I’ve spent a bit of effort with this site describing techniques and reviewing software and hardware that helps people reduce distraction, filter information, or otherwise deal with information overload . . . perhaps a bit too much effort at times. In this post I’m going for short and sweet:
Here are some iOS apps I use day in and day out that help me get information I want, and nothing more:
My Favorite Four iOS Apps for Taming Information Overload
Mailbox (discontinued Dec 2015): Many people have been overwhelmed by their inboxes for years. Productivity experts suggest keeping your inbox at or close to zero with various tips and tricks. Thanks to its cleverly designed interface where one swipe can simultaneously archive, read, and unstar a message, Mailbox actually makes approaching inbox zero seem like a natural act as opposed to an ongoing fight. This app is not loaded with features, but rather designed from the ground up to tame overwhelmed email inboxes. Currently this app is Gmail and iCloud only, but support for other email platforms is coming. Cost: Free.
Amazon App: Need to know if you’re buying a quality product at a reasonable price? It’s easy to find out while you’re at your computer, but what about when you’re at a store? Simple! Just open your Amazon App and either scan it, snap it, say it, or type it to find out what typical prices are and what Amazon reviewers say about the product. Cost: Free.
Calendars 5: For me, Apple’s calendar app was nearly unusable with iOS 6 and is totally unusable with iOS 7. Readdle’s Calendars 5 is the first mobile calendar I’ve used that I actually like as much as using Google’s calendar app on a large monitor. Views are dense without being cluttered, inputting events is easy, and tasks are integrated into the calendar. You can also selectively turn calendars on and off to help manage information overload. The iPad version is even better. Cost: $6.99.
1Password: We all need passwords to securely access services, and as I’ve written before, strong password security doesn’t have to be difficult. 1Password helps make it easy with a well-designed interface, easy cut and paste, and syncing with your desktop passwords if you also purchase the desktop version. Cost (iOS): $17.99.
Two Bonus iOS Apps
Traditionally, news tries both to entertain and to inform. These contradictory aims lead to endless distraction, both with hard copy newspapers and various digital attempts. That’s why I wasn’t sure if I should include the following two apps, as the more news you follow, the more distraction is possible.
Apps such as Flipbook which excel at entertainment, discovery, and aesthetic delight have taken over a large part of the entertainment side of the digital news market. However, for those who want to stay informed without distracting temptations, there are some reasonable choices. Here are two of them, both of which I use daily.
Trove: (shut down December 2015)
iswas a personalized newspaper with two parts:
1) General news articles are selected by a team of experienced editors searching for the highest quality content from top news sources.
2) Other sections you choose with narrower content, from among thousands of channels that are curated by editorial staff.
I find Trove’s approach to curation and personalization to be more efficient and effective than that of other apps (and hard copy newspapers). Better to read one serious, balanced, comprehensive article hand selected by a professional editor than several fluff pieces competing for eyeballs with catchy headlines and glamorous photos. Cost: Free.
EDIT (7/22/14): Just weeks after I wrote this, Trove drastically changed their interface to emphasize sharing and social interaction. I found all that new stuff to get in the way of reading news stories so I stopped using it within days of the change.
I then discovered a new app that I was using daily that is similar to what I used to love about Trove: Circa News. Then Circa News was discontinued. Years later (late 2018), I’m still missing Trove and Circa News. Nothing has come a long to replace either. The editorial model didn’t make enough money so now it’s all automated news apps driven by popularity or other algorithmic criteria. Nothing beats hand editing.
Newsify: If you follow more than a few blogs, you know that it can be cumbersome and possibly distracting to periodically visit them all. RSS provides a mechanism for tracking and viewing new blog posts (or anything else with an RSS feed) in one place. There are many desktop and mobile apps for doing this, but my favorite combination is to use Feedly to consolidate my RSS feeds, while using Newsify to view them.
Newsify offers two customizable views, full offline support, many ways to share what you read, and a simple “Mark all as read” button for easy mass skipping. It is one of those rare apps that is both easy to use and very customizable. The only downside is that it’s a bit cumbersome to get started with Feedly and RSS – but once set up it’s very easy to use.
Cost for both Newsify and Feedly: Free.
After 2 years of iPhone use and lots of distracting experimentation, I’ve found that the Apps you don’t have on your phone are more important than what you do have. Keep games off. You should also consider whether having social apps on your smartphone such as Facebook are worth the costly distraction.
Once you’ve cleaned the “distraction generator” apps off your phone, you might want to consider apps that actually help eliminate distraction. Hopefully the above mentioned apps will give you some ideas.