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The best iOS apps I used in 2010

After looking back over Mac and Mac/iOS hybrid apps, it's time to look at the best iOS apps of 2010. As before, this list comes from my particular experience over the past year with these apps.

1) iCab Mobile (US$1.99, universal) is a replacement for mobile Safari. While it is hindered by the fact that iOS doesn't have anywhere to set a "default browser," and therefore most URLs that you open from the Springboard or email/Twitter/etc... will open in Safari, iCab offers plenty of features that make it worth the effort. It is the first app on my dock, and I much prefer it over Safari. Although it uses the same rendering engine as Safari, it comes with a host of features that Safari doesn't have.

iCab Mobile will let you download files, which you can either offload to your computer later or upload to Dropbox from right within the app. Tap and hold an image, and you can save it right to your Dropbox. iCab on the iPad also does "real" tabs, with a visible tab present (it will auto-hide when not needed, if you want). You can set it to open links in new tabs, or open only links to different domains in new tabs. It has content filtering built-in, as well as module support for things like Instapaper, viewing HTML source or even downloading videos from YouTube. It also has a forms manager and a kiosk mode, and as Mike pointed out in November it supports VGA mirroring for presentation use. Web browsing is one of the primary uses of my iPad, and iCab Mobile is well worth the minimal asking price. Find out more at iCab Mobile's website.

See the rest of my choices below.

2) It seems like there are hundreds of Twitter clients for iOS, but Twitterrific 3 (free/ad-supported, $5 for premium) combines an elegance and simplicity, giving you all the features you need without cluttering up the user interface like the utter monstrosity that is Twitter for iOS.

2010 was a tough year for the folks at The Iconfactory, developers of Twitterrific. Twitter changed their API, which made all old third-party Twitter apps break. Apple, citing "user confusion" concerns, would not allow The Iconfactory to put two different versions of Twitterrific (i.e., one "unbroken" version for existing customers and one new version) on the App Store. Apple also does not give iOS developers any way to provide free upgrades for existing customers. In the end, Twitterrific 3 was released as a free, ad-supported universal application. If you want to remove the ads or use more than one account, the cost is $5.

How did users respond? They acted like the folks at The Iconfactory had set their house on fire, run over their grandma with a Rolls Royce, forced them to listen to "It's a Small World" for 20 hours straight and kicked the family dog. Did I say family dog? I meant three-legged family dog, which had lost its leg saving a busload of babies from drowning. For those who were able to see beyond the histrionics, we saw that The Iconfactory had re-invented its hugely popular Twitter client, making it significantly better by removing a bunch of cruft that had grown in around the edges. Still not convinced? Macworld called it "Twitter Client of the Year."

3) I haven't been much of a gamer since my Atari 7800 days, but the iPad has shown me a few games that I really love. First off is Words With Friends, the app which taught people that "qi," "za" and "jo" are actually words. One thing I love about this game is that I've seen my son (age 8) enjoy it as much as his grandmother (age 70). I've never been a big fan of Scrabble, but I love Words With Friends because it lets you try different letter combinations and tells you if you have actually managed to create a word or not. [In fairness, the official Scrabble app will also do this -- a feature that infuriates some wordgame purists. –Ed.]

I found the ads incredibly annoying and invasive, but fortunately, the app is fairly inexpensive. Right now you can get either the iPad or iPhone/iPod touch versions for $1 each, or if you don't have enough ads and/or annoyance in your life, get the free iPad or free iPhone/iPod touch versions.

4) I will admit that I was the last one to jump on the Plants vs Zombies bandwagon, but now I can't stop playing it. My only complaint is that it needs more levels, and it should have been a universal app. The iPhone/iPod touch version is $3 and the iPad version is $10.

5) Similarly, Angry Birds seems to have absolutely mastered the art of reselling the same game, offering separate versions for iPhone/iPod touch ($1) and iPad ($5), not to mention Angry Birds Seasons for iPhone/iPod touch ($1) and Angry Birds Seasons for iPad ($2). I suppose I should be grateful they didn't decide to make a separate app for each season. Yes, I know these are inexpensive games, but the iPad vs. iPhone versions are (as far as I can tell) identical, and the "Seasons" versions are slight variations on an "already made you millions of dollars" idea.

