The iPhone setup guide and best app list

UPDATED: Friday, July 13th 2012

So you finally got an iPhone, and are wondering how you should set things up and what apps to first get?

First: Setup iCloud for your iPhone.

Enable iCloud backup over your wireless network. Make sure Find my iPhone is enabled, which will come in handy if your phone is lost or stolen … it even comes in handy to send an audible alert when the phone falls into the couch cushions.

Enable Photostream. Any photos you take on your iPhone will automatically show up on your PC / Mac / iPad / Apple TV. No syncing, no cables.

If you use Gmail, DO NOT use this screen to add your account:

Instead, follow the instructions here to get Google Sync up and running:

That will keep all your contacts on Gmail synced with your iPhone, in real time, automatically, over the air. So if you meet someone and put their contact info in your phone, it will all get saved on Gmail.

The downside is, the default “Push” setting may reduce your battery life. If you’re experiencing low battery life, go into Mail settings and change it to “Fetch” and put it on an interval that matches your needs – 15 minutes, 30 minutes, as-needed.

Screw the carriers and get free text messages to anyone using an iPhone. Configure iMessages by going to Settings>Messages. Turn on iMessage, and select “receive at” to include your phone number and your e-mail address. Do the same if you are using an iPad. If you’re on a Mac, iMessage will ship with OSX Mountain Lion. This will allow you to continue text conversations from your phone on your iPad and Mac. It all syncs up.

Now, onto the apps:


AT&T Mark The Spot – Send a report to AT&T whenever you drop a call / can’t get data access / have low coverage. Help improve their network through data. Verizon and Sprint users, let me know if there’s an app for your provider.

myAT&T – Pay your bill and check your usage of minutes / data / txt on AT&T.

My Verizon Mobile – Pay your bill and check your usage of minutes / data / txt on Verizon.

Sprint Mobile Zone – Pay your bill and check your usage of minutes / data / txt on Sprint.

Nothing yet from Virgin Mobile. I hope they come up with something soon, and I hope their new iPhone 4S offerings will slaughter the other carriers.


Flashlight – Use your LED flash as light. I use this constantly, replaces a Maglite.


The app I use most. Great for saving web links / taking notes / journaling / remembering parking spots / searching a menu from a restaurant you went to last year / etc. Instead of saving receipts and other forms of paper, I just take a picture of the receipt and send it to Evernote. Evernote will save this stuff on their servers AND makes all data searchable (via text.) You can also access the images/notes from any PC or Mac. Highly recommended.

Word Lens – Instantly translates languages in real-time, just hold your camera up to the text. Must be seen to be believed.

Star Walk – One of the coolest moments ever: Saw a tiny star moving across the sky. Busted out this app and it identified which satellite it was in orbit overhead. Highly recommended.

Price Check – Saved a ton of money with this. If something seems overpriced in a retail store, just can the barcode and find the price on

5-0 Police Scanner – When the shit is going down, pull up this app. Was able to hear the details of a boating accident and an epic police chase through Denver. – Even has a little text-to-speech robot to help you pronounce words.

IMDB – For looking up movies / actors / other film-related stuff.

Flixster – Find local movie times and buy tickets in 30 seconds (unless it’s an AMC theater, in which case get the crappy Fandango app. No, I’m not going to link it because it’s a piece of shit and will just cause you to wait at the AMC theater longer trying to find someone who knows how to let you in the goddamned theater.) This app will be soon made obsolete with the new Siri features in iOS 6, but for now it’s the best option.

USPS – Find a post office wherever you might be. More accurate than the built-in Google Maps (to be fixed with Apple’s map solution in iOS 6, which uses Yelp data.)


Kindle – I prefer this to iBooks because you can purchase your book once and read it on your PC / Mac / iPad / Kindle. Let’s face it: reading on an iPad in the full sun kinda sucks compared to the Kindle.

iBooks – Great for reading PDF files. If purchasing books, the Kindle app above is really better because you can read your content on multiple devices. If you’re mostly going to be reading on an iPad and iPhone, it’s a great solution though.

Flipboard – Social / RSS reader. Much better on the iPad, but a pretty incredible implementation on the iPhone as well. Really has to be used to be understood.

Alien Blue – The best Reddit client out there. Highly addictive. You have been warned.

ALSO: On most websites, check in the address bar for a little gray “Reader” button. Makes the article much easier on the eyes. Try a NYTimes article for a demo.

Another iCloud feature is Reading List. This is great. Let’s say you’re on your computer reading an article, but you’d rather read it later on your iPhone. Just click the “+” button in your browser bar on Safari and select “Reading List” from the drop-down menu. Later, you can click the bookmarks button in Safari on your iPhone and continue reading the article. If you’re on a PC or don’t use Safari, use Evernote. You can save links for later reading to the app and pull them up on your PC / iPad / any device.


