I thought this might be a hard list to come up with, but I really just took a look at the apps that I use every day, and that made it easy. I won't be including built-in apps like Safari or Mail, but the things that third-party developers have come up with that make having an iPhone such a pleasure. That's not to say that there aren't other apps that compete with some that I've mentioned, which are just as good or maybe better, but these are my choices based on day to day use. So here, in no particular order, are my favorites.
iCam: What a great little app for 5 bucks. I can check on the house and pets. Using webcams that are built into my Macs or stand alones, iCam lets me see multiple cameras, hear audio and turn motion detection on. It sends alerts so that I know if something is going on. iCam can also record movement if you want. It's easy to set up, the network setup avoids issues with firewalls or multiple routers, and it just works. The app is universal.
DirecTV: This app is free and really useful if you have a DirecTV DVR. Using the DirecTV app, I can search for programs while away from home, set up recordings and eliminate anxiety about missing something important. A recent update lets you search for movies, or you can use a more global search to find programs by title, cast member names and other criteria.
Continue reading to see more of my favorites.
Sonos Controller: If you have a Sonos music system at home, Sonos has provided free iPhone, iPod touch and iPad apps to let you control your music from anywhere in the house. The Sonos apps work well and have an exemplary GUI. A lot of companies would be happy to charge for these apps, but Sonos considers them a benefit for users who invested in Sonos products. I use them constantly. I should also note that other companies, Pioneer for example, provide free apps to control their Hi-Fi gear. Denon , Yamaha and Onkyo also provide similar apps. Kudos.
Tango: Yes, Skype has just come out, and it will be very persuasive. For me, Tango does what FaceTime should be doing -- it works on 3G networks. I've found Tango to be reliable, it has acceptable video quality on 3G, and it doesn't have to be running to receive a call. I've chatted to China on 3G, and of course, all over the US. It's free, and it's good. A recent update allows it to work with Bluetooth headsets.
Pro HDR: This one is still better than the built in HDR app from Apple. I think Pro HDR consistently provides nice looking photos that just can't be achieved with a single exposure. It's well worth $1.99.
I love to get out and look at the stars, and I do a fair bit of astrophotography as well. There's a gaggle of excellent apps out there that use the iPhone compass and gyros to match where you are pointing to the real sky. I regularly use Star Walk, Sky Safari, Pocket Universe and Distant Suns. While they have similar functionality, some have deeper catalogs and more data. You can't go wrong with any of them. All of the links are to the iPhone versions. Some of the apps are universal, and others have distinct iPad apps. The apps vary in price from $1.99 to $14.99.
Amazon Price Check: I use it all the time, and it got heavy use during the holidays. The ability to scan a bar code, speak the name of what you are looking for, or even snap a pic for Amazon to identify is powerful, and it saves me money. Price Check is free.
One thing that is falling into rapid disuse is SlingPlayer for Mobile. After a long wait for 3G streaming, the latest version has orphaned my SlingBox Pro
HD. Sling went from being a favorite to something less than average. The apps cost too much -- if you have an iPhone and an iPad, you have to buy them twice at 30 bucks a pop. The people who run Sling should catch a clue from companies like Sonos, who realize that having a free iOS app helps sell gear.
So that's my list of favorites, and one dog. You, dear reader, have your own list. Please feel free to let us know what your everyday apps are. Happy New Year, and we'll meet here at this same spot in December 2011 to see what exciting apps have appeared to make our tech lives easier and exciting.