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20 essential apps picked by people we trust

Neil Gaiman, Brian Williams, Rosanne Cash, Dan Savage and 16 others recommend the features they can't live without

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    Wikipedia

    Neil Gaiman

    My favorite App is Vignette, a camera app for Android. It makes beautiful pictures and it makes pictures beautiful. There’s a setting called Bleach Bypass that, when pictures taken in it are posted online, means I’ll spend the next day fielding questions about how I took that, what my camera app is, and apologizing to friends with iPhones because Vignette’s an Android App. Then there’s Velvia, the nature photography setting, perfect for shooting dogs and woods and flowers and such. I enjoy the new picture settings that come with each rollout, and try and remember to experiment with them. (Today I discovered Whiteboard.) It’s an app that has me using my phone (a Nexus 1) where really I ought to use a real camera. I hope that one day real cameras will come with Vignette too — or something like it …

    Author Neil Gaiman’s latest writing can be found at http://www.neilgaiman.com

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    Wikipedia

    Olivia Munn

    Dropbox is the most useful app I’ve seen in a long time. It’s like an electronic file cabinet that syncs between your laptop, iPad, iPhone — it can actually be on all platforms. So if I drop a script in my Dropbox on my laptop, I can read it on my iPad while away from my laptop. All devices sync, so I can access the same document and the changes I make on one gets coordinated. So wherever I access it, I see the same document/movie/pic/etc. I know technology is getting a bad rap lately for taking over our lives and there’s less intimacy — and there is validity to that statement — but apps like this one prove how amazing technology has been. Things like this have helped me get more done and feel like I can be in two or even three places at once, without missing a beat.

    Olivia Munn is an actor, writer and comedian. She appears as a correspondent on “The Daily Show” and her recent book is “Suck It, Wonder Woman!”

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    Wikipedia

    Ben Huh

    My favorite app is the TripIt app, which works in conjunction with the TripIt.com website.

    I fly more than 50 flights a year and it’s a pain to try to remember all the confirmation numbers, the hotel locations, etc. — they all just blend into an “Up in the Air” stupor. The TripIt app automatically organizes all my reservations and lets me retrieve them when I am balancing my laptop bag, holding two hot cups of coffee while being frisked by the TSA. Unfortunately, the mapping system in the app is laborious to use and updating changed reservations can feel like manual labor. But I approve of their rapid progress and feature updates to the app. It gets better every time and I can see lots more useful features coming down the line.

    Ben Huh is the CEO and founder of the Cheezburger Network, which includes FailBlog.

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    Twitter

    Lauren Leto

    I absolutely adore my 3D Bookshelf iPhone application — it helps me pass the time on my commute; in fact, it makes me excited to get on the train. The graphics are beautiful, the words are easy to read and the selection is substantial. (I’ve read “The Picture of Dorian Gray” and “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” while on the subway.) Users can control the colors and sound, and bookmark their place in the book. They even have Facebook Connect so you can share your reading choices with your friends. I’ve downloaded several other book applications for the iPhone and this one is the best by far.

    Lauren Leto, co-founder of Texts From Last Night, is now working on her second start-up, called BNTER.

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    YouTube screen shot

    Joel Johnson

    Right now, today, and only for this moment, my favorite app is Epic Citadel. It’s not even a game proper, but a technology demo. (It’s the one that was in the Apple Keynote on Sept. 1.) You load it and can walk around a 3-D castle. Sounds as dry as eating sawdust, right?

    I suppose it is. But what beautiful boredom. Shining minarets, colorful jousting tents, ivy-like chips of malachite — yet it’s in my phone. My silly little phone is like a portal into … well, not into the past. I’ve seen video-game graphics this good a hundred times before. But not on my phone. That makes it feel like the future.

    Joel Johnson is a contributor at Gizmodo.com

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    Wikipedia

    Amanda Congdon

    My favorite app right now is SnapTell for the iPhone. With SnapTell I can take a quick photo of a book, DVD or CD cover and instantly search for it online. I like to use it while browsing through used bookstores and DVD bargain bins. I just snap a picture of the cover and can pull up Amazon, IMDB or Rotten Tomato reviews in a flash. I can tell what movies, books and albums are highly rated and whether or not the listed price is competitive. If I like the item but not the price, I can buy the product right from the app via any number of online outlets. Visual search simplifies my life and that makes me happy.