Find my Friends – Get locations of friends to avoid the “Yo, we’re here, how far away are you?” texts / calls. If you’re paranoid, you can selectively turn it on and off, or hide certain locations.

Find my iPhone – This is a feature of iCloud. If you lose your phone, you can ogon to a PC / Mac / at to find your phone’s location on a map and send messages to it. (Also very handy just send an audio alert to find it if it’s lost in the couch cushions.) This app is to find your lost phone from a friend’s iPhone.

Facebook – This app kind of blows. Why, might you ask? Because it was engineered to use HTML5, which would allow easy porting to the many fragmented Android devices. Rumors are that a new Objective-C re-write is in the works, thoughI used to recommend the sync feature in this app, which would automatically add your friends’ email addresses and phone numbers to your phone. However, Facebook recently updated everyone’s address with their address without telling anyone, so I would hold off on using that feature unless you want to accidentally send emails to the addresses. 

Twitter – Very awesome if you can get friends on the bandwagon. Otherwise, use it to stalk celebrities.


RageChill – Great for discovering new tunes. Just slide the adjuster from “rage” to “chill” depending on the mood you’re in. Check out the website for an idea how this app works:

Pandora radio – Also great for discovering new music. Type in a song or artist and it will make a custom radio station for you. Awesome for working out or on long road trips. Requires a good data connection, however … so expect it to crap out during that long road trip through New Mexico.

Spotify – Pretty much any song / artist / album you can think of is available instantly here. Streams through data or WiFi, costs $9.99 per month. You can check songs or playlists to be “available offline” and they download through WiFi, playable without using your data connection. That will come in handy on the long road trip through New Mexico where cell reception is lacking. Make sure you connect your Facebook account to learn what tunes friends are listening to.

Hearts of Space – If you want a soundtrack for drifting through interstellar space, you’ve gotta get this app.

AirPlay – Definitely a game-changer. If you are playing music on your phone from any app (including the above-mentioned ones), you can hit a button and stream the music from your phone to any connected stereo / speakers in the house. I use an Apple TV connected to speakers. You could also use an Airport Express connected to any AUX input on a stereo, or any of the AirPlay compatible speakers / stereo systems now on the market. If you turn on Home Sharing in iTunes, you can send any tracks from your PC / Mac collection through your phone, into AirPlay.

Remote – this is completely awesome. So let’s say you have quite a collection of songs on iTunes on your laptop. You’re having a get-together on the weekend and you’ve got your laptop playing some tunes through your stereo. With remote, you can control what songs are playing next, their volume, etc. Your iPhone will connect through your WiFi network and go to your computer, telling it what songs you want to hear. Even more amazing, if any friends are over that have iPhones, they can connect to your WiFi and request songs (like a jukebox!) If you use an Apple TV, this app can be used to control it as well.

iTunes Match: If you have a ton of rare music (unavailable on Spotify or obtained from dubious sources), iTunes match will allow you to upload these from your music library, and they will be available on any device, over-the-air. It will also match and convert any songs you have from dubious sources to 256-Kbps DRM-free files. Spotify kind of makes this feature obsolete, in my humble opinion. But if you have a decent music collection and aren’t interested in paying Spotify $9.99 a month, iTunes Match is a great way to take all your music with you. It also pays the artist per-play, which offsets the “dubious source” problem a bit.

ALSO! Don’t forget the headphones that came with your phone have a mic built in, so you have a hands-free device with your earbuds. If you’re listening to music it will lower the volume when someone calls and bring the volume back up when you hang up the call. Also, clicking the middle of the mic twice will fast-forward to the next song. Clicking it once will stop / start the music, and the top and bottom buttons turn the volume up or down.


Bank of America – If you use Bank of America, their app is awesome.

If you use Chase, they have an app where you can take a picture of a check and have it deposited to your account. Pretty cool.

E*TRADE – I just login here to cry about how I bought Evergreen Solar for $1.44. I should have listened to Ray Kurzweil.

Square – Swipe and accept credit cards from your iPhone for free. You sign up with them, they ship you a free cardreader. It plugs into your iPhone via the headphone jack. They take 2.75% per transaction. Great if you’re selling stuff at a garage sale or on Craigslist. No dealing with cash, and the money goes straight to your bank account.

PayPal – Comes in handy when you need to send cash to a friend.

Field Agent – This app sends you cash to your Paypal account for doing jobs around town. Let’s say a soup company wants to see how the local grocery store set up their recent promo. Since the iPhone has GPS, you will get a message saying that work is available in your area. Go to the grocery store and take a picture of the soup display. It will be uploaded to the soup company. Funds will be sent to your Paypal account when the job is complete. Most jobs only pay a few bucks, but it’s a pretty innovative approach to product auditing.



