Now before I write anything else, let me just say that these are my ten favorite iPhone applications of 2008 and not necessarily what I think are the ten best iPhone apps — because really, there are so many diverse apps, how can one judge which are the best of them?
Also, this list includes no iPhone games because that category has become so robust that I’m going to make another list just for that. [Update: Here’s the list of my favorite iPhone games]
My initial list included 25 apps, but I narrowed it down to the 10 that I use regularly, some multiple times a day. It’s interesting that almost all of them are free — I have a bunch of paid apps as well, I just don’t find myself using them as often.
10. JustUpdate — A very simple app that does one thing: allows you to post an update to Twitter. But it does it extremely well and fast, without having to deal with SMS (and the ridiculous fees associated with it). Sometimes I don’t want to wait for everyone’s Twitter updates to load before I can post something, and with JustUpdate you don’t have to wait because it’s not even an option. The app is free. [iTunes Link]
9. Amazon Mobile — The app obviously lets you browse items on Amazon, but being able to easily buy them right from your iPhone or add them to a wish list is really great. Even better is the Amazon Remembers feature: you take a picture of any item, and then, using its Mechanical Turk technology, Amazon figures out what product it is and links you to the appropriate page on its site. It found my Frappucino the other day, brilliant. The app is free. [iTunes Link]
8. Loopt — Location-based social networking has yet to come into its own, but the Loopt app shows off its promise. Just last night I was out with some friends, I text messaged a buddy of mine to see where he was, but I didn’t need to — he had turned on Loopt so I could see that he was at a bar just down the street from where I was. The next (absolutely necessary) step is for the iPhone to allow an app like this to run in the background, so you don’t have to manually open it each time to update your location. I bet we’ll see that in 2009 and Loopt will really take off. The app is free. [iTunes Link]
7. Recorder — I do a lot of thinking when I’m out and about walking around. While taking notes on the iPhone is fine, it’s still slower than me speaking my thoughts. Recorder allows me to speak and easily record anything I’m saying to save for later. Recording is as easy as clicking one big record button, and it files all your recordings by date. I use the iPhone earphone’s built-in mic, so quality is pretty good even when I’m outside. The best part is that you can easily sync these recordings with your computer over WiFi. The app is $0.99. [iTunes Link]
6. Mint.com — This app actually just came out, but already I’m finding it very useful. By tying into your financial data stored on the main Mint site, you get access to an up-to-date overview of your funds and current spending habits. You can also easily track any budgets you set up and get alerts on upcoming payments. Obviously, if you use this app, you’ll want to make sure you have a password lock on your iPhone just in case you lose it (though you can’t actually do any banking with the app, so your money would be safe). The app is free. [iTunes Link]
5. Urbanspoon — Urbanspoon was actually the first third-party native iPhone app I ever reviewed — before I even could try it because the iPhone 3G and App Store hadn’t launched yet. Still, I knew there was something interesting in the concept: it uses GPS to determine your location as well as the device’s accelerometer so that when you shake your phone, it returns a nearby restaurant for you to try. It’s been one of the top downloaded iPhone apps all year, and the company’s listings continue to expand to more cities. The app is free. [iTunes Link]
4. Facebook — Facebook was one of the first companies to build a truly great app for the iPhone — before there were even native apps. After the initial launch of the iPhone (not the 3G kind), the company had a great web-based app. With the launch of 3G, it attempted to transfer that success over to a native app. But at first, it kind of failed. There simply wasn’t much you could do with the it, and it really seemed to be more of a Twitter client knock-off. But version 2.0 changed all that, and now the app is (for the most part) fully functional and grants you access to all of Facebook’s rich social data. The app is free. [iTunes link]
3. Pandora Radio — Pandora’s app takes an endless collection of tailored music selections and puts them in your pocket. The app has all the main functionality you can get on Pandora’s main web site, like giving a song a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down.” Plus you can easily bookmark any song or artist, and you can buy any song that you like from iTunes on the iPhone with one click. Most importantly, you can also create new stations right in the app to discover even more new music on the fly. But, just as with Loopt, the app is going to eventually need to run in the background to make it truly killer. Pandora was the most downloaded app for all of 2008 in the App Store. The app is free. [iTunes link]
2. Instapaper — Instapaper is a web site that I use on a daily basis to bookmark items to read later. I like it because it’s so simple. You don’t need a password, just a username and a bookmarklet to save items in your web browser with one click. The iPhone app is great because it downloads all of your saved items and stores them on your phone so that you can read them even if you don’t have web access — like say, on a plane. You have the option to show pages with or without graphics to make the downloads to your phone even quicker. All of these features are in the free version of the product, but there is also a paid version (for $9.99) that lets you save your place in an article you’re reading, tilt the iPhone to scroll an article and even adjust the font. For most users, the free version will certainly be good enough. The app is free or $9.99 for the Pro version. [iTunes Link]
1. TwitterFon — There are a lot of Twitter iPhone apps out there; I’ve tried most of them, and to me the one that stands out above all others is TwitterFon. Why? First of all, I like the look of it. Rather than trying to get all cutesy with speech bubble chatting like the iPhone’s Text app, TwitterFon simply gives you a straight river of tweets from your followers on the main Friends page. @replies (how someone publicly replies to you on Twitter) and direct messages also follow the same style.
While it doesn’t have all the functionality of one of the other user favorites, Tweetie — like being able to log into multiple Twitter accounts — I don’t want or need all of that. I just want a simple, and more importantly, fast Twitter client. In my experience, TwitterFon is easily one of the fastest clients at pulling in updates — something that has absolutely killed what was an otherwise brilliant Twitter app, Tweetsville. It also has one key advantage over both Tweetie and Tweetsville — TwitterFon is free. (Tweetie is $2.99 and Tweetsville is $3.99.)
The other free Twitter apps that are popular, Twitterrific, Twinkle and Twittelator, simply don’t compare to TwitterFon in my opinion. Each of those is either poorly designed or pulls in minimal updates and makes me hunt for what is new with my friends.
TwitterFon had a major problem a few weeks ago that made the service crash upon load, but that was Twitter’s fault, not TwitterFon’s. It has since been resolved and the app is working seamlessly again. If you’re addicted to Twitter, like me, I highly recommend it — it’s the app I use most often. The app is free. [iTunes Link]
Honorable mentions: Bloom, Brightkite, EndlessWalls, Google, Google Earth, Now Playing, Ocarina, SportsTap, USA Today, Whrrl, WordPress and Yelp.
Also, I may have included Qik and NetShare on the list, but neither are currently available in the App Store.