I am thoroughly enjoying the debut crop of iPhone Apps — a welcome improvement over the (mostly) second-rate half-baked apps available in the Jailbreak era.

Here are a few imaginary apps and functions I wish I could be using right now.

1. Batch Sync


Most New Yorkers with iPhones will recognize this scenario: You get on the subway and decide to catch some headlines on NetNewsWire, or maybe you want to catch up on the last hour or two of tweets on Twitteriffic. But when you open up each app, you find yourself looking at the same headlines you were looking at ten hours ago — the last time you launched the app. And now you’re underground and it’s too late to sync.In fact, many subway commuters have learned to practice a little ritual where, on their way to the train station, they launch each of these apps one by one just to sync the data so that when they go underground the data will be there ready for them.

“Batch Sync” is my solution. It’s simple an icon on the Home screen that, when clicked, launches each and every of the apps the user wants to synchronize with the cloud.

I realize that this app is probably impossible unless Apple does it themselves: Wisely, Apple does not permit any third-party iPhone apps to run in the background, a privilege reserved exclusively for a select number of Apple’s own apps (Mail, iPod, etc). But I can imagine a scenario in which Apple permits third-party apps to run in a limited way in the background, under specific user request and control: First, they can only sync in the background — no other functions besides syncing is permitted; and second, only if the user grants those apps specific permission to sync behind the scenes (or on demand) on a case-by-case basis.

This could most easily be done via a Preferences panel (a checkbox list, for example, listing all apps that offer the ability to sync automatically. UPDATE: Allegedly Apple is working on this, but no current apps seem to use it.

2. WiFi Switch


I turn my iPhone’s WiFi antenna on and off fairly frequently (to conserve battery life, for example), and it’s a pain to have to drill down into the System Preferences every time I want to do it.”WiFi Switch is a simple app that will provide Home-screen-level access to toggle WiFi on and off. That’s all it does — you click it and it turns WiFi on, click again and it turns it off. The icon could even change color to reflect the current state.

In fact, I sense some promise in the general idea of having a Home screen icon that simply switches some iPhone service on and off. There must be other uses for such a model.

3. A Decent To-Do List.


All of the current options really suck, IMHO. They’re either bloated GTD-crazed apps where it takes longer to write down and classify most tasks than it does to actually do them, or they are misbegotten piles of bad visual design, non-standard iPhone UI elements, and thoughtlessly inelegant user interaction design processes. More on this later.


11 responses to “iPhone Apps I Want”

  1. re: sync

    LOL, yeah, I got that problem — remembering to sync before going underground.

    Please tell Khoi Vinh to fix the NYT app, it leaves a lot to be desired (like actually syncing quickly/smartly).

    I’m having a problem syncing my calendars… it just sits there syncing calendars forever and ever and ever. Really annoying.

  2. Here’s an idea, instead of a ‘sync all’ app, Apple could just let apps register with the ‘fetch new data’ routine that runs in the background. Then, in the settings, users could add or delete apps that ‘fetch new data’ works with.

  3. I would *love* a batch sync application. And then you’d get a number next to each application with the number of new feeds, tweets, photos on Exposure, etc etc that are new…

  4. @t.whid The NYT app is a real gem — it doesn’t pre-cache content at all, so even with a pre-subway-tunnel sync it doesn’t deliver content. it always demands to go online. And it’s so slow (downloading gigantic images) that it’s no faster than the web site itself in Safari. Basically it’s useless.

    As to your second idea, that’s pretty much what I was proposing in the end, although you described it far better.

  5. Sherwin Techico Avatar
    Sherwin Techico

    OMG I definitely agree w/ you on #2 WiFi Switch and #3 To-Do List. I would add a couple of minor features to it though:

    #2 — Maybe add 3G on/off, as well as BT. I wonder how much of the total iPhone price that Silent/Ringer on/off switch costs–they should’ve at least included more functionality to it like this item for example. Kind of like how the Blacjack has it when you press its Power on/off button.

    #3 — I’ve been testing out Jott and Tadalist (web app). And like you said, they either take too long to use or they just lack a bit more feature. I might take a look at Toodledo as it lets you prioritize and have due dates if need be over Tadalist. It’s just too bad Tadalist and Toodledo are only iPhone web-optimized and not native like how Jott has theirs.

    Argh… I need to put #3 on my Todo list =(

  6. With NetNewsWire there is a way to sync.

    1. Set yourself up a free newsgator account.

    2. Plug in the username/pass on your iphone version of netnewswire and your various computer versions of netnewswire.

    3. Viola you’re synced.

    ( They also have an excellent browser based version for the iphone http://m.newsgator.com )

    I used netnewswire on 3 different computers and on 2 iphones (my wife’s and mine) and everything is always synced. This was the holy grail for me as I’ve been struggling with this problem for years.

    Re the Wifi switch there were some jailbreak apps that did exactly that and if it’s possible given apple’s sanctioned app sdk i’d imagine an app store version is right around the corner….

  7. now i reread your post… i see that you were looking for a way to automatically start the netnewswire/twitteriffic sync before heading down into the station… yeah I want that too feel free to delete my now irrelevant posts.

  8. Re: todo app. I’m an avid user of the Things desktop app (http://www.culturedcode.com/things/) which I can only describe as beautifully simple but powerful enough for high end users. So, I have high hopes for their iPhone app, which they say will have syncing in its next version.

  9. I completely agree with the first 2 apps. I too would find them to be the most useful additional apps.

    As for the note taking apps, arent you a little tired of seeing a new note taking app born every day? Right now, NOTES is possibly the best yet. It comes the closest to resembling post-it notes, and requires little thought to use. I would like to see the ability to post a note to the Home screen as a button and to sync them chronologically to my computer or ME account – thus generating a feed.

  10. @jeremy: I’m not talking about note-taking. I’m talking about To-do lists. Quickly jotting down stuff you have to do, and easily accessing it later. Sorting them by priority, due date, or manually. Grouping them into multiple lists. Sync-ing it with the cloud. That’s all I ask, and none of them do all of these with any elegance or simplicity. All involve multiple easily-remedied extra clicks. Don’t get me started!

  11. Right along w/ the WiFi button is the BlueTooth button. Here in California, we are now required by law to be hands-free when driving. But leaving the Bluetooth on all the time MASSIVELY drains the battery. A simple button front and center would be nice.