If you’re in the default iPhone camera app, use either of the volume buttons to take a picture:

iPhone 4S volume button

This feature may not work with all photography apps. Also, ALWAYS hold the phone at landscape orientation when taking a video.
You might want to consider picking up an Olloclip lens, which you can get at here, or at any Apple Store. This upgrades the default iPhone lens into a 3-in-1 wide angle / fisheye / macro lens. Here’s an Olloclip picture I took with the macro lens:
Small purple flower picture taken with Olloclip
Small purple flower picture taken with Olloclip macro lens

Pro HDR – Definitely the best go-to app for taking photos with a skyline, or any scene that involves lighting differences. There’s even a free version (leaves a watermark) if you’d like to try it first. Here are some example photos:

Utah sunset with Pro HDR app
Utah sunset with Pro HDR app
The Grand Canyon with Pro HDR app
The Grand Canyon with Pro HDR app
Pot of tea with Pro HDR app
Pot of tea with Pro HDR app

Here’s a photo taken with the Olloclip wide-angle lens and Pro HDR. DOUBLE RAINBOW ALL THE WAY:

Double Rainbow with Olloclip and Pro HDR app
Double Rainbow with Olloclip and Pro HDR app

A photo with the Olloclip fisheye lens and Pro HDR. See the fuzz around the hair area? This is where Pro HDR combines the two photos with different lighting settings, and I have shaky hands:

Pro HDR app and Olloclip
Pro HDR app and Olloclip fisheye lens

To prevent any shaking, pick up the Glif and attach your phone to any standard tripod or Gorilla Pod. Pro HDR includes a 10-second timer. If you need a 30-second timer, Camera + is a good choice.

Slow Shutter – great for night / low light shots, this moonrise photo was taken with a Glif, a Gorilla Pod, and this app:

Moonrise with Slow Shutter app
Moonrise with Slow Shutter app

360 Panorama – Take amazing panoramic photos. They keep updating this app and it works better and better. Here’s the first panorama I took with an iPhone 4, and here’s a page of my other panoramas. I had a malfunctioning compass in my iPhone 4S (Apple replaced it for free.) I think the quality would have been much better in most of them had my compass not crapped out.

Facebook camera – The go-to app for photo sharing on Facebook. Great filters, since they recently bought Instagram.

GifBoom – Makes animated gifs of a set of photos. Just move the camera around, makes a kind of simple video from it for quick sharing to Twitter / Facebook. – Take a video, edit a “mask” that includes movement, and make cool animated gifs like this:

iPhoto – Great for retouching / adjusting photos. Much better app on the iPad, but works well enough.

Word Photo – Fun app that takes a photo and changes it into whatever words you pick.

I’d Cap That – Automatically captions pictures. Hilarious results. Just check it out.



Filmic Pro – The default camera/video app on the iPhone compresses the video for user friendliness. This app allows you to take more precise videos that are uncompressed. The results can be stunning. Has great features for dumping the footage to Vimeo and Dropbox. Check out the app’s features here, and check out this sample video a user made: (Click over to YouTube and watch it full-screen in 1080p, of course)

iMovie – Quick video editing on your phone that you can send to YouTube / Facebook / Vimeo. The app can output a maximum of 720P (so there’s a quality loss / compression from the iPhone 4S 1080P) but for a quick edit to be emailed out: this is a great app.

Netflix – Watch streaming movies on Netflix. This and a pair of earbuds makes your lunch break awesome.

Air Video – If you have a ton of movies ripped from DVD or Blu-Ray and you want to watch them on your phone, just install this app and follow the directions to install the server software on your PC or Mac. Very simple, just tell it which directories to look in, and the video conversion happens on-the-fly and is streamed over your WiFi network. (It can also slow-convert videos for later if you want to sync them from iTunes and store them on your phone for portability.) Excellent app.



Aralon: Sword and Shadow – An incredible RPG game on iPhone. A universal app that also works on iPad (and is even better on the larger iPad screen.) Video below:

Angry Birds – This game is so addictive it has ruined lives. Nuff said. Free (ad-supported) version here.

Temple Run – Lots of fun, Indiana Jones-style game.


Waze – A GPS app that uses social features to route you around traffic. Completely free. If you get an iPhone mount for your car, it will replace your current GPS. Has current maps / data /etc, and it learns as it goes. Your routes will becoming faster and more efficient. When iOS 6 is released, this app will be obsolete, as it will include a TomTom navigation built-in. Until that time, this app is great.

Kayak – Great for finding flights, and tracking flights.

Priceline – Name your own price for a hotel and save TONS.

Hostel Hero – If you ever get a hankering to go ramblin’ with a backpack across the world, this app will help you find cheap local hostels to stay at.



Get Running – I thought long-distance running was an impossible exercise for me until I found this app. Literally can take you from couch potato to marathon runner.


