Most posts about iOS apps are about helping you lifehack your way to work success: to-do lists, cloud storage, timekeeping, etc. But all work and no play makes lawyers dull, and your family and friends have likely tired of you explaining how Remember the Milk changed your life. Your iPhone and/or iPad has plenty of storage, relatively speaking, and you have plenty of time to be a world-beater during the work day with your sleek ScannerPro-to-Evernote integration, so why not add a few apps that are just there for some me time?
White Noise Lite
Several years ago, in a fit of misguided compassion, we acquired a rooster. Everyone is telling the gospel truth when they tell you that roosters crow at all hours of the day for no real reason at all. We tried fans to drown him out, but that was sort of a non-starter in the winter. Friends suggested pricey sleep machines, but it felt absurd having to purchase something to defend our ears against a monster of our own creation. Enter White Noise Lite.
Free in the app store (there’s also a paid version, but I’ve found the free one more than ample for my needs), White Noise Lite has the usual lineup of soothing sleep sounds: beach waves, rain, crickets, fan, white noise. Your tinny iPad speakers work just fine to pump out these fuzzy sounds, and you can set it to time out after a fixed amount of time, or run all night.
The sound effect does loop at some point, but I’ve been using the crickets effect for several years now and have never figured out when it loops. Best of all, it successfully drowns out the rooster most nights. Unbelievably handy for travel too, as cheap hotel rooms are never as soundproof as they should be.
(This app is actually an iPhone app that you just run in 2x mode on your iPad (or just run it off your iPhone, obviously). There’s nothing fancy to it graphically, so you won’t really care that it is somewhat ugly in the double-size version.)
How To Cook Everything
The e-version of Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything” cookbook, this app is indispensable. Let’s get something out of the way first. You will be irritated that this costs $10. You will say to yourself “I do not need a cookbook that tells me everything from how to boil an egg to how to make paella, because I will just look those things up on the internet.” Believe me when I tell you that I tried that route, and it involved much surfing and trying to find a way to organize recipes and being irritated that I had to open the browser again or that I couldn’t remember which of the 12 recipes for welsh rarebit that I’d downloaded was the one I actually used. Bittman covers the basics — the very best ways to make the basics — and gives you things like clayuda, which I actually have not made but is a real thing from Oaxaca that Mark Bittman tells me is like a pizza combined with a quesadilla combined with a burrito.
The app is an easy-to-navigate package, and you can hop out of the recipe you’re working on to check, say, a sauce, and hop back in without getting lost in the app. Bittman also covers the things you think you already know how to do, but are probably doing inefficiently, like coring and shredding a cabbage.
To be fair, if you’re going full-on gourmet, you’ll probably outpace this cookbook pretty fast. But most of us are not Martin Ginsburg-level cooks, and this will do just fine.
The “hey wait what is that song” game is only fun if you can figure out what the song is. If you can’t, it is a maddening looping nightmare that eats away at your brain as you hum under your breath trying to figure out what you just heard. Enter SoundHound. With one tap, it will listen to the song on the radio or at the bar and tell you what you’re hearing. I used to use Shazam, which is the same principle, but I’ve found that SoundHound is better with figuring out a song even when there’s other ambient noise and also works pretty well with hearing a live version and matching it up to the studio release.
Guilty admission: I use it most often to figure out what song is playing over closing credits of television shows, because those songs are often relatively new artists who got their song picked up for cheap, and if I don’t use SoundHound, I’m forced to spend time googling things like “song at the end of Melrose Place remake love affair over credits Heather Locklear” and then I just feel foolish and have to erase my browser history before anyone sees that.
Many public transportation systems are intuitive and have central hubs where you can get a lot of information about a number of routes at once — think New York City’s subway system or Washington D.C.’s metro trains. But what if you’re somewhere like Baltimore or Minneapolis where the bulk of the transportation system is built around buses picking you up on a street corner? Then you spend an inordinate amount of time just hoping you’re in the right place. HopStop is the only transit app I’ve found that is only focused on public transportation or walking/biking.
In the past few years, Google Maps has beefed up its public transportation options, but HopStop’s interface is much cleaner and for major cities you can download the transit maps and use the app offline — handy if you’re already underground. It’s free, and I keep it on both my iPad and my iPhone. The former tends to come in handy when you’re planning a multistep trip and want to look at a map and route options; the latter is best when you’re on the go.
This is the app I’m most embarrassed to admit lives on my iPhone. The entire purpose of Fruit Ninja is to slice the most fruit possible in 60 seconds or 90 seconds, depending on which mode you choose. It’s ridiculous, with blades made out of things like leaves or soap or rainbows, and there is no premise to the game whatsoever — just slice, slice away.
The main reason I keep this game around rather than any other is because the short timeframe of each game is just enough time to disconnect my brain for a few minutes when writing. I find it works really well to play five rounds in five minutes while some other part of my brain is working out things like what headline I will use or how I will organize a brief. The game is free, but there are in-app purchase options that get you certain cheats and time extensions and the like, but you don’t need any of those things to enjoy playing the game.
Think of Dots as the more cerebral version of Fruit Ninja. It is another timed game (each round is 60 seconds) that requires just enough brainpower that you feel engaged playing, but leaves enough mental computing power free to think about other things. All you do is make squares out of the same-colored dots for 60 seconds. A few 60-second rounds is the perfect amount of time for your brain to reset itself and start thinking of the right words again.
Under no circumstances should you pay extra for the Endless Mode, because that is an untimed version that will suck you in forever. Show some restraint and stick to the 60-second version.
On your desktop, Spotify streams all-you-can-eat music for (ad-supported) free. It differs from Pandora in that you can listen to whatever you want when you want rather than creating stations based on certain songs (though you can do that too). I wouldn’t have recommended Spotify as a must-have mobile app until a few months ago, because up until then you would have needed to pay $10/month for the privilege of listening via your iPad or iPhone. This makes sense if you’re me and keep the thing streaming via mobile every second that you aren’t at a desk, but was otherwise a steep price to pay for occasional mobile listening.
A few months ago, Spotify announced a free version of the mobile app, but one that comes with a few more limitations than the desktop version. On the free mobile app, you can still listen to all your playlists, but you can’t pick the order — the app will shuffle the songs within the list, including the song you can start with. Spotify mobile seems to have managed to forge some middle licensing ground between Pandora-style radio (where you don’t get to pick any specific song) and Spotify desktop (where you can pick any song you like). At the low low price of free, you can probably deal with playlist shuffling unless you are a ridiculous music obsessive, in which case you’ll keep shelling out the $10 because the order of your playlist is sacrosanct.
No judgment on that, as I’m still paying.
One of my favorite programs for both Windows and Mac platforms, video player VLC is a must-have for iOS. Do you want to be free of the shackles of Apple’s iOS native video player? Do you want to play almost every video format imaginable, even really old ones like WMV, without needing to convert first? Do you want synchronization with Dropbox and Google Drive? Do you want to upload videos to a player via the web rather than going through the complicated iTunes sync process? Do you want it to stream content from a home server?
Of course you do, especially because the app is free, foolproof and lightweight. (All of this is true of the desktop version as well). Apple took this out of the App Store for two years, but it showed up again last summer, and if you watch any video on your mobile devices at all, it’s worth it, especially as it’s free.