What I Use: iPad Apps

Screenshot of my main iPad screenI use the iPad daily, mostly for productivity and work related used, and not entertainment. I figured I’d review the apps I use most and see if my impression of productivity use is true or a delusion.. The primary apps I use are all on the home screen (or in folders on the home screen) or the dock along the bottom. Click the picture above for a full size view (over 1MB). Here’s a breakdown of the apps I use most.

The Basics

Among the apps delivered with the iPad I use:

Mail – I configure mail using IMAP on my iPad so I don’t have push notifications which is what I like on the iPad. (On the iPhone I configure mail using Exchange so I get push notifications). I configure all my email accounts which include Google Apps email, Windows Live and Apple mail (I lost track of what they call it – iCloud or Mobile Me).

Safari – I haven’t found a reason to use a different browser.

Contacts – I’m not a fan but I do sync my contacts to it.

Calendar – I don’t like the built-in calendar at all so I use Calvectica. I’m not a heavy calendar user.

Reading Apps

Instapaper – I’ve been a long time user of the Instapaper website and the iDevice apps.

Kindle – I mainly use the Kindle iPad app for reference/training books and not long form reading. It doesn’t get a lot of use.

GoodReader – I’ve used this for viewing PDFs I receive and create, along with other documents. It’s grown into a pretty full featured file management app for the iPad.

Missing from this list is iBook and Newstand. I tried them but haven’t been drawn to using them.

Home Network

These are the apps I use for connecting to other computers/devices in the home.

Ignition (From LogMein) – I use this for remote access to all my computers. They recently changed the pricing model and this app now seems to be $130. While I frequently use it I’d have a hard time justifying that cost. But I’m happy I got it at the old price. I use it with free LogMeIn accounts except for my WHS which has a paid account (reconsidering that at next renewal).

FileBrowser – Great for getting files from my Windows Home Server, Windows PCs and Macs to my iPad. Can also stream video files over my home wireless network.

I also have the full suite of Synology aps installed but I don’t use them much. DS Finder is useful for checking alerts and disk status/usage, but that’s about it. Their usage may grow as my Synology usage expands.

My Web Apps

These are apps I use to manage and access my web server and applications on it.

The already mentioned Safari is great for running the WordPress admin panels. No problems.

Prompt – My SSH client for connecting to my servers.


Bento – I have a couple databases I sync to my iPad. I can make changes and they sync back. Syncing isn’t automatic so I tend to do most updates on computer and use the iPad for viewing.

OmniOutliner – I also use their desktop version, but sharing documents between computer and iPad is too much of a hassle since it requires remembering which copy is the most recent. So any outlines generally stay on the iPad. [Updated 10/20 – This is still on my iPad but it’s rarely used these days.]

Outliner – Yes, duplicates OmniOutliner. A simple Outliner I use when it’s more important for me to sync to my iPhone.

Toodledo (in the dock) – My primary to do app. Not my favorite To Do app for the iPad but my favorite all around to do app. I have to do a lot of tapping. But it works the way I like to manage most tasks. One big benefit for me is that I can use the web interface from my work (or any) PC which allows me to cut and paste between apps and tasks. [Updated 10/20/2012 – I moved to using pen and paper for daily taks management so this isn’t used anymore.]

OmniFocus (in the dock)– This used to be my To Do app, but I found Toodledo worked better for  me on a daily basis. I still use OmniFocus for managing larger projects. [Updated: 10/20/2012 – This has been gathering cobwebs on my iPad.]

Info Management

Evernote – I use this for information storage and reference. Since it’s on everything this tends to get everything.

Misc Apps

NetNewsWire (in the dock)– My RSS reader for the iPad, using my Google Reader feed list. It hasn’t been updated in over a year but I’m familiar with it and can fly through the feeds sending articles of interest to Instapaper if there’s no time to read them. The lack of updates is a concern on one hand, on the other it’s not lacking any features I want.

{Updated May 29] Mr. Reeder has replaced NetnewsWire as my iPad news feed reader. It also uses Google Reader’s feed list. I can flip through stories quickly and it integrates with Instapaper and Pinboard which I use. Unlike NetNewsWire, feeds can be managed from the app.

Downcast – My podcast app, I wrote about it here. I use it more on my iPhone but it gets use on my iPad for video podcasts and the occasional audio podcast.

Tweetbot – My twitter client

Weather – I have an addiction to weather apps so have a rotating selection. But Wx for iPad is a daily visit.

The only game on my iPad is Plants vs Zombies. Still addiction.

There’s plenty more apps that I haven’t mentioned, you’ll see some in the screenshot, but these are the ones I use most.

Have an iPad? How’s this compare to your favorites?

First Day: Downcast

downcastscreenshotI looked at Instacast a couple days ago and while it was good enough to know I’d no longer need iTunes for podcasts, there were enough hiccups to make be look at an alternative, so I picked Downcast. It’s $2 and is universal for both iPhone and iPad.

