Upgrade Your Apps (Part 3) - January 2013

2/1/2013 9:21:38 AM

The redesigned App Store might sport a much cleaner look, but in some cases, the sparse overhaul makes it more difficult to find new and interesting apps. Sure, Genius is Apple's own version of an app-discovery service, but the selections it serves up can sometimes seem arbitrary, or based on apps that you haven't opened in ages.

If you're looking for a more active way to find fresh apps, we recommend Dlscovr Apps ($1.99, universal), which takes an unconventional approach to branching out and finding new things. Simply type in the name of an app that you like and Discovr will create a web of similar options and the picks are usually pretty smart. You can keep stretching the strands by tapping an icon, or double-tap to dig in and read about the app, see screens and trailers, and even view relevant tweets about it.

And if you're looking to find new apps while keeping bargains in mind, be sure to keep AppZapp (free, iPhone) handy. AppZapp lets you track specific apps that you're interested in, but aren't quite ready to splurge on, and it'll alert you via notification or email when the price drops or the app goes free. It's a savvy way to make the most of your App Store spending.


App sales happen all the time. AppZapp helps you take advantage.

Discovr Apps

Like Letterpress? Discovr Apps has some great suggestions for you.

iBook vs. Kindle

Where should you spend your book-buyin' money?

Nearly three years after the debut of iBooks, the debate rages on over which is a better way to read on your iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch: Apple's own storefront and reader, or Amazon's multiplatform Kindle, which has its own unique perks. Even now, it's difficult to discern a clear champion between the two.

From a readability standpoint, they're largely identical. Both allow you to flip pages with a tap or swipe, alter the size and font of the text, and change between white-on-black, black-on-white (for nighttime reading), and black-on-sepia styles. You can search, highlight, and place bookmarks that sync between devices via the cloud. Aside from little differences in functionality, the primary act of reading is very similar between the apps.

It’s a matter of preference, but we dig the smoother, more lavish Ul of iBooks, which starts with the reading experience seeing the virtual pages flip against a faux hardcover backing and extends into the storefront, which works like an extension of the App Store. By contrast, Kindle aims not to be a digital facsimile of a paper book, but rather a virtual version of its own ebook reader, showing only text on a flat backdrop without extraneous animations and visual details.

Of course, Kindle doesn't have a native storefront, to avoid paying Apple a 30 percent cut of the sales. Users must navigate to Amazon via a web browser and buy books there which makes them available to download in the app. We much prefer the simplicity of Apple's all-in-one option; the store and library together, without a hitch. But Amazon tends to offer better deals, and it also has the wider selection of books which can then be read on non-Apple devices if desired, including your Mac with the free Kindle reader app in the Mac App Store.

We’d rather buy and read books within the comfort of iBooks, but for those already entrenched in Amazon's ecosystem or heavy readers who may want a second set of options Kindle is another excellent pick that even trumps Apple's take in some respects.

Siri subs

Siri's getting better. But if she's still not your cup of tea, or you're stuck with an older device, try one of these.

Google Search

It probably shouldn't come as much of a shock that search giant Google has the second-best voice-activated assistant app on ¡OS. and Google Search (free, universal) even manages to shame Siri on her own turf by being faster and more accurate with results. The big problem is integration-as in, there is none! Search can't hook into the operating system the way Siri can, but given that it has access to Google's entire internet playground, that isn't a huge problem, assuming you remember to keep the app handy instead of double-clicking the home button to call up the old gal instead.

Google Search


One of the more faithful attempts at a Siri © clone in the App Store, Evi (free, iPhone) understands plain English commands using only your voice. The app includes shopping, news, dining and more local information for both the U.S. and U.K. and even includes a built-in browser so you won't have to leave the app in search of something Evi might not understand.


Speaktoit Assistant

Billed as a "virtual buddy" for your iPhone or iPod touch, Speaktoit Assistant ($0.99) uses natural languages (including many bilingual options) to answer questions, find information, or connect to Internet services ranging from Google to Facebook, Twitter, and Evernote. Speaktoit has one unique feature: you can change the look of your virtual assistant to make them a "pretty blonde or brunette girl" or even a "handsome agent or old professor." Let's see Siri pull off that trick!

Speaktoit Assistant

Dragon Go!

Nuance Communications is behind a lot of the voice recognition technology in use these days, and its free Dragon Go! app for iPhone actually predated Siri's arrival by two months. This simple solution serves up the company's Dragon Carousel, offering what it believes to be the best site for what you’re looking for, along with complementary results just by swiping from side-to-side. When it's inconvenient to speak what you're looking for, you can even type search queries right into Dragon Go!, another trick Siri doesn't know.

Dragon Go!

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