    Amanda Congdon, a television personality and videoblogger, can be found at amandacongdon.com.

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    Gabe Rivera

    Twitter: Reading the shortest form of writing is perfect on the go.

    Foursquare: I like to know where my friends are, so I’d imagine they’d like to know likewise.

    FlightControl: The only game I liked right away and never tire of.

    Boxcar: Because I want to be alerted to my @-replies and retweets, surprisingly.

    Gabe Rivera is the founder of TechMeme

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    Wikipedia

    Dan Savage

    I don’t know how to purchase an app, even though I’m currently pimping one, and I’ve never e-strolled to the iTunes store. I’m not tech savvy, for starters, and I hate shopping, for finishers. I’ve needed a new pair of gym shoes for more than a year but I’m so overwhelmed by the number of choices at the local Foot Locker that I leave without trying anything on.

    So the idea of going to the iTunes app store and browsing among the 400 million-or-whatever apps holds no appeal. My boyfriend, on the other hand, is a tech-savvy early guy and something of an app addict. Every once in a while he takes my iPhone (a gift from him) and purchases an app that he thinks I might enjoy.

    Usually I don’t enjoy them — usually I don’t even open them. But the last app he got me … well, I’m addicted. And boring — I’m very, very boring. I’m almost ashamed to admit that this app is … well, it’s not a sex app, or a cruising app, or something you might expect from someone in my line of work. It’s a cribbage app. My boyfriend and I like to play cards. Grandma games, game my mother taught me: hearts, spades, canasta, century. And a few months ago a friend taught us to play cribbage — an underappreciated game — and I’ve been using this app pretty much around the clock since the boyfriend put it on my phone.

    There might be other cribbage apps out there — don’t know, never been to the app store, haven’t comparison shopped — but I’m happy with the one on my phone. It was designed and developed by Nicolas Payette and Ian Oliver for Trivial Technology. I’m playing it right now, as I write this, and I’ve skunked my phone twice this morning.

    Dan Savage’s column, “Savage Love,” has an app, which can be found here

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    Salon

    Laura Miller

    Instapaper is the one app I can’t live without. I hate reading anything longer than a few paragraphs on my laptop, so when I come across an interesting article, paper or story on the Web, I click the Instapaper button on my browser bar, and the text is saved to my Instapaper account. I can sort the articles into folders (“Read for fun,” “Read for work”) and then read them — reformatted into a clean column of eminently readable type — on my iPad at my leisure. I don’t even have to be online. I also have Instapaper on my iPhone so I’m never at a loss for something interesting to read, even when stuck on the subway or in a waiting room.

    Laura Miller is a senior writer for Salon.

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    YouTube screen shot

    Lance Ulanoff

    Whatever smart phone I use — and I tend to use a lot of them (iPhone 4, BlackBerry Torch and Bold) — I look for a decent Twitter app. Lately, Twitter has created official apps for all the major platforms, so I use it all the time on any phone I’m carrying.

    Kindle: My other go-to app is the Kindle Reader. I own an Amazon Kindle, but sometimes I forget it at home. I can pick up where I left off reading on my BlackBerry and — this is what I love — sync right back through the Whispernet network to my Kindle Device.

    Lance Ulanoff is editor in chief and senior vice president of content for the PCMag Digital.

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    Wikipedia

    Gina Trapani

    I could not live without the Google Voice app for a few reasons. My GV number is my permanent, single phone number, and with the app installed, all my calls from my mobile phone look like they’re coming from that number by just dialing as usual. I can send and receive unlimited text messages for free using the app from my GV number, no carrier charges involved, and all my text messages sent from the phone show up on the Web as well, so I can text no matter what device I’m using. Finally, Google Voice transcriptions let me read my voice mail instead of having to listen to it. (I hate listening to voice mail.)

    Gina Trapani, founder of Lifehacker, is a tech blogger and software developer at Bolt.com.

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    Wikipedia

    Brian Williams

    Shazam. Hands down. Life-changing.

    Brian Williams is anchor of NBC Nightly News, which also has an app.