Like Instacast, it has the features I require:

  • Sort all podcasts from oldest to newest so I can play the oldest first
  • Syncing between devices
  • Podcasts can be downloaded to the device
  • Keeps track of unplayed episodes
  • Handles password protected podcast feeds
  • Can play podcast at double speed (or triple speed, or some fraction in between)

Then it has the features I like but are just nice to have:

  • Can stream without downloading
  • Mixes video podcast in the same list and in the playlists list
  • Supports multiple playlists
  • Has a sleep timer which also works when Downcast is playing in the background. So it doesn’t prevent me from using my alarm clock app.
  • Highly customizable – each podcast or playlist can have it’s own settings or use the global settings

Things I Miss:

  • Nothing – not sure what other features I would want


  • Granular Settings – this is really only a problem during the first 24 hours, but the large number of settings and my experimentation led to some unexpected results.

Compared to Instacast

I found the interface more intuitive. I only had to read the online help once when I misunderstood the “Sync Episodes” setting. (It syncs the episode status – not the files themselves). The rest was pretty obvious although like many i-device apps it takes some tapping and swiping to find everything. Almost all the interface elements are labeled or pop up a menu when pressed, making it easier to know what’s happening.

I didn’t spend much time with the iPad app, but the interface was much easier for me to use than Instacast. It was functional and made sense.

Instacast is a simpler interface with fewer options and settings. Fewer options isn’t always a bad thing.

The Initial Experience

I emailed an OPML export of my podcasts to myself and then imported them into Downcast. Unlike Instacast it couldn’t read the Music app for my podcast list. I didn’t have any of the bugs or problems that I had with Downcast. My only problems came about when I changed around settings, especially sync settings.

I liked the ability to create playlists more than I thought I would. I also liked being able to assign settings per podcast. I listen to some podcasts at double speed, while others are always regular speed. I can set the defaults for each podcast but change them on th fly if I want to.

I’m keeping both apps on my iDevices, but I’ll be using Downcast until it gives me a reason not to.

First Day: Instacast

Instacast Screenshot

Instacast ScreenshotApple broke podcasting when they released iOS 5. On the iPhone smart playlists were broken and and my podcasts wouldn’t sort correctly when syncing. Fine in iTunes, a jumbled mess on the iPhone. As for podcasts on the iPad – a nightmare. I dealt with the iPhone issues and gave up listening to podcasts on the iPad.  Yesterday at lunch I finally decided to install and use Instacast. There are several well regarded podcast apps but Instacast was a name I remembered and apparently I had bought it awhile back. Not sure why I didn’t use it.

I fired it up at lunch yesterday and have been using it since.  It’s far from perfect but it may be good enough to keep me from trying out anything else.

It has the features I require:

  • Sort all podcasts from oldest to newest so I can play the oldest first
  • Syncing between devices
  • Podcasts can be downloaded to the device
  • Keeps track of unplayed episodes
  • Handles password protected podcast feeds
  • Can play podcast at double speed

Features I like but are just nice to have:

  • Can stream without downloading
  • Mixes video podcast in the same list and in the “all unplayed” list

Things I miss:

  • No playlists (but since playlists are broken in iTunes this isn’t a real loss)
  • Sleep timer. My alarm clock app integrates with the Music app to work as a sleep timer. I lose that with Instacast.


  • The app is buggy, at least on the iPhone (haven’t used the iPad app enough to know)
  • I didn’t find the UI very intuitive. But the built in help is pretty clear. The iPhone UI is better than the iPad UI. I admit this is subjective.


The Initial Experience

I was able to import my list of podcasts directly from the Music app on my iPhone which made it easy to get going. Only audio podcasts on the phone were imported. When I got home I exported all my subscriptions from iTunes and imported them into Instacast. The online help had clear directions.

I enabled iCloud to do syncing in anticipation of also using my iPad. Dropbox is also supported but that seems like a manual process. While working through the various settings to see how they worked I had a few program crashes which wasn’t encouraging but things seemed to settle down once I stopped changing the settings around.

The other annoying problem I had was the app would frequently go offline (4 times in the 24 hours I’ve used it), saying it had no connection to the internet. I could resolve it by killing and restarting the app, or by cycling wi-fi off and then on. All other apps had no problem getting an internet connection when Instacast was offline. The wireless off/on worked even when I was only on 3G and wasn’t even on wireless.

My final problem was just a few hours ago. A podcast was playing and when I went in to stop it, the interface was frozen just displaying the album art for the podcast. There wasn’t any UI although the podcast was playing fine. I had to kill the app to stop it. When I went back in it picked up right where I killed it and seemed fine, (Although I’ve yet to finish that podcast.)

It has more to do with my wireless service, but streaming was problem free even when driving to work.

The iPhone app is 2 bucks, the iPad app is 5 bucks. I ended up buying the iPad app once I got used to the iPhone app. The iPad app is different which could be a good thing since it is a different form factor. But I find the UI even more cumbersome. Touch points all over the screen and lots of swiping to get to a podcast. I’m sure I’ll get used to it and it’s light years better than the way the iPad natively handles iPads.

