App apps

By Peter Hulm

Sooner or later you are going to need a guide to all those apps out there: at the start of 2011 there were close to half a million available.

If you are like me, you want something that tells you first which apps are free (apparently 37%), and then which have been recently reduced, and which ones are most popular.

Apple's App Store NOT

Rating: + (because it’s there)

The Apple App Store doesn’t cut it. First, because I live in Switzerland, it gives me first its selection in German (duh?), and then is obsessed with games and weird general apps (Einstein’s brain ‘training’, so-called free stuff that is ad-driven).

It also seems cavalier about what it features. I’ve read complaints from app creators that they are bumped off the recommended list pretty fast (within 30 days).

And once I have purchased an app, I wish it would tell me how much it had cost, instead of graying it out. Did I pay $0.99 or $5 or even $15 for an app. I can never remember, when I am comparing several similar ones.

Looking for a contact manager that seemed reasonably performative (one that exports to csv at least, so that it can be loaded in Excel-type programs, and has grouping of emails and contacts, and customizable fields — unlike the freebie that comes with iPad), I found nothing remotely matching these criteria in the App Store, with the added frustration that App Store continually replaced my search term with the title of the app that I wanted to check out. Since contact manager thus vanished in favour of titles like speedy contact manager, smart contacts for iPad, etc., this made repeated searches a pain.

It is not clear to me why iPad doesn’t offer a “similar” button for you to call up comparable apps when you are looking for one. It is unlikely that someone who bought one contact manager will buy another, but the icons at the bottom of the store page tells you what others bought (usually quite different programs).

If I go over to Business in the categories section, I get over 6,500 different apps to consult. When I search for contact manager, I get no results for iPad, and no way to arrow-back through my search list. Aargh!

App Tracker

Rating: ++++ (too ugly for 5)

App Tracker may be the ugliest kid on the block, but it works the hardest. By contrast, the most elegant, Discover Apps, is the most finicky to use (see below).

App Tracker (free) gives you the option to search for free, recently price-dropped, iPhone/iPad/All, Top Free apps, tracked items and apps by category (using all these selectors). It’s the app app I use most often and rarely fails to tempt me into trying a freebie.

One drawback, it seems to list many Asian-language apps. That seems a function of the proliferation of app creators in Asia. But you can find yourself pulling up detail on an app and discovering the app itself has only Asian character screens, though the blurb is in English.

I still couldn’t find a contact manager program, even here.


Rating: ++++

AppAdvice has the most informative-looking format, recalling a magazine mozaic, and even talks about articles. It has a good section on latest and updated apps of the week, and an easy-to-use interface. What lets it down is the mish-mash of topics covered. But if this is the only app app you download, you won’t be disappointed.

Apart from the busy front page, it has a beautiful look and is very readable. It covers a lot of ground and makes you feel well-informed. Can’t ask any more than that…

App Hits

Rating: +++ (cuts off apps older than 7 days)

App Hits has my favorite interface. A left-hand column gives you the name of the app, its release date andd name of creator. As you slide down the list, a right-hand column gives a comprehensive summary of what the app tries to do: much cleaner that then pokey and phony iPhone style preview from App Tracker.

App Hits also has a top-right panel telling you how app has ranked over the past seven days and recently. I haven’t found a use for this, though, but you can’t help looking at it.

You can choose to list new apps over the past day, three days or seven days, free/paid, iPhone/iPad and by category, as well as by release date.

In all, very handy, but I still rate it below App Tracker because it has the seven-day cutoff.

Discovr Apps

Rating: ++ (it has two good facilities)

This has the glitziest new-tech look but I find its functioning most frustrating. You choose a not-very intuitive icon from the bottom line and it brings up another icon, you press on this icon and a bouquet of similar apps flowers around the center. Some have $-signs attached to indicate they are paid apps. You have to guess what each does.

The alternative is to choose from recommended, your Library (that is quite useful) and wishlist.

Supposedly you can tap twice on the icon to call up what looks like the App Store info, but I often found just more icons sprouting from the one I wanted to investigate.

The selection of related apps also seems quite limited, given the 500,000 to choose from. When looking at the info, the only choices seem to be buy or add to wishlist, rather than going directly to the App Store to check on alternatives. But in fact the buy button takes you to the store page rather than billing you and downloading the app. This enabled me to confirm that the Discovr Apps constellation of alternatives does not repeat the icons at the bottom of the App Store page. So it gets one point more for that.

But I still seem to end each session with a whole mess of icons on the screen. You can shake the iPad to get rid of them, but still… The medium here overwhelms the message.

And I still couldn’t find a contact manager. It did lead me to uContact Manager, however, and from there to several others. So it gets a second point for this trick.

P.S. If you want to see how my contact manager search came out, see Contact Apps.

AppFree HD

Rating: +

AppFree HD offers something like App Tracker in a nicer, full-screen version. But it only lists the day’s freebies.


Rating: 0

AppFlip has the rather dopey idea of giving you a screen of nine apps flipping their icons every couple of seconds. Thank goodness the default is sound off. Perhaps they know their audience: nine-year-olds who want to impress their friends.

2 April 2012