2012 is coming to an end, and what a year it has been. We've seen Apple's mobile environment grow even in the midst of heavy competition, thanks in no small part to the App Store. The App Store may owe at least some of its success to the plethora of free apps available. If you've followed this column then you'll know that all free apps are not created equal, some are way better than others. So, for my last column for this year I thought I'd offer my list of the 10 best iOS freebies. We have a lot to get through so lets get to it.
NYPL Biblion: World's Fair/Frankenstein
These are actually two separate apps and should be on this list individually, but there are so many other products that should be on my list that I decided to lump these together.
The New York Public Library has done itself proud when it released The New York World's Fair last year, (2011). Here is an app that let you explore and discover details about the 1939 World's Fair you never knew you wanted to know. You can literally spend hours going through the material.
NYPL Biblion: New York World's Fair
This year (2012) NYPL did it again when it released Frankenstein, which explores Mary Shelley's timeless classic in great detail. The amount of information stuffed into this app is amazing. Photos, drawings, even the handwritten pages of the original Frankenstein manuscript are included.
NYPL Biblion: Frankenstein
It's hard to believe these apps are free and have no ads. If you own an iPad of any kind, you need to get these apps.
The Weather Channel
This is one of my perennial favorites because it is a very good app. It does just what you need it to do and does it for free. You get current conditions, hourly and 7-day forecasts, an active radar map, video feeds and more. What I really like, however, is that The Weather Channel app offers seasonal conditions and forecasts too, even hurricane tracking (iPhone only). If you have to have one weather app, The Weather Channel app should be it.
Words with Friends
Here's another persistent favorite. What I like about Words is that you are not required to make your move immediately. Take your time, try different letter combinations, work out a strategy. It isn't the words you know, it's how you use them, and a bit of luck that wins the game.
If you need a bit more excitement in your multiplayer gaming on iOS then check out Air Wings. Fly paper airplanes, use spitballs, suction cup darts and more as weapons, and dogfight up to 3 other players in a variety of arenas.
This is a freemium app, but it doesn't require you to buy anything in order to advance because there is no advancing, but any in-app purchase will remove the ads.
It's fast, colorful, fun, and it's free.
This isn't an app, it's a book, but it blurs the line between e-books and apps because it is so very interactive.
If you're too young to know anything about the animated movie based on popular tunes from various Beatles albums worry not, this freebie will introduce you. It features movies clips, interactive animation, music and more, and it's just a blast to go through even if you are familiar with the movie.
This app wasn't free until recently, but even at the rather hefty price of half a sawbuck, SnapSeed was a winner. Its standout feature is its selective adjustment, which lets you pinpoint areas of your photo for tweaking while leaving other areas unaffected. Even if SnapSeed isn't your only photo post-processing tool you'll be glad to have this one in your arsenal.
Yes, I know, it's a catalog, but man, oh man, what a catalog it is!
Houzz exists to give you decorating ideas. Flip through its virtual pages and see how designers have changed ordinary bathrooms, kitchens and other living spaces into places anyone would feel comfortable in. But Houzz, isn't just a bunch of pretty pictures, it offers insight into the thoughts and work that went into creating the spaces shown in the photos, and it provides prices, or designer contact information for those those would like to take their design aspirations to the next step.
I like it just to look through it and I think you will too.
If you're into Jazz or music in general then you must have Blue Note.
For many years Blue Note Records was THE label for Jazz and Blues. The company was home to many jazz greats and has a rich history and extensive library of music that few can rival. Blue Note, the app, lets you explore the history and music that made the label legendary.
It has a great interface, offers 30 second music clips, videos and a lot more, all for free. If you feel you must pay, Blue Note also offers a monthly subscription service which lets you listen to all the jazz you want for just two bucks a month.
If you're an armchair adventurer there are plenty of apps that show off photos taken by world class photographers, but few offer the breath of subject matter as National Geographic's Fotopedia series. Tour Paris, China, Burma and many other exotic places. Read stories about the people, flora and fauna of each local and discover what makes each unique.
As you might expect from National Geographic, the photos are amazing and the stories are intriguing and there are so many places to pick from that you could spend countless hours going through them all.
While pix from pro photogs are great to view, being able to see your own shots is often more meaningful. They are, after all, YOUR photos, pix of what interests you, snapshots of your life that lives of those around you. The problem often is that your pix are in many different places; some on your camera roll, some in Instagram, others in Facebook or Dropbox. Wouldn't it be great to go to one place and see all you photos, no matter where they are? CoolIris does that for you.
By default it will access your camera roll. Set it up to access your Facebook or other accounts and there you go. The app lets you conveniently browse and share your shots no matter where they are.
And there you have it. My pick of the 10 best freebies in iOS-land. It was a tough job because there are so many stellar apps, and I'm sure you have your own favorites that didn't make my list. If you have suggestions for iOS freebies I should take a peek at please feel free to let me know about them.
That's a wrap for this week and for this year. As I said in the beginning, this has been an interesting year and next year promises to be even better.
See you all in 2013.