Appiphilia: Top 5 iPhone apps for New Year's resolutions
When it comes to New Year's resolutions, we all know how easy it is to see that resolve fade from determination to a distant memory as we shrug it off with a defeated "Oh well, I tried."
But Jedi Master Yoda had it right: "Do or do not. There is no try."
Your iPhone could offer a little hand-held help in really doing it this year. Heck, you might consider your device a changing, er, force (sorry) that could be your greatest tool or fiercest tormentor.
The resolutions themselves haven't changed much over the years. You know the ones: be better with money, get organized, live a healthier lifestyle, become more environmentally conscious, be sure not to break new laws. (OK, so maybe being a law-abiding citizen isn't really on your list, but it should be!)
Here are apps we think are the best to give you a fighting chance in making changes that stick.
1. Managing money: Whether the focus is earning, saving, investing, spending or tracking, money often tops most resolution lists. Mint.com offers a free app that highlights monetary movement (in occasionally frightening detail). After you input some account log-in info online, Mint analyzes where your money is going or has gone: check balances, budgets, transactions and investments.
What sizzles: Seeing your funds in living color and detail can force you into better habits. At a quick glance once the app launched, I learned that red is the thematic color of the month for me -- quite a lovely seasonal match for green, but not in line with my financial plans.
It tracks spending trends. So if you eat out more or buy more clothes this month than last, expect to see it pointed out in the alerts tab.
What fizzles: The only thing missing is a way to lock access from prying eyes. The blessing here is that the app only shows money movement; you can't transfer funds.
Bottom line: Ultimately, I've never been so excited to know where my money is going. For those of us who have no idea where to even start, this app is, well, money.
2. Being more hands-on (the steering wheel): Starting Jan. 1, we Californians are legally prohibited from texting and e-mailing while driving. Sure, in some cars this could lead to twitching thumbs as they deal with wireless withdrawal -- but, however angry and twitchy those thumbs may be, the law will probably help keep more eyes on the road and make for safer driving. If you must communicate, Vlingo is the voice-powered app to tap and talk to. (It's still legal to tap as long as it's not person-to-person communication. Check out this Q&A with California Highway Patrol for more details about the new law.)
What sizzles: Vlingo learns your speech patterns and actually can learn words or names that you use regularly. Results pop up fairly quickly. While the voice search on Google's iPhone app is impressive too, it doesn't seamlessly integrate as many functions as Vlingo does. With it, you can call from your contact list, search Google or Yahoo, find locations on Google Maps and update your Facebook or Twitter status.
What fizzles: It takes one more step than it should to get directions to a location.
Bottom line: The design of the app is driver-friendly. From the home tab, the button you tap to trigger the voice-recognition is fat. So your thumb, however svelte or thick, can't miss it even if you aren't looking.
3. Getting organized: Every year, so many of us promise to unclutter and inventory all the stuff in our homes and lives.
Once you've done the out-with-the-old portion of the exercise, you can log the keepers with the iOwn app. The price recently dropped to $2.99, and there's a free version.
What sizzles: It walks you through the kinds of information you should hang on to with its four existing templates. You can create your own for items that don't fit, such as wine. And there's no limit to the number of locations, rooms and items. So you're set whether you have a studio or 12 homes.
If you're nervous about walking around with all the details of your belongings in your hand, you can add a passcode to keep the casual peeper from easily discovering what you've got where.
And because our devices can walk away, having a backup that doesn't is important. (Isn't that why we do the inventory in the first place?) The iOwn Backup feature requires you to create an online account for your data to be stored. That way you can access your data from any device with the app. You get five years of 100 megabytes of storage with the app, and you can set up as many devices as you'd like with the backup. So spouses can have the same information on separate devices.
What fizzles: What happens after five years? And it'd be great to be able to create a hard copy for filing away in the lock box.
Bottom line: A solid app for creating a database of your valuables.
4. Getting fit: This goal is perpetually on so many resolution lists, whether it translates into exercise more or weigh less. The App Store has a host of health and fitness applications that could fit your specific needs, and many of them are free (such as the Calorie Tracker from Livestrong.com, Lose It and iMapMyRun apps). Then there's Weight Watchers Mobile, which is a decent mobile version of its program -- and you can add a link to your home screen for quick launching.
But honestly, nothing has completely bowled me over with all the components of a fitness application for iPhone. They are either food diaries that allow you to note that you've worked out or workout diaries that indicate you had a bite to eat.
One app I have found universally useful for an old pro at the health-and-fitness resolution is iShape.
What sizzles: When you launch the program, you answer a few questions about height, weight, age and weight goal. The app lets you log your eating and exercise habits as well as your weight.
Its food database allows you to select from what's there or exercise a bit of control by adding your own items. Based on what you tap in, the app will analyze your intake of the kinds of nutrients you're ingesting. You can also set weekly weight-loss goals.
As inspiration (or humiliation), you can add your own "before" picture -- and, when you reach your goal, an "after" photo. (And, yes, you can password-protect the app.)
One of the nicer features is the ability to export the data you're gathering. You can e-mail it as a PDF file. There's also an option for those of us who track "points" rather than calories.
What fizzles: It supposedly offers the ability to download foods and exercises, but I didn't see anything there to download. This feature depends on the kindness of strangers -- so, it's like the Napster approach to food and fitness information. But that take-and-give approach works only if others are in the sharing mood.
Bottom line: For 99 cents, it's filled with a lot of helpful features to help your physical bottom line. It's got room for growth.
5. Going green: Becoming more environmentally savvy seems to be in fashion. The GoodGuide app can help you navigate through the labels, ingredients and impact of more than 65,000 toys, personal care and household products. This guide grades products on their major impacts to human health, the environment and society.
What sizzles: Since we initially reviewed GoodGuide in our going green roundup, it has added a toys category: a catchall for just about anything your kids might get their hands (or mouths) on. A nice tool for parents who have enough trouble keeping up with little Leela or Lawrence.
When you launch the app, it lists two highly rated products with their ratings. If you tap a product, you get details of what the rating really means and which ingredients to avoid. You can look up more stuff by category (say, household cleaners) or by brand. The app links to an iPhone-optimized version of the main site for additional info.
You can create shopping and "avoid" lists as well as share the ratings with others via e-mail.
What fizzles: With the number of product recalls, it could be interesting to include that information, particularly in the "toys" category. It's not really the core mission of the app, but there is a connection.
Bottom line: If you buy the notion of being green, it's helpful to be armed with some info.
We'd love to hear from you about how your smartphone is likely to hold your hand through resolution season.
Happy new year, appiphiliacs!
-- Michelle Maltais
Photo: Yoda advises a doubtful and defeated Luke Skywalker to use the force to do the impossible in "Star Wars." Credit: Lucasfilm