Site of the Week: A Few Apps for Your iPhone

Introduction from procrastin8or: I’m taking a week off from my regular feature and turning the blog over to a much-valued blog buddy of mine. tmso, author of a writer’s blog under pseudonym nilaewhite and The Atheist’s Quill has been very kind in offering to complete the trio of mobile media posts with this list of apps for Apple products (iphone, ipad etc). I hope you find them useful

– procrastin8or

Image representing iPhone as depicted in Crunc...
Image via CrunchBase

Not many of us physically write on our iPad or iPhone, nor, egad, by way of an app (right?), but there are a few nifty little iOS apps (applications) that I use to help my writing effort. The first set help me read, and the last keeps me on track.

Writers are readers. And I happen to read on my iPhone. Here are a few apps I’ve used to help me proof and read my work as well as the work of other writers.

PDF Reader Lite

by Kdan Mobile (free version)

I often need to review documents that other folks send me. I could download a program like Calibre on my computer and convert to .epub or .mobi, and then jump the hoops to get it on my iPhone, or I can just use PDF Reader Lite. The program does exactly what you think. It reads PDF files. I know that seems simple, but for those of us in the business world where PDFs rule, it is hard to break us out of our comfort zone. And PDF Reader gives us a familiar look and functionality that users of Adobe Acrobat will instantly recognize and, more importantly, use. There’s even a Test Reflow feature that will allow the text to sort of flow like in a standard eReader such as the Stanza or Kindle apps. But the best feature of this little free app is the download functionality. It supports:

  • WiFi sharing,
  • you can download directly from a web browser, or
  • from a number of cloud storage locations (i.e., Box.net, iDiskDropbox (yes!), and best of all
  • GoogleDocs (double yes!),
  • as well as FTP sites (wow, triple yes!).

Even more nifty, you can take a picture and save it as a PDF file. Believe it or not, I’ve received several advanced reader copies in PDF format and they look great in the app. Easy to navigate to established bookmarks and a pleasure to read from. This is one app that I’ll likely upgrade to the paid version (only $1.99) just because I feel a little guilty using the free version since I get so much value out of it.

MSDict Viewer

by Mobile Systems, Inc.

Dictionaries seem ubiquitous now. You simply have to start typing and whatever program you happen to be in will suggest a spelling correction. Or if you are in an ereader program, simply tap and hold a word and the meaning of that word will appear. These digital dictionaries makes us all into English majors. But sometimes, you are not reading on your nifty Kindle nor are you browsing on the internet and you just want to look up a word real quick. What to do?

Since you don’t happen to carry a ten pound Webster’s New World College Dictionary in your pocket, but you do have an iPhone, you can use the MSDict Viewer free app. It has a super easy interface and a huge database. One feature I’ve found myself using is the Random Word feature. The database it draws from is Princeton University’s WordNet 3.0 database and it has some funky phrases and words that will send you off on an etymological adventure.

Kindle

by Amazon

I can’t very well not mention the elephant in the room. Yes, most of the ebooks I read, I read via the Kindle app by Amazon. Why? Because it rocks! It is the standard by which all other ebook apps are judged. I’ve used Stanza in the past, which is very good, but the Kindle edged out Stanza simply because of Amazon’s ease of purchasing. Unfortunately, it’s a package deal. Though the Kindle app offers a flexible and pleasing reading experience, they make it a little difficult to upload .mobi files that you didn’t buy directly from Amazon. There are ways around it, but that one little extra step is a little troublesome and, after a while, some folks just give up (like me). Regardless, if you have Calibre on your computer, you can convert just about any document to a .mobi file and upload to your iPhone (once you have all the settings right). Frankly, I don’t want another program on my old system, so I just use the PDF function in Word and PDF Reader (above). Same number of steps, less clutter on my machine.

Pomodoro Lite

by rapidrabbit

If you go to the Pomodoro Technique site and read through a bit, you’ll think it sounds awfully gimmicky. But it is only gimmicky if you want it to be. They offer the secret to their success right on the front page.

  1. Choose a task to be accomplished
  2. Set the Pomodoro to 25 minutes (the Pomodoro is the timer)
  3. Work on the task until the Pomodoro rings, then put a check on your sheet of paper
  4. Take a short break (5 minutes is OK)
  5. Every 4 Pomodoros take a longer break

That’s it. There’s nothing more to it. But the technique is powerful. I’ve used it to write my current novel and I’ve managed to write over 70,000 words since mid-February. That’s 20,000+ words per month! I’ll be done with a full length novel (about 90 to 100k) by mid-May.

I started using the technique after it was featured on The Parking Lot Confessional by Amy McLane. I didn’t get the app then, but just used the timer on my phone. That worked. And one advantage of just using a normal timer is that you can customize the length of work time and break time. However, when I thought to write this article, I went and got the free version of the app to see what was so magical about the ticking tomato.

I used it yesterday for a 3000 word sprint and I found that I very much like the 25-5 minute time intervals. I finished my goal in three pomodoro’s, whereas if I did it on my own, it would have probably took me all day considering the extra time I would have stopped to weed the garden, check my email, go to the store for some tea, take the dog for a walk, etc. I got to do all those things, but AFTER my work was complete. I felt I accomplished everything I wanted and then some. The power of time management, my friends. Do not underestimate its usefulness.

The Pomodoro Lite version of the app is preset to the recommended time lengths. A simple tap starts the timer. You need only tap it again when you are done with four pomodoros or if you get interrupted (in which case, you have to start over when you get back to it). The advantage with the app is that there’s no fussing with the timer settings to re-set the times from work vs break lengths and it comes with a little ticking sound that adds a bit of excitement to your work. If the ticking is bothersome, there’s a little check box right on the timer to shut the thing up.

There you have it. Four apps I use regularly to review, proof,  read and write my work as well as that of others. The apps I’d like to see but haven’t found:

  1. The Rodale Synonym Finder
  2. Scrivener

I’m sure there are other cool apps out there for writers using the iPhone or iPad, like EverNote (which I haven’t tried). Tell me, what are your favorites?

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