iPhone Apps

With new reports that the iPhone—and its touted app store—will soon be available via Verizon, The Daily Beast convenes an all-star panel to choose its most innovative offerings.

Twitter

APP NAME: Twitter (formerly known as Tweetie)

WHAT IT DOES: Brings Twitter to the iPhone, letting users tweet and keep up with their tweeps on the go. (If that makes no sense, you probably don't need the app.)

GENIUS FACTOR: The official Twitter app was easily the favorite of The Daily Beast's panel of experts. Fans who first encountered it as Tweetie, an independent offering in the crowded field of iPhone Twitter apps, paid $2.99 to keep connected. Then Twitter itself gave Tweetie the ultimate vote of confidence—acquiring the app, cutting the price to free and renaming it to just plain Twitter. When you first play around with it, the app rewards experimentation—you'll soon find that a quick swipe here or a tap there can get you to nearly any function in a hurry. Marco Arment, the creator of Instapaper and the lead developer at the red-hot Tumblr blogging service, applauds the app for "pioneering new interfaces while retaining iPhone-like familiarity and ease of use."

APP NAME: Instapaper

WHAT IT DOES: A spare brain for heavy readers. Organizes articles you want to read and lets you save a Web page to read later on on an iPhone (along with other devices).

GENIUS FACTOR: Though Instapaper's creator, Marco Arment, participated in our panel, he didn't need to nominate his own app. Instapaper is considered by many to be one of the best examples of app brilliance. With Instapaper, if you stumble across an article online but don't have time to read it immediately, you can send it to your Instapaper account. The iPhone app syncs with everything you've saved and gives you offline access. Mark a story on your desktop computer at the office and you'll be able to read it on your phone on the commute home. (There's also an iPad version which has also won legions of fans.) Matt Drance, who once worked at Apple as an "evangelist" and now develops software and blogs at Apple Outsider., calls it an "app I can't live without," adding, "It's made me more of a reader. It's the memory I never had."

APP NAME: iTeleport

WHAT IT DOES: Links your iPhone to your desktop computer, allowing remote access and control from anywhere.

GENIUS FACTOR: Makes traveling with a laptop that much more feasible. Need a file from your computer? iTeleport lets you log on remotely and grab it (among other things). Jonathan Geller, tech pundit and founder of Boy Genius Report, says the capability is worth the steep $25 price tag. "It lets you connect to remote computers and control them as if you were right in front of them. I use this all the time for business."

APP NAME: Mail

WHAT IT DOES: Built-in email client for iPhone users.

GENIUS FACTOR: Apple's very own Mail app, shipped on every iPhone, may feel like old hat by now, but it wins top marks for usefulness from many of our panelists. Before the iPhone hit the scene, BlackBerry was the email champ (and remains so for some given its physical keyboard). Guy Kawasaki, a former Apple employee turned venture capitalist, says Mail is one of his two most-frequently used iPhone apps (along with Twitter). One reason for Mail's success: the ease of setting up multiple email accounts, with step-by-step instructions for users of Gmail, Yahoo Mail and other platforms.

APP NAME: Shazam

WHAT IT DOES: Can't remember the name of that song playing? Hold up your phone and Shazam records a snippet, analyzes it and reports back on the title and artist.

GENIUS FACTOR: Shazam is one of the original "wow!" iPhone apps. It excels at showing off what the phone can do—anyone who hasn't seen Shazam in action will be amazed. Red Sweater Software's Daniel Jalkut says Shazam is also an "excellent example of capitalizing on the ubiquitous of the iPhone." After all, who hasn't heard a song playing on a radio somewhere and wished they knew the name? Whipping out the iPhone for instant edification is a lot more fun than trying to remember to Google a snippet of the lyrics when you get home. Shazam's maker now has a paid version for $5, though you can still get a free version that limits itself to five songs a month.

APP NAME: Trip Cubby

WHAT IT DOES: Car-mileage tracker aimed especially at those who must keep tabs on how much they've driven for expenses or tax deductions.

GENIUS FACTOR: Another example of an app that makes itself useful by always being there when you need it (assuming most people carry their phones at all times). "My accountant loves it," says Matt Drance, the Apple Outsider blogger. "I can just log a trip and get back on the road and get my mind back on work." Trip Cubby creates charts and can export data to a spreadsheet as well. It's a $5 app, though there's a free trial version available as well.

APP NAME: scanR Business Center

WHAT IT DOES: Uses the built-in camera to turn the iPhone into a scanner and fax machine.

