With more than 85,000 applications available for download, Apple’s iPhone is a Swiss Army-like device for journalists to communicate, produce and consume media from wherever they are.
As the commercials suggest, there really is an app for almost everything, even for specialized beats or topics. If you’re a TV meteorologist, there’s RadarScope ($9.99), which lets you view NEXRAD Level 3 data and other weather information.
If you’re a cops reporter, there’s FStream (free) and several paid apps to turn your phone into a police scanner. Need to quickly look up a state statute while you’re out of the office? There are statute apps for Arizona, Florida, California and other states. Need to quickly look up some sports statistics? Try the ESPN ScoreCenter app or the ESPN mobile Web site.
The addition of a video camera and a compass to the newest model, the iPhone 3GS, have made it an even more useful gadget for journalists.
Some of the most useful apps, including the Safari Web browser, Camera, Maps and Voice Memos, come already installed. And if you’re not happy with the default apps, such as Voice Memos or Camera, you can download others that perform the same function better or improve the way that app works.
A big drawback is that you can’t have more than one third-party application running at the same time. However, the recent addition of push notifications means apps can send you information that pops up on your screen when you don’t have the app open.
A word to the wise from Baltimore Sun reporter and iPhone power user Gus Sentementes: If you’re planning to use a lot of apps, invest in an external battery backup to carry around with you, as the apps and browser drain the iPhone’s battery quickly.
You can buy a case with an extra battery built in, like the mophie Juice Pack Air ($79.95). If you don’t like a bulky case, you can get a reserve battery to plug into your iPhone when needed, such as the Griffin Reserve Battery ($19.99), or the Kensington Mini Battery Pack and Charger ($49.99). I keep a charger in my car.
Here is my list of the 10 best iPhone applications for journalists. The links will take you to the app in iTunes. Unless otherwise noted, all 10 are free and work on all iPhone models.
This brand new app allows you to access music, videos, documents, spreadsheets, PDFs and other files wherever you are, even if you don’t have a cellular or Wi-Fi connection. The app works in conjunction with Dropbox’s downloadable programs for Windows, Mac and Linux computers that let you store and sync copies of your files across multiple computers and the Web. Think of it as a safe or virtual flash drive for the important files that you may need to open at a moment’s notice.
For journalists, having access to your Dropbox on your iPhone means you don’t have to bring paper documents to interviews and assignments or on trips. Need to refer to a list of questions or a PDF file while you are doing an interview? Want to have a backup copy of your resume or a PowerPoint presentation? Just drag the files to your Dropbox on one of your computers before you leave, and you can view them on your iPhone.
You can’t edit Dropbox files on your iPhone, but changes you make to file in a computer Dropbox will be made on all copies of the file, including on your iPhone. Items you mark as favorites in the iPhone app will be downloaded to your phone so you can view them offline. The app lets you upload photos and videos taken with your iPhone so you can quickly get to them from your computer or online at getdropbox.com.
You can also share files by e-mail from within the app, which makes it easy to send files to editors and colleagues. The app, desktop programs and 2GB of storage are free and you can purchase more space. You must have iPhone OS 3.1 or later use it.
A powerful photo editing program that lets you crop, adjust colors and exposures, apply filters, straighten and even add text bubbles to your photos. Photos can be saved, copied to the clipboard or e-mailed. Modified photos are saved as new files, so your existing file is left alone. Check out how a Poynter’s St. Petersburg Times photographer used the iPhone for a magazine photo shoot.
A quick way to search the Web by typing in search terms, or speaking them into the phone. The app uses the phone’s GPS to detect your location, so when you search for Starbucks or a local restaurant by name, you’ll see a specially formatted mobile listing with the phone number and address that you can tap on to place a call or get directions.
One of the best iPhone apps of any kind because it has tons of features that arguably make scanning your news feed easier than doing it on a computer. You can view news feed groups (like sources, coworkers, etc), view events, and upload photos and videos (iPhone 3GS only). One drawback: you cannot yet play videos that have been uploaded to Facebook. The app also has a built-in Web browser, so you do not have to leave Facebook when you click on a link someone has posted.
How many times have you clicked on a link to an interesting article or blog, only to close it, because it’s long and you didn’t have the time to read it? With a free account at Instapaper.com, you can save any Web page to read later on your iPhone, even if you are offline. The app saves articles in text-only format so you don’t have to do a lot of zooming.
I’ve been using this for more than a year as a great way to catch up on articles and posts when I’m traveling. Installing the “Read Later” bookmarklet on your computer Web browser toolbar will make it easy to add links to your Instapaper account as you surf the Web, read Twitter messages, etc. Before you go offline, make sure to open up the app and hit refresh so your latest items are downloaded. There’s also a “Pro” version for $1.99 that has more features.
There are dozens of Twitter apps, but there still isn’t one that does everything. It’s a good idea to have a few on your phone.
Tweetdeck allows you to create columns of Twitter users and tweets, which is extremely helpful for filtering messages. Groups can include favorite users or search terms, such as companies or people on your beat, your news organization or your competitors’ Twitter accounts.
You can also tweet from multiple accounts and post pictures (with yfrog or TwitPic). There’s also a built-in browser so you don’t have to leave the app when you click a link. If you use the desktop version of Tweetdeck for Windows or Mac, you can set up an account so that your columns are synced across all computers and your iPhone.
A well-designed app that, with the exception of columns, has all of the same major features Tweetdeck has — and more. You can easily view Twitter’s trending topics, type in someone’s Twitter name to go directly to his or her profile and view nearby tweets, which will help when covering major events or gatherings. There’s automatic URL shrinking with bit.ly, and it integrates with Instapaper, so you can add links you find in tweets to your Instapaper account.
If you haven’t purchased Tweetie yet, you may want to hold off until the new version, Tweetie 2, is released. According to TechCrunch, there are a ton of new features, and the new version won’t be a free upgrade. If you already have Tweetie, then, you’ll have to shell out another $2.99 to get the new one.
A clearinghouse for all of your text notes, voice notes, files and photos, which syncs with your online Evernote account so you can access your stuff from any computer. And it’s all searchable, even text in photos you take. A great tool for story materials and making sure you never forget a great idea that pops into your head.
Qik (iPhone 3GS only)
A handy tool for quickly recording videos that you can push out to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. The iPhone version of this popular mobile streaming video program is not as good as other versions because you are not able to stream live video with it (unless you have a jailbroken phone, or get the app directly from the developer). But you can add location data to your videos, record a video with the app itself or upload one that you’ve already recorded (and edited) with the iPhone’s video camera. Here’s how one TV reporter used Qik to go live from the field.
This app’s push notifications are the best way to stay on top of major news events. You can customize which types of news you want to know about, and you’ll hear a tone and get a pop-up alert on your phone when something happens, such as a celebrity death or the latest unemployment numbers. Although major news is usually posted a few minutes before on Twitter, the app is a great way to make sure you don’t miss anything.
Other iPhone apps worth checking out: AP Stylebook, CNN Mobile, New York Times, iTalk Recorder, WordPress, TypePad, Nearest Wiki, NPR News, Skype, Fring, ShoZu, Quickoffice, NearestPlaces, CameraBag, TwitVid and Yelp.
Did I leave out any great iPhone applications for journalists? Post a comment with the app name, description and link.