Best iPhone apps of 2011

by Dan Kricke

Writing for Appolicious, I look at hundreds of apps a year. Most of them stay on my iPhone about as long as it takes to review them, while others have a longer shelf life that ends only when I find myself irrationally clearing the decks so I don’t have to scroll through 10 pages to find a particular app. A miniscule amount stick around for much longer than that. The following ten apps represent that miniscule amount, and qualify as my favorite non-game apps of 2011.

SkyView – Explore the Universe ($1.99)

If you live in a rural area, seeing the stars might not be a very novel idea, but not everyone has that luxury. For the rest of us, SkyView does a tremendous job providing an augmented reality-aided glimpse into the sky above. Not only does SkyView label the constellations overhead when you point your iPhone at the sky, but it also gives out tidbits of information on the stars you’re looking at.

If that isn’t interesting enough, you can check out things like the trajectory of the sun and moon on a given day, and even see where the International Space Station is currently. You can also search for particular items like the North Star, and then follow an on-screen arrow to locate it in the sky. With a broad appeal that should attract kids and adults alike, SkyView makes for a fascinating app if you’re even slightly interested in astronomy.

Tiger Woods: My Swing ($4.99)

Using Tiger Woods: My Swing feels like looking into the future of tutorials. For those who can’t afford to hire expensive coaches to get better at their favorite sport, home-made video analysis that you can compare directly to a professional is the next best thing. My Swing is great not only at breaking down Tiger’s own swing so the layperson can better understand it, but also at showing players how they can do the same.

While putting in custom swing lines in order to analyze your swing may not feel immediately intuitive, it’s very cool to look at your swing side-by-side with Tiger’s once you get the hang of the app. Recording your swing is a breeze, and being able to review it on your iPhone or at an actual computer makes understanding your swing easier than ever. As a golf app, Tiger Woods: My Swing is great, but it’s just as intriguing as a glimpse into the future of video recording apps.

Related: The best iPhone sports apps of 2011

Roger Ebert’s Great Movies ($0.99)

Roger Ebert has seen a lot of films. Some of them, he likes very much, like the ones in Roger Ebert’s Great Movies. If you were looking for a list of films you absolutely have to see, Great Movies is the perfect app. Not only does it have a complete listing of more than 300 of Ebert’s favorite movies, but it also has the original reviews for those films as well.

If you’re not even sure where to begin, Roger Ebert’s Great Movies lets you search by title, cast or director. You can even add movies to your Netflix queue or order them on Amazon or iTunes directly from the app. Roger Ebert’s Great Movies celebrates the marriage between excellent criticism and convenient consumerism, and movie fans are all the better for it.

Chefs Feed (Free)

There’s something about the way a professional chef discusses food that just makes it sound so much better than if a regular Joe were to do the same. Chefs Feed takes that theory one step further and provides chef-recommended restaurant and food choices in a handful of major U.S. cities. Sure, your buddy thinks the ribs at that one BBQ joint are great, but wait until you read Spiagga’s Tony Mantuano discuss the brisket at Smoque BBQ.

Chefs Feed is as well designed as it is interesting to read, too. You can view potential food options by the chef that recommended them, the restaurant’s proximity to the user, or even just alphabetically by dish. If you consider yourself someone who wants to try the very best, it only makes sense to see what fellow chefs are raving about before you go out to eat.

RadioSoulwax (Free)

RadioSoulwax isn’t just mix tapes, but it’s not just another radio app, either. Instead, it’s a smorgasbord of music, visuals, and broadcast-esque elements all rolled up into one package that no music fan can deny. The app is set up as 24 individual hour-long mixes that play on a continuous loop. So tuning into the app at 3 p.m. will give you the same mix every day (until the schedule gets switched around). But if you’re dying to hear the mix at  4 a.m. but know you’ll never be awake for it, you can also download the mix onto your iPhone right from the app.

All of this is set up against the backdrop of a very cool visualization for each mix that uses the album covers of the songs that are playing in the mix. Sure, you might not be inclined to stare at your iPhone while you’re listening to music, but that RadioSoulwax went the extra mile to make its app both musically and visually interesting makes it one of my favorites of the year.

Best Of… (Free)

If you want to know the best food, drinks or even theaters in a given city, this is the app to use. Best Of… looks at 10,000 of the “best things” spread out over 32 cities from Atlanta to Washington. Not only does the app tell you what restaurant has the best use of bacon, but it will do so going back to 2008, so you can see just how past winners compare to this year’s champ.

Best Of… is organized well, offering categories for its “best of” rankings alongside a personal page for users so they can keep track of the things they want to try and the things they’ve already experienced. You can also review places themselves, providing a bit of a social element to the quasi guidebook format of Best Of... As someone who loves trying out new things, I leaned on Best Of… big time this year and it paid off more often than not. This is one app that won’t be disappearing from my home screen anytime soon.

SoundTracking (Free)

SoundTracking takes it name quite literally. Not only can it track and identify the music you’re listening to similar to other apps like Shazam, but its added social media constructs make it an excellent way to actually track the tunes that you and your friends are listening to.

The app’s interface lets you easily glide from figuring out the name of the song, to tagging the location and name of it over the usual social media platforms. You can also quickly view a news feed of the songs their friends have recently tagged in addition to seeing what songs are trending across the app. SoundTracking offers a great mix of social media and music discovery, making it one of the best apps of 2011.

Google Translate (Free)

Google Translate is the complete translation app. Like many other apps, it translates from text to text in 63 languages, but this handy app for travelers goes much further than that. Google Translate also understands spoken word and will translate voice into text in 17 languages. You can also listen to their translation spoken aloud in 24 languages.

If you find yourself using specific translations repeatedly, Google Translate offers the ability to list them as favorites so you can quickly reference them when you need them most. If foreign travel is on the menu, Google Translate should be the first app you pack.

GarageBand ($4.99)

My favorite app of the year goes to GarageBand. It’s not unique exactly, given that the full service version of the software has been built in MacBooks for years, but the ease of use for recording, looping and creating is unmatched. Would-be musicians can record on dozens of instruments and use various amps and pedal effects to create tons of unique sounds.

The GarageBand app even supports adapters that let you plug your own guitar into the app, making construction of a song even easier. With the ability to record up to eight tracks, there’s tremendous potential for artists to record interesting things on-the-go. No longer needing to be tethered to a laptop or bigger rig for recording opens up exciting new possibilities, especially given how easy GarageBand is to use.

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