My 10 Favorite Smartphone Apps of 2015 — Not On The Most Popular List

On this last day of 2015, I put together a list of my favorite iPhone apps this year. While I use all of the top 10 most popular apps according to Nielsen (1), I decided to focus my list elsewhere. Here goes:

  1. Todoist (to do list organizer)

iTunes link: App is free; I pay $29/year for the Premium version

Yes, I’m a little obsessed with To Do apps. It’s hard to find one that has all the features I want.

But, I think I’ve finally found one with Todoist, a “to do list” apoo that’s so much more. It’s fast, clean, and syncs with my iPad, web browser, and native Mac app. Tasks can be organized into projects and sub-projects, assigned labels (contexts), due dates, and notes. There’s also an API that I’ve tested and might do more with.

Todoist is great for anyone that uses the GTD (Getting Things Done) system by David Allen. Highly recommended. I’ve tried many to do list apps including Remember The Milk, Toodledo, Omnifocus, Asana, Things and more, but Todoist beats them all.

During the year, Todoist made one misstep that almost caused me to leave. They added a feature that used automatic date parsing in your task names to set or adjust a task’s due date. For me and many others, this messed up pre-set due dates when editing a task. I someday use dates in the task topic (“do this by January 1”), but don’t want it to be used as the Due Date, which might be purposely set before the due date. Todoist redeemed themselves and later offered an option to turn this offer, which I promptly did. I can see how the feature can be useful when creating a new tasks, but don’t mess with dates I’ve set on existing tasks.


2. Evernote (saving notes and some documents)

iTunes Link: App is free, I pay for $50/year for Premium version

Despite receiving a good amount of criticism this year (Business Insider: “The Inside Story on how $1 billion Evernote went from Silicon Valley darling to deep trouble”), I’m still a fan of Evernote. I’ve got more than 2,400 notes and counting. It’s great for storing nuggets of information and then recalling them. Searching inside of documents also comes in handy.

I just threw out a 2 foot stack of paper manuals by saving PDF’s found online in Evernote. I still find an occasional bug, but I’m hoping Evernote can keep the focus on core program and find a working business model to keep it going as a hundred year company.


3. Dropbox (saving and sharing documents and photos)

App is free; I pay $10/month for 1 TB of storage

While Evernote is my favorite app for saving notes, there are some types of documents that Dropbox is better for. For example, financial statements and receipts. Dropbox’s file structure method for saving these types of documents works better than Evernote’s notebook and tag system. I used Scanner Pro to take a photo of a document and automatically save it to a Dropbox “In Box” folder for organizing later.

Dropbox is also great for automatically loading and backing up photos. I also use and really like Google Photos for backing up and especially searching photos. But Google Photos doesn’t yet offer keywords or tags, which knocks it down a notch.


4. Waze (driving directions)

iTunes link: Free

Waze, now owned by Google, is still my go to app for driving directions. Its estimate of arrival time is usually within a minute for even a long drive, when not in rush hour. I trust it and check Waze before a drive to know when I need to depart. I use Waze even when I know where I’m going, as it warns about accidents, speed traps, and alternate routes I might not have thought of.

One thing that I’ve learned to be careful with is known as the “Waze Left”. Waze has been known to recommend a “faster” route that involves making a dangerous or very time consuming in-real-life left turn. So take any Waze directions with a grain of salt and common sense.

Waze’s ability to share your arrival time is a useful feature too. I believe you used to be able to share your location, but now it seems only the arrival time is shared. Too bad.


5. iBank (financial management)

iTunes Link: App is $10; Mac App is $60

(not really my account!)

The iBank app does its job fine, letting me sync, view my finances, and add transactions on the go. But the real strength of iBank is its Mac app.

I was never a fan of Quicken, but for a time it was the least bad of all the alternatives for managing my money on a Mac. Then around 2011, the most recent version of the program at the time (Quicken 2007 — that alone tells you something) stopped working with the new Mac OS. (I wrote about it on TechCrunch.) Quickens’ maker, Intuit, later offered a workaround, but by then I was in search of something else.

I tried Quicken Essentials for Mac (an simplistic embarrassment — it was so Essential that it was dropped this year), Mint.com (I still use Mint, but it’s more of a view only backup of finances, and doesn’t have enough features, reports or allow reconciliation) and Quicken for Windows via a PC emulator program (too slow and buggy).

I also gave iBank a try and in 2012, it didn’t think it was robust or stable enough. But things have much improved.

This year, I started using iBank Version 5 for the Mac. It’s fast and automatically downloads most of my account statements. I like using it much more than I ever did with Quicken. It needs to improve its reporting features and a single line transaction view would be a nice option, but overall it does the job well.


6. Feedly (news reader)

iTunes link: Free

This RSS news reader makes it so much easier and quicker to read articles from my favorite sites. Well done.


7. Pocket (saving articles)

iTunes link: Free

Great for saving articles to read them later. You read the articles you save in a clean interface, compared to using the phone’s browser. Pocket integrates well with Feedly (see above.) I still have a few thousand articles to go. Pocket used to give me an un-read article count, but this seems to no longer be available.


8. 1password (password manager)

iTunes link: Single license is usually $50; now on sale for $32

I’ve been using this to keep my passwords for years. Adding the touch to unlock this year was a welcome addition.


9. Mapstr (saving locations)

iTunes link: Free

This is a new app that claims to let you “Never Forget Places Again”. It was easy to import all my Foursquare check-ins. It’s also easy to add places (by text, map, taking a photo of an address, or using your current location). I’ve got tags/lists for “to try” and different types of food. You can also save a short note with each location. I can select one or several tags at once and get a list or map of the results.

While Yelp, Foursquare and Google Maps offer some of this, Mapstr just focusses on one thing and does it well.


10. Sun Surveyor (finding the sun and moon)

iTunes link: $10

Sun Surveyor is neat app that tells you where the sun and moon is now, where and when they rise and set, and how high they are in the sky. Works for any date or place and instantly works for your current time and place. Great to planning photos and videos. You’ll know exactly where to go to get that sunset shot.


(1) According to Nielsen, the 10 most popular Smartphone Apps, based on average unique audience in 2015 are: Facebook, YouTube, Facebook Messenger, Google Search, Google Play, Google Maps, Gmail, Instagram, Apple Music, Maps (Apple). They are all made by just 3 companies!


Top Photo Courtesy: Flickr / bigbestapps.com