The syncing via icloud has been fine so far. My subscriptions showed up quickly and play podcasts update nearly instantly.

There’s been enough bugs that I may still look at other podcast apps, but other than the bugs Instacast seems to meet my needs quit well. Even if I don’t find something else, it’s enough to get my podcasts out of iTunes. Looks like I’ll have one less reason to sync with iTunes.

Favorite iPad Apps

Favorite iPad apps is a favorite topic these days. I actually have a hard time coming up with a favorite iPad app or even a top 10 list. I’m more task oriented with the iPad and it’s not one or two killer iPad apps that draw me to the iPad, but rather the full range of apps. Any favorites list depends upon how I want to slice and dice the word “favorite” and the apps. So let’s start slicing and dicing.

First let’s see how I compare to Apple’s chart toppers:

Graphic of top paid ipad apps graphic of top grossing ipad apps graphic of top free ipad apps

As for the Top 10 Paid Apps I have half of them but only one of the five gets used regularly. I bought Pages, Numbers and Keynote early on figuring they’d complement the desktop apps and would be good examples of iPad apps since they’re from Apple. None of them get used on a regular basis. Penultimate falls into the same category. I was looking for a note taking app and thought it might be useful it never caught on with me. GoodReader for iPad is the only one of the top 10 that caught on with me. It’s found use regularly as a way to read any manage manuals and notes. It also has hooks into Dropbox, GMail and other cloud services.

The only app (other than the three iWork duplicates from the Top Paid chart) from the Top 10 Grossing chart is Plants vs. Zombies HD. And by any definition this is one of my favorite apps, and so far the only iPad game I have. I’ve had to forcibly separate myself from the game. It was consuming all my free time along with time that should have been more productive.

Out of the Top 10 Free Apps I tried four of them and use two regularly. Neither iBooks of USA Today for iPad were keepers. iBooks is nice and may see a return but at this point I’m sticking with the Kindle app. The two I use are both Video related. The Netflix App gets regular use and until it appeared I wasn’t a regular consumer of Netflix streaming despite my subscription. The ABC Player app gets limited use and I could live without it.

The bottom line is my usage doesn’t seem to fall in line with the popular apps, so what do I use?

Lose It! is really an iPhone/iPod Touch app that I’ve moved to my iPad. It’s a calorie counter and gets daily use.

LastPass and 1Password are both password tracking/security apps. Lastpass is a cross-platform web service and the iPhone app complements the service. 1Password is a iPad app and is more functional on the iPad  than LastPass but is more Mac specific 9at least until the Windows version leaves beta).

Mint.com, still a iPhone app, complements the web service that I use for financial management so it gets regular use.

NetNewsWire is my RSS reader and since the iPad I’ve been doing most of my RSS consumption on the iPad. NetNewsWire can send articles to Instapaper. Which brings up Instapaper as one of my Favorites. Many web pages end up there for later reading.

Despite the iPad being promoted as the savior of print media only one traditional newspaper app has caught my attention. And that was the Financial Times app. It’s free through July (there’s a sponsor) but it’s the one media app that may be worth subscribing to. The USA Today app was better than I expected, but like USA Today I wasn’t drawn to it. I had been a regular reader of the New York Times website but their iPad app hasn’t been a regular for me. I go through phases with the NPR app. Some weeks it’s used regularly and then it may be ignored for a couple weeks.

Then there’s the utility apps which I would consider my favorites for their genre. I like Twitterrific as my Twitter client, Weatherbug is my weather app and PCalc is a fine calculator and convertor.

Then there are a couple iPad apps which made their desktop counterparts more useful. Bento is a big one for me. I find it easier to create the databases on my Mac but like having the data on the iPad. It’s also handy to be able to add or edit records. I add the Kindle App to this. It’s nice to have access to my Kindle books whenever I have the iPad.

I’ve been a user of the Dropbox service at the free level. The Dropbox iPad app put me over the top and I became a paid Dropbox subscriber. Evernote should be one of my favorite iPad apps but it’s been buggy for me and I’ve tired of hunting down the bad record to delete it and then re-installing Evernote. The Dropbox iPad app increased my Dropbox usage while the Evernote iPad app is driving me away.

There is one iPad app that’s iPad only for me and a daily user. I guess I’d have to call it my favorite, it’s simply called ToDo for iPad.

Alright, now that I’ve gone through the list let’s see if I can come up with my five favorite:

  1. ToDo for iPad – I use it daily and it’s the first ToDo app I’ve been able to integrate into my daily workflow. It’s not perfect, but little in life is.
  2. Instapaper – The iPad has become my favorite way of reading anything shorter than a book. Instapaper gets a lot more use now since I’m not tied to using it at my computer.
  3. GoodReader – This makes the list because it’s so functional and I do use it a lot. I find the UI a bit annoying at times.
  4. Bento – I foresee increased use of this app and suspect it will be one or two on this list in six months.
  5. Dropbox & Netflix – I tied these at number five because it’s not so much the iPad app that’s a favorite, but he iPad app makes their service so much more valuable to me.

Are there any of your favorites that should be on my list?