consumer demand for such a product has been established by Samsung, Amazon and Google producing the only glimmer of hope Android can someday take on the market dominating iPad. So it just makes sense that Apple would produce a similar product.
The only problem with this line of reasoning is Apple could care less about consumer demand. They do what they do and then convince us to buy the result. The current iPad is a tremendous success at it’s $400-500 entry price points. The current size of the device is perfect for what it does, the only area for improvement is in weight which will likely be solved in the next refresh. And finally, Apple just doesn’t expand their lines with the same thing in smaller sizes. At least in mobile devices (just look at the iPod lineup for an example). So for these and developer fragmentation in apps I have long contended Apple would never do “a 7 inch iPad.”
If all the speculation is correct, the size of the iPad mini (or Air) will be closer to 8 inches so my previous statements will be technically correct. But what really bothers me is the sameness to the current iPad; there just has to be something magical about doing the smaller version aside from a lower price point. This got me thinking about the next big thing in computer user interface; what comes after the mouse. And I think the new, smaller iPad could be part of that future.
Since Apple introduced multi-touch gestures in Mac OS X and the magic trackpad most of us have at least become aware of where computing is headed. But the gestures just are the tip of the iceberg that will start to come to light when the iPad mini is released.
Imagine using the tablet as your main pointing device replacing your mouse. Each application could have their own palettes and special controls on the iPad screen as well as accept your touch input for pointing and manipulating data. Games would be another interesting application what could span the desktop and Apple TV. This mouse app could be run on a full sized iPad, of course, but I think being in the middle of the too small iPhone and the too large iPad is the perfect spot. And the entry price of $299 would not put it out of reach for most consumers. So I think the iPad mini will also double as your mouse for your laptop or desktop. We’ll see what they have for us in October.