GENIUS FACTOR: At $25, scanR Business Center is pricey compared with most apps. But Jeremy Horwitz, editor-in-chief of Apple news site iLounge.com, says it's an innovator because of the business tools it adds to the iPhone. One example: snap a document's picture with the iPhone camera and scanR will turn it into a PDF file—bringing you a step closer to the paperless office even if you're away from your desk.

APP NAME: Key Ring Reward Cards

WHAT IT DOES: Turns the iPhone screen into a stand-in for all those bar-code loyalty cards in your wallet.

GENIUS FACTOR: This app is an example of how the iPhone can take on a seemingly small job, then make you wonder how you lived without it. The goal is to toss all of those supermarket and drugstore reward cards in your purse or wallet. Users download Key Ring, then use the app to take a snapshot of each reward card with the iPhone camera. The app then converts the photos into bar codes and stores all the information—meaning that at the checkout you can just flash your phone.

APP NAME: Peggle

WHAT IT DOES: Addictive game converted to iPhone format.

GENIUS FACTOR: BlackBerry users may have Brickbreaker, but the iPhone has Peggle, a pachinko-style game where you score points by taking out a field of pegs by shooting balls at them. It's easy to play, has great music (including a snippet of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony "Ode to Joy" chorus for key shots). Perfect for when you've got your iPhone and 10 minutes to kill.

APP NAME: Ustream Live Broadcaster

WHAT IT DOES: Broadcasts live video from an iPhone.

GENIUS FACTOR: Give your friends and relatives a simple Web address where they can tune into your broadcast, hold up your iPhone and begin streaming live. It's the kind of futuristic capability that can still summon a sense of wonder for even jaded technophiles. Dan Bricklin, the software pioneer who co-created VisiCalc—and more recently launched his own app, Note Taker—says he used it to share a music recital with the rest of the family. "It's another one that's right for the iPhone because it's all about where you are."

APP NAME: Maps

WHAT IT DOES: Provides access to maps and directions from Google, tying in iPhone's GPS locator and compass.

GENIUS FACTOR: "Sure, it comes with the phone. But day after day, it's crucially important," says Michael T. Rose, a longtime Apple observer who blogs at TUAW.com and GeekParent.com. In addition to displaying roads and satellite imagery, Maps can usually locate whatever you need nearby—whether it's a Starbucks coffee-and-WiFi pit stop or a place to gas up.

APP NAME: Layar

WHAT IT DOES: Superimposes relevant data on a live video feed of your surroundings.

GENIUS FACTOR: The concept of "augmented reality"—where digital data gets overlayed onto views of the real world—has gotten a lot of buzz. Layar shows the potential for this as more kinds of data become available. Launch Layar and you'll see a live view from the iPhone's camera. You can choose layers of data (hence the name) to add. For example, if you activate the local search layer, you can enter, say, "pizza" to find local shops, with a floating icon place on the screen to point the way. There are other layers available, including city-guide info (point your phone at a place of interest) and even some virtual-art projects.

APP NAME: Wikipanion

WHAT IT DOES: Quick access to Wikipedia, the online user-produced encyclopedia.

GENIUS FACTOR: Lets you swiftly tap the Wikipedia treasure house of information by searching or using the iPhone's GPS locator to show entries about nearby places of interest. A $5 upgrade from the free version stores information offline in case you find yourself without a connection. Instapaper's Marco Arment says it ranks as one of the most useful apps on his phone. "I'm addicted to information, and I frequently want to look something up."

APP NAME: Dragon Dictation

WHAT IT DOES: Converts voice into text.

GENIUS FACTOR: Many observers think voice-recognition still has a way to go on mobile devices—one of the places the technology is most needed. For now, though, Dragon Dictation may be the best bet for anyone who needs to get text into their phone hands-free. You can dictate into the app, let it convert your spoken words into text, then send the text straight into an email or text message. The conversion isn't always perfect so you may need to edit things a bit, but even so Dragon can be a big timesaver. Did we mention it's free?

APP NAME: Evernote

WHAT IT DOES: Links iPhone to the Evernote system, a way to capture all kinds of information, store it in the cloud and sync it across computers and devices.

GENIUS FACTOR: The Evernote app recently made it on our panel's list of Best iPad Apps because of how it utilizes the tablet's big screen to help you organize information. The iPhone version, in contrast, shines in the collection of data. Dash off a note, snap a photo or record a voice message and Evernote will file it away for you.