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    Wikipedia

    Peter Sagal

    Other than the standard ones — e-mail, Web and (yes) Twitter app — the app I most often call up is MLB At Bat. Ten bucks a season, and you can listen to the radio feed of any MLB game, which has allowed me to continue to be an obsessed Red Sox fan while living in Chicago. It also has helped me wash a lot of dishes.

    Other apps I love — Instant Watcher, which is a better way of navigating Netflix Instant Watch service than the Netflix app; TripIt, which is great for consolidating and finding all my travel plans (I travel a lot); and the N.Y. Times app.

    Peter Sagal is an author, playwright and host of “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.”

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    Wikipedia

    Walter Mosley

    My favorite app on the iPad is Marvel Comics. Because it brings me back to how comics were when I was a kid.

    Walter Mosley’s novel “The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey” will be out Nov. 11. His website is here.

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    alexdecampi.com

    Alex de Campi

    The Comics by Comixology app is responsible for me missing my subway stop waaay too many times. It’s a huge virtual comics shop where you can get everything from the most indie to new (or classic) DC/Marvel … plus a lot of free issues every week. Their Guided View makes reading comics on small screens a snap, and if you want to finish reading later on a big screen (laptop/tablet), the app saves it for you. Perfect quick-hit entertainment for commuting or other in-between times.

    Alex de Campi is a comics writer. Her recent work includes the Valentine mobile comic.

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    Wikipedia

    Matt Mullenweg

    Instapaper, because it allows me to catch up on longer articles in my spare moments.

    Matt Mullenweg is the founding developer of WordPress.com.

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    Pantheon Books

    Michele Norris

    If you judge my favorite app by frequency of use, then it would hands down be the Epicurious app. I use it constantly — sometimes with a specific recipe in mind, sometimes to engage in my own version of “Iron Chef” by typing a few ingredients from the fridge in the search window to see what kind of recipe will pop up. Right now we are on a homemade pancake kick and as we click through the app week after week we have discovered that the possibilities for new versions of pancakes are endless. And after a dear friend (“Morning Edition” E.P. Madhulika Sikka) suggested that real cooks make their own salad dressing, we are also ticking through an ever-growing list of Epicurious concoctions. The only hazard is that one has to be very careful when cooking with a phone next to the stove. Olive oil. Pancake batter. Buttermilk. All as dangerous as kryptonite for an iPhone.

    As much as I travel on book tour (20 cities in 30 days, recently) I have developed an addiction to an app called Flight Tracker.

    Michele Norris hosts “All Things Considered” on NPR and is the author of “The Grace of Silence: A Memoir.”

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    Wikipedia

    Rosanne Cash

    My favorite app is Cleartune for iPhone — it’s a great guitar tuner.

    Rosanne Cash is a musician and author. Her new record is “The List” and her new memoir is “Composed.”

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    Wikipedia

    Rick Reilly

    My favorite app is FaceDouble, where you can see what celebrity you most resemble. You shoot a picture of your friend and then FaceDouble matches him up with his celebrity look-alike. Mine was Kevin Spacey. My wife’s was David Beckham. (Odd.) Great fun at parole hearings, etc. Wouldn’t it be great fun to see somebody you THINK is a celebrity but aren’t sure? You could then snap their picture and see if FaceDouble answers your burning curiosity. In fact, right now, I’m collecting pictures I take of actual celebrities and see if it matches them up with themselves. It’s been hilarious.

    Hey, it’s a living.

    Rick Reilly is a front-page columnist for ESPN.com.

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    Joe Randazzo

    When I need to concentrate deeply on something I am reading or writing, which is almost every day, I use Binaural Beats. It had been recommended to me in the past, but since I don’t generally believe that a free iPhone app can “induce the brain to perceive different brainwave states,” as the description claims, it took me a while to try it. Once I did, though, I found it really blocked out ambient noise and helped me focus. Now it’s just so conditioned into my workflow that I have a hard time editing anything without putting in my headphones and turning it on. And, though I reject the notion of iPhone-based spiritual enlightenment, it does seem to have a certain relaxing quality.

    Joe Randazzo is editor of the Onion, America’s Finest News Source, which has an app.