Mobile Academhack-iPhone Apps

David Parry bio photo By David Parry

If anyone doubts that the age of mobile computing is here compare the lines at your local Apple store (or just search Flickr) and compare those to lines at Sprint, or TMobile. When someone asks me about the iPhone, I explain it is not a phone but rather a portable computer that happens to make phone calls. While the cell-phone companies were slow to innovate, Apple moved on the market, and we are now seeing the beginning of a transformation. Granted the iPhone is still expensive, and has a limited market share. Other companies are copying the iPhone though, and hopefully projects like Android will drive the price down making mobile computing devices fairly ubiquitous.

The significant change this last week in the iPhone though was not GPS or 3G network access, but rather the ability to put applications on the phone, allowing users to customize the phone and drastically increase its usefulness. I have had the iPhone since last year and noticed it allowed me to leave my computer at home a lot more, and now with applications I can see this being even more the case. There are a lot of educational possibilities for something like this once more students and instructors have access to mobile computing devices, but for now I thought I would mention the iPhone applications which have a place on my mobile computer already. Most are free, or really cheap. (Note: I have more apps than those listed here, but these are the ones that I already use for academic purposes, or know I will once the semester starts.)


  • BookZ ($1.99): Reading books on a mobile device (Kindle, Sony eReader) doesn’t quite measure up to the analog device yet, the user interface for the paper copy is still significantly better. That having been said, it is still useful for me to carry around a book or two on the phone to read, or consult when needed. While there are several book readers already available for the iPhone, of the ones I tried this was my favorite. The ability to customize the font size and type is perhaps the most important feature. Now anywhere I go I can get a text from Project Gutenberg and read away. I even read Doctorow’s Little Brother this way.
  • Twitterific (free): No surprise here given my appreciation for microblogging. Hopefully an application like Twhirl which handles multiple microblogging services will soon be available for the iPhone.
  • WordPress (free): Since I use blogs as my basic course management software having access to them via my mobile device is important if I want to rely only on my phone. Now I can post class updates, amend prior posts etc, all without a computer. WordPress supports multiple blogs, making it easy to post to all of my classes. I was hoping for MarsEdit mobile but this will do for now.
  • NetNewsWire (free):Still a little buggy, and it doesn’t have all the feature I want, but I can now keep up with The Chronicle, Inside Higher Ed, and all of the blogs I follow from anywhere.
  • OmniFocus ($19.99): Okay I know what you are thinking $20 for a phone application. But Omni makes great software, and the ability to carry my GTD sorted todo list with me anywhere and have it sync to my computer at home is worth the price. Couple that with location aware contexts (“I see you are on campus, here are the things you need to do”) and you have the killer todo application.
  • Wikipedia (free): This is the only web app (i.e. you don’t download this from the store it is just a webpage to access) on my list. Wikipedia anywhere is useful but this bookmark goes to a web optimized version.
  • FileMagnet ($4.99): FileMagnet lets you transfer files from your computer to your iPhone. In other words carry your syllabi with you everywhere, or any .pdf file for that matter.

(Brief mention for my favorite non-work related iPhone app: Urbanspoon.)

Any other academically useful iPhone apps? or requests for apps?

Update: Liberal Education today links to some of the more science oriented apps.