Sunday Mailbag

January 10th, 2010 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: Hey, here’s a question, MAD mate!

I’ve been considering buying an ipod touch as a cheaper way to get into the whole kindle dealie (my gal-pal has a kindle, loves it)–plus (and here’s the rub) for any other possible useful apps.

Here’s the thing–I went on youtube to check out some ipod/iphone app reviews, and all the apps seemed to be a bunch of silly “fake lightsaber” gimmicks or very simplistic games. I realize this is because the people most likely to make a youtube video are teen boys and junior nerds, so there’s that.

So, my question to you, master of all gizmos–nay, my challenge!–since your family has at least one of these iPhone things, can you talk about any iPhone apps that are actually useful or worthwhile? I just need a couple to look forward to along with the free kindle app to maybe actually take the plunge!

A: We interrupt this art/cartoon-centric blog for a brief digression into the world of electronic gadgetry! This question came via a comment on my post about an iPhone repair service.

I’ve had an iPhone since Day One, when I happened by the AT&T store in the mall of America on the day Apple’s smartphone went on sale to find a scant 20 people in line (the line at the Apple store in that same mall was at least 150 people). While there are a lot of useless, silly apps there are a number of great ones as well that do everything from increase work productivity to make life more convenient… and of course there are ones that are just plain cool.

My Favorite Apps


Actually a lot of the apps that I use for business and work come with the phone, but the features they have make them extremely useful:

Mail- Most smartphones have good email capabilities, so this is hardly groundbreaking. I use e-mail all the time on the phone and it has really made e-mail my main method of communicating with clients.

Safari- The built in web browser is like an instant reference machine on the go. I can do a Google image search for anything or anybody, and I get a plethora of results to peruse and find ones that work for my purposes using a special “mobile” image browser. Best of all, a simple touch and hold of the image allows me to save it to my photos and I can then browse these offline at my leisure. Great zooming ability to for getting a close look when needed.

Contacts- Another feature virtually every smartphone has, but as a Mac user it’s seamless. Fully synced contact list from my studio machine. Via Apple’s “Mobile Me” service any changes I make on the iPhone get’s synced with my studio Mac and my Macbook Pro automatically over the internet with no wires required. Phone number, notes, e-mail… the works.

Things- This is my ToDo list app of choice. Syncs with my Mac over wifi but only when I have them both open. Good scheduled/recurring task features and long term “when I get to it” categories. The red badges on the icons makes it easy to see you have something that needs attention.

WordPress- App for blogging on-the-go isn’t perfect but does work. I use it mostly for checking and approving comments as writing an actual post is unwieldy because it requires html and php tags instead of WYSISWG, but it keeps me in touch with the blog on the road.

AppBox Pro- Toolbox of mini apps that you can use for a variety of tasks.

ACT Printer- This app allows you to “print” anything to your iPhone or Touch. The document is saved as a PDF file that is easy to access and read on the phone. Works great for making a portable copy of some art direction or a script for a MAD job so I don’t have to lug a pile of paper around.


I can’t categorize these apps as “productivity”, but they are timesavers and makes life more convenient. I use these all the time:

Maps- Basically a GPS unit in your pocket. Not only do I use this to find places I am looking for, but it works great as a telephone directory. Type in the business name , city, state and then tap the pin tag that pops up and you go to a contact list type entry with address, phone number, website, etc. Another tap calls the number. The maps are pretty accurate.

Facebook- This is a great app for keeping up with your Facebook account. Not as fully featured as the website itself but a lot easier to use than trying to navigate Facebook proper or it’s mobile web version.

PayPal- I can access my PayPal account, see my balance and send money right on the phone. The sending money of kind of pointless because you can’t use it to pay for an auction or a specific item you are ordering from some website, but the ability to check balances and transactions is nice.

Fandango- This app I use all the time. I can check showtimes for movies anywhere I am using the location feature, or look up my saved theater’s shows and times. Then I can buy my tickets straight from my Fandango account all while I am on the way to the theater. You can read about the films playing and even see fan reviews.

MLB At Bat- You have to be a baseball fan to appreciate this one, but if you are it is seriously awesome. You can follow all scores, go to a “GameDay” style play by play of a game in progress, and even watch video highlights shortly after they’ve happened. You can even watch some games completely right on your phone. That works best when you are using wifi.

Sportacular- This app is great for the sportsfan in general. It will keep constantly updated scores and there is a graphic representation of games in progress that will let you follow the action somewhat. Features almost every professional and collegiate sport, allows you to customize what gets followed including favorite teams and sports.

Phone Flicks- This is the “Netfilx” app which lets you manage your cue from your iPhone. Add movies, move them around, delete entries… virtually everything you can do from the web.

OpenTable- Great app for making reservations at a restaurant. Many restaurants belong to this network and with an account you can book a table at your favorite place or search for nearby spots based on the type of food, rating, etc.

Rocket Taxi- I don’t use this one much but when I do it’s handy. It simply looks up local taxi companies based on your location, and allows you to call them directly to get a cab. It also has a trip calculator feature so you can estimate the cost of your cab ride.

Kayak- App version of the popular travel website which will search for the lowest airline fares among all the online travel sites like Orbitz, Travelocity, etc. Handy for researching flight costs and option on-the-go.

Livestrong Calorie Tracker- Portable app that syncs to your Livestrong account and allows you to track your calories and activity levels for the day. Makes sticking to a healthy diet easy and accurate.

Fast Food Calorie Counter- This is another great app to keep your healthy eating goals in line. It will tell you all the nutritional info on over 70 different fast food restaurant menus.

Pure Frivolity

You can’t be serious all the time:

Platinum Solitaire– The best solitaire game I’ve found. Choose your casino and game. Simple but works great.

Bobble Rep– ‘Nuff said.

The Moron Test- This will drive you crazy.

Guinness- This will locate the nearest pub that serves Guinness on draught and give me directions to it… actually this should be included in the “productivity” category.

Chipotle- This app will let me order ahead at a nearby Chipotle and then gives me the location on the map. Just don’t check the calorie content of a carnitas burrito first (1165 !!!)

I’ve got a lot of other apps that are just for fun, but actually I consider my iPhone a very useful business tool.

Thanks to RC for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!


  1. Pat Bollin says:

    I love the interjections that go off the beaten (art) path on your blog. I always get something useful out of it. They tend to touch on art and productivity of an artist anyway, since that’s your life.


  2. RC says:

    Thanks for the info!

    I’m curious if all those apps would work on the ipod touch, or if some of them are iPhone only?

    Either way, that was very informative, I appreciate the time you took to answer my crazy wondering…!

    Mad’s 43rd Maddest Writer


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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