I appreciated everyone’s comments to George’s recent query, “Whatever Happened to PDAs.” Like many of our readers, I haven’t decided to make the switch to a smartphone. As attractive as they are, I haven’t been able to justify the monthly cost of the data plan to my internal accountant. But since I spend most of my life being irradiated by in wi-fi coverage, I’ve discovered that I can get by with a relatively unremarkable phone and my iPod Touch. I’ve had my touch for 2.5 years now, and while it’s no longer as shiny as it once was, the apps that I’m able to run on it make it an indispensable part of my not-quite-always-connected life. Ethan’s been kind enough to let me break in on his series (see his previous installments on applications, WordPress plugins, and lecturecasting tools) to talk about the five iPod Touch applications that I couldn’t live without.
First, of course, it’s worth mentioning again that these are the tools that work for me. They just happen to match the workflows that are comfortable for me. You might very well have different apps that you like more. Please share those with us below. And second, I’ll note that I’m going to cover apps that work on the iPod Touch specifically. All of these apps run on the iPhone as well, but they work just as well on the iPod. As for the iPad, see Ethan’s post from yesterday about the five iPad applications he can’t live without.
So let’s see the apps!
Read It Later
I don’t think that I use any application more on all the different devices that I own as Read It Later (RIL). I’ve written previously here about how I use RIL to read asynchronously. But in short, when I come across pages that I want to read later, I just bookmark them with RIL in my browser (whether on the iPod or my computer). My list of things to read stays automatically synced across the different devices where I have RIL installed. What makes this a killer iPod app for me is that when I open it up, it will not only sync a list of bookmarks but also download the full page into my iPod’s memory. This means that I can read the articles or websites whether I have an Internet connection or not. I use RIL on a daily basis as part of my commute or whenever I’ve got a spare minute. Instead of sending links to Delicious, where they previously went to die, I actually get through the majority of things that I or my friends find interesting. Within the app store there are both free and Pro ($4.99) versions of RIL. The free version is almost as full featured as Pro, but I decided to purchase the latter to get the ability to lock the iPod’s rotation as well as to support the developer. (It’s worth mentioning that a similar app that many are devoted to is Instapaper. I found RIL first, and that’s part of my devotion. But I also prefer being able to see the website’s original formatting, if I want.)
This last year I found myself teaching four courses in a row on Tuesdays and Thursdays. In the past, I’ve always been able to keep track of class’s attendance in my head; after class, I could go back to my office and add them to an attendance spreadsheet. This became impossible once I had 90 students without a break. The solution to my difficulties was the Attendance app, which Jason has reviewed previously. I purchased it ($3.99) on his initial recommendation, and I quickly found it indispensable. As Jason writes, “Attendance is dead simple to use: You open the app, pick the class, add a new date, and tap the list of students to mark them as absent, late, present, etc. At any time, you can e-mail yourself the record as a CSV file, readable by any reasonable spreadsheet program.” Most important to me, however, was a point that he doesn’t mention: you can add pictures of your students. Since Clemson had photos available to students on a Blackboard roll, it was not that hard to slurp them into the Address Book application on my iMac and connect them to the students’ names in Attendance. With the app to study from, I found that I could generally get everyone’s name committed to memory within one week of the semester starting. Finally, the developer, David Reed, is not only a professor himself but also an incredibly responsive source of help when learning to use the app.
We’re not bashful here at ProfHacker in our love for Dropbox. The dead-simple syncing application also has a dead-simple app that runs on the iPod Touch (as well as iPhone and iPad). What this means is that I can see my most essential files wherever I am. Of course, in order to see these files, you need to be connected to the Internet. What makes this app indispensable for me, then, is the ability to mark a file as a “favorite” within the app itself. Doing this saves a read-only copy of the file to your iPod Touch, so you can see it even when you aren’t connected. I used this feature throughout the previous two semesters to keep a copy of my syllabus on me at all times, which proved handy when needing to check a reading schedule or grade break-down. I could also have individual assignments ready to view when I was grading them at different locations without my laptop. I currently use the app to keep various shuttle schedules handy. “Favoriting” something doesn’t change the file itself or on any other Dropbox-connected device. For all of this magic, you’ll pay exactly nothing! A great app need not be free. But it certainly helps.
I’m a big fan of Twitter (feel free to follow me), and perhaps the first rule of Twitter should be to get yourself a client that is not the official website. There are plenty of different apps for using Twitter on the Touch, and I can’t even pretend to have tried them all. But of all the ones that I have tried, I’ve stuck with using TweetDeck. TweetDeck is one of the most popular and most powerful desktop clients for Twitter, and the iOS app is no different. You can break your feed down into several columns for mentions, direct messages, as well as other columns for hashtag searches and more. With a TweetDeck account (free!), your columns will even sync across the different devices you use. You can follow conversations using the app, read links in an in-app browser, and manage multiple Twitter accounts. If anything, it might have too many options. But for something that is–once again–free, it shouldn’t be too much of a worry. While I don’t tweet all that often from my Touch, I can use this app to quickly and effectively see who’s talking and what they’re saying.
When you’re traveling to another state to teach–whether by car or by plane–you quickly learn that the weather you are experiencing at home might not have anything to do with the weather you’ll find at work. Consequently, I’ve found myself relying on my iPod Touch to give me quick forecasts for where I’m traveling. There is a built-in weather app on the iPod Touch, and while it’s pretty, I found it a little too simple for what I needed. I’ve settled on using WeatherBug as my go-to weather app. WeatherBug has everything that you’d expect from a weather app–current conditions and forecasts–but it also includes humidity (I live in the South, this matters), wind speed, maps with different overlays, and even live camera shots of an area. What has made WeatherBug really useful for me is that it gets its data from a network of instruments that tend to be hyperlocal and attached to schools, fire stations, and small airports. What that means is that I get data that tends to be much closer to the place I’m going. Once again, the price is right with WeatherBug since it is free. It is supported by fairly unobtrusive ads that run along the bottom of the app. If they annoy you, you can buy the $0.99 WeatherBug Elite. There are other enhanced features to the Elite version, but I’ve never felt the need to upgrade.
My five apps are almost certainly not the same as anyone else’s, so now it’s your turn to share. For those of you who are devotees of the iPod Touch, what apps can you not live without?