6) While I'm being cantankerous, Shazam (free, but limited) took a free app and replaced it with a limited app, and then released the $6 Shazam Encore app, which isn't universal, a $6 (PRODUCT)RED™ version, which isn't universal, and a free Shazam for iPad (which currently offers unlimited tagging -- the same feature they removed from the iPhone version). I can see into the future... and I see... that Shazam will eventually limit tagging in the iPad version and sell an "Encore" version for iPad, which will be a separate, non-universal app that I will have to purchase. Look, Shazam folks: your app is one step short of witchcraft, and it works great 99 percent of the time, but do the world a favor and combine your offerings into one universal app with in-app purchasing for unlimited tagging. Everyone will be better off.

7) I put the Kindle apps in the iOS section because even though there is a Mac version, I would never ever use it. Being able to read Kindle books on iOS devices is superb, though. I prefer reading on the Kindle over the iPad, but I have the iPad with me more often because it does more.

8) Google Voice was definitely the biggest surprise of the year, if only because it had previously been kicked out of the App Store. One of the reasons I love Google Voice is because I can check my voicemail on my iPad or on any other computer. It's like Gmail for your phone in that it allows you to filter calls. You can set multiple phones to ring, get email transcriptions (although the accuracy often leaves much to be desired) and SMS notifications. You can also send/receive SMS messages for free, and the official app supports push notifications, making it that much easier to ditch a text messaging package from AT&T.

The app originally didn't work on the iPad or iPod touch, but it has since been updated -- although it obviously will only place/receive calls on the iPhone. It's going to be difficult for GV Mobile+ and GV Connect (each $3) to compete with a free app from Google, especially with no official Google Voice API, but I hope that they will find ways to continue to innovate and offer users more than what Google offers. (GV Connect was recently updated to be a universal app, giving it a current edge, but as far as I know the official app is the only one that does push notifications.)

9) Reeder has released a beta Mac version, but I came to know and love it in 2010 on the iPad ($5). It syncs with Google Reader flawlessly and fast, supports a multitude of services, like Pinboard and Instapaper, and it allows you to turn off services you don't use. The iPhone/iPod touch version ($3) sells separately, but I wouldn't be surprised to see a universal version when the next major revision is released.

10) Flipboard showed people what was possible with the iPad's larger format, offering something that wasn't a "port" of a different app, but something which was clearly made for the iPad. The result is that I actually followed many of those links from my Facebook friends and other RSS feeds. They had some initial problems due to being extremely popular and overloading their servers, but if you have an iPad and haven't picked up this free app yet, you're missing out.

11) I usually consider "8 bit games" to be the "steampunk" of the gaming world -- a sort of faux nostalgia for "simpler days" that no one really misses. I mention that only because I was surprised that The Incident became one of my favorite games this year.

It took me a while to get used to moving my iPad around enough to make the quick moves necessary (there are sensitivity controls, too), but the wide variety of items that can fall from the sky and kill you is enough to make you almost forget how frustrating-but-fun the game can be. The universal iPad/iPhone/iPod touch game is only $2. The game has been repeatedly updated, and it now supports playing it on your TV by hooking the iPad to your TV and using an iPhone or iPod touch as the controller.

12) From an app that will make you think you're living in the past, let's go to one that feels like the future: Air Video allows you to stream video from your Mac or Windows computer to your iPad or iPhone/iPod touch (and, if you're Erica Sadun, to leverage the server component to do magic with AirPlay and an Apple TV). If you have ever waited and waited and waited for HandBrake to transcode your video, and then waited and waited and waited for iTunes to sync it, you know how much nicer it would be to just be able to send it from your computer to your iOS device. There's a $3 universal app, but you can get a taste using the free, limited version to make sure it works. (If you don't want to transcode but do want to try to play different formats, try VLC for iPad or iPhone/iPod touch.)

So those are my favorite apps from 2010. Did I miss yours?

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