Saturday, January 05, 2013

A Cheapskate Traveling Social Network Geek Gets an iPod - Favorite Free Apps

Two weeks ago, I finally joined the ranks of the iOS-enabled; I'm now stress-testing a 16Gb iPod touch (4th generation).  Being a disciplined kind of guy, I resolved not to go app-happy with paid apps. (The truth is that, with 4 kids, buying apps is WAY down on the disposable-income list.)  I've spent a healthy chunk of time browsing the iTunes store for free apps, and I thought I'd share my favorite finds with you.  Without further ado, then:


Fing - Network Scanner: This little gem has already proven useful on my home network.  It's a full-featured network scanner; not only will it discover every device on your wi-fi network, but it will also perform port scans (and identify the ports found, when it can), allow you to make notes, and maintain logs.  Needless to say, this app appeals to both my "network geek" and "security geek" sides.

Networking Toolkit: The fine folks at Chesapeake Netcraftsmen whipped up this little app to provide a subnet calculator, a network calculator and a wildcard mask calculator.  Whether you're designing a network layout, troubleshooting a problematic server (is that mask right?), or trying to figure out your ISP's network, this app will come in hand for any networking professional.

Pcap Touch: It's really simple - this app reads PCAP files (that is, network packet captures from Wireshark, tcpdump or any other pcap-aware network analyzer) and allows you to "drill down" into individual packets.  It doesn't perform any analysis, so you'll have to know what you're looking for, but I can't find any other iOS app that handles PCAP files.  (No, it doesn't capture packets to/from your iOS device...) Mobile Speed Test: If you've used the browser-based speed tests from, this app will be familiar on first launch.  It does one thing--a quick ping/upload/download performance test against your wi-fi network--but it does it cleanly and well.  It also logs your results to the device, so running comparison tests over time is a simple matter.


IBM Sametime: 'Nuff said.  Point this guy at the Greenhouse (if you don't know about Greenhouse, you should - check it out!), and you're ready to go.  I like the organization of live chats, and response is snappy.  If you're using Sametime in your enterprise (and your BYOD policy allows you to use your device at work), this is a no-brainer.

IBM Sametime Meetings for iOS: I'm on an iPod touch, so working with meeting content on the small screen is a bit awkward at times, but the functionality is there.  (It's REALLY nice on an iPad!) Again, point this to Greenhouse and start working immediately.

IBM Connections: IBM's flagship social software for business defies explanation in this small space.  Let's just say that it provides a toolbox of social applications to fit your style, whether you're collaborating on a document, writing a blog, or lurking in discussion forums; it also allows you to track specific team activities and form dynamic communities of interest to tie it all together.  Test-drive it on Greenhouse!

Dropbox: The ubiquitous cloud storage app is, of course, avaiable for iOS.  I find it useful for everything from showing off pictures of my family to checking my documentation library and reading the odd PDF ebook.  (Incidentally, it's also the easiest way to get PCAP files onto your device for review with Pcap Touch!)

UPS Mobile and FedEx Mobile: I'm one of those work-from-home guys, and it's always frustrating to miss a delivery - especially when it's new equipment!  It can also be a pain to "make sure someone's home" when you're waiting on a package.  Well, these two tracking apps let you run those little hometown errands without worrying about missing a delivery.  If you're using MyUPS, the UPS app will also let you set shipments and pickups, get price quotes on shipments, and generate shipping labels.


Fly Delta: Most airlines have a free iOS app, but I do most of my air travel on Delta.  You can do all the typical stuff - check flight status, check in to your flights, get a digital boarding pass on your device, etc.  It's simple, straightforward and easy to use.

FlightAware Flight Tracker: On those occasions when I'm not flying Delta, I use FlightAware to check the status of my flights.  FlightAware has the two qualities you want in a travel app; it's quick and it's easy.

Weather Channel: I'm often sent "on the road" on very short notice (as in "Can you be in NYC tomorrow and stay through Wednesday?" or "Be in Seoul for 2 weeks starting Monday"), so quick access to weather data is an essential part of my business travel.  The TWC app's "favorites" list also allows me to plan for travel when I have more than one day's notice...*grin*

Wi-Fi Finder: JiWire's wi-fi finder shows you all nearby wi-fi hotspots listed in its database (which you can download to the device); you can filter on free/paid, location type, or wireless provider.  I've tested this in Central Kentucky, and I've been impressed with the accuracy of its database.

Google Maps: Still the best.  The "driver's view" map, as one usually sees with a GPS device, is most useful when driving in a strange city.

KHSAA Scoreboard: My kids are active in high school sports (among other things), and it always stinks to miss their games when I'm traveling.  This app provide a live scoreboard for the major high school sports in Kentucky.  As something of a stats geek, I also use it to see how their upcoming opponents are doing.


UberSocial: This is still my favorite mobile Twitter app; I use it on my Blackberry, and the iOS version is every bit as good.  Yeah, the ads pop up a bit too often for my taste, but it's still a well-written Twitter app with a decent UI.

FourSquare: I'm a big fan of Foursquare; in fact, I'm a Level 2 Superuser, which means I spend time adding details to venues, purging fake venues and merging venues because people thought "Arby's" should be "Arby's Roast Beef Sandwiches".  The iOS app is easy to use, and a growing number of business are offering specials/discounts/freebies to those who check in via Foursquare.

Snapchat: It's a cute idea - take snapshots, write a quick (hopefully funny) caption, and send it to your friends.  I have the app because it's REALLY popular at our high school, and all of my kids are using it.  (It's interesting that my credibility among high schoolers is on the rise because I actually understand how "all this online stuff" works.  *laugh*)  If you want some on-the-fly goofy fun with your family, even when traveling, this is a cute app.

There you have it - my favorite first-impression free apps.  Add yours in the comments!

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