Chipotle – Know those long lines Chipotle always has? Store your favorite orders in this app, breeze right in to the cash register, and pick up your food like a Mexican food eating Donald Trump.

Jimmy John’s – Order sammiches for delivery or pickup.

Pizza Hut – Want to order pizza but you’re too lazy to pick up the phone or type stuff on a website? There’s an app for that.

Dominos – Get the door! It’s diabetes!

Seafood Watch – Find out which seafood to buy, and which to avoid.

Sushipedia – Finally, understand what the hell you’re ordering at a Sushi restaurant.



Living Earth HD – Takes real-time cloud data and renders a 3D Earth. Absolutely beautiful on the iPad Retina display, and looks great on the iPhone 4 and 4S as well. Has alarm clock features such as “gradual wakeup tones” and has daily / weekly weather data, including sunrise and sunset times. Makes a beautiful clock / alarm for your night stand.

Dark Sky – Predicts when it will rain TO THE MINUTE. Awesome app.

AP Mobile – Your local news station is reading from this app to tell you the national news. Get it first here. Great push notifications from the wire when news is first breaking.


Cat Piano – Annoy the hell out of your cat.

Cards – Take a photo with your phone, and in a few clicks send letterpress cards to a physical mailing address. Apple includes the cost of postage. Finally, send that Birthday card while sitting on your ass instead of having to go to a store and make an actual effort. Here’s a page with a preview of how the cards look. And because they’re made by Apple, they put an insane amount of effort into making them look awesome. Here’s a short video of the letterpress process they go through when you order one:


How to use a TV as an extra monitor with an iPhone or iPad

Note: Apple has recently announced OSX Mountain Lion, which will have a feature built directly into the operating system that allows you to hit a button and send your desktop to an HDTV over Airplay. This feature will make this guide obsolete.

Here’s a quick and easy way to use an HDTV as a second monitor for your PC or Mac.

The ingredients we need:

  1. PC or Mac
  2. iPhone 4S or iPad 2
  3. Apple TV.
  4. The Air Display app.
Note: This trick requires AirPlay Mirroring, which (due to the processing power required) is currently exclusive to the iPhone 4S and iPad 2.

The Air Display app allows you to output part of your PC or Mac desktop (through WiFi) to your iPhone or iPad for use as a second monitor, like so:

Air Display app

By using the Air Play Mirroring function on the iPhone 4S and iPad 2, we can then send this signal out via AirPlay through an Apple TV and out to an HDTV, which will be our second monitor.

First, download Air Display from the App Store. Follow the instructions in the app to get it up and running through your iPhone or iPad.

Then we want to enable Airplay mirroring. Double-click the Home button on your iPhone or iPad, and flick right through the apps until you see this screen:

Air Display Mirroring

Click click the Air Play icon on the right-hand side as seen above, and you’ll get this option:

Apple TV Mirroring

As pictured above, select Apple TV Mirroring, and voilà! Your HDTV with an Apple TV plugged up to it is now a second display. You can even touch your iPhone or iPad and it will move the cursor on your desktop.

Note: Apple has recently announced OSX Mountain Lion, which will have a feature built directly into the operating system that allows you to hit a button and send your desktop to an HDTV over Airplay:


How you can help save with world with distributed computing

Distributed computing in a nutshell:

PCs throughout the world are linked together to create a supercomputer. Each individual PC performs calculations and reports the completed data back to the server. This results in a massive amount of data being parsed to solve large problems – like human diseases, climate change, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

If you’ve ever used BitTorrent – it is similar in the way it uses distributed bandwidth on P2P networks – every computer contributes just a bit to the overall data.

While your computer is sitting unused at work or at home, it can be utilized to crunch numbers. With Stanford University’s Folding@home program, you can even have it running on your Playstation 3.

Here are some download links to get you started – these are available for multiple platforms:

Curing diseases: Stanford is researching protein folding with distributed computing. When proteins do not fold correctly (i.e. “misfold”), there can be serious consequences, including many well-known diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, Mad Cow (BSE), CJD, ALS, Huntington’s, Parkinson’s disease, and many Cancers and cancer-related syndromes. If you have a Playstation 3, open the program called Life With Playstation. There you can pull up Folding@Home.

Berkeley’s BOINC program uses Windows, Mac, and Linux to “to cure diseases, study global warming, discover pulsars, and do many other types of scientific research.” You can even choose from a variety of projects to devote your idle machine time to.

Discovering Extraterrestrial Life: SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) seeks to find evidence of extraterrestrial life by intercepting interstellar communication. SETI was popularized in the movie Contact with Jodi Foster. It looks like they are now utilizing BOINC as well to process their data:

If anyone has additional recommendations on other distributed computing sites, please let me know in the comments!