Craig’s Must-Have iPhone Apps

by craigdos on September 17, 2013

I’ve worked in the iPhone app industry for the last 4 years, so I have hundreds of apps on my phone. My friends often ask me which apps to download, so here’s the current list. It’s changing all the time, but the ones below have some staying power.  Note that many of these are suited for US based users.

Amazon – If you have Amazon Prime (and you should, it’s the best deal on the internet, hands down), the iPhone app is a must.  Scan a barcode, or just purchase stuff in context. I get out of the shower, notice I don’t have much shaving cream yet, and 5 seconds later, more is on the way to my house.  Magic. (and if you have Prime, you should download the Instant Video app, which is kind of like Netflix that you get for free for being a Prime member)

Kindle App – If you have a kindle, the kindle app does a nice job of letting you keep reading when you have those spare moments.  I especially like buying kindle cookbooks. You’d think you want the big glossy pictures, but what you really want is access to the ingredients list when you’re at the grocery store. The kindle iPhone app is good for that.

Instapaper ($)- I use instapaper to keep all the to-do reading for a time when I actually have the patience to finish the article. Install the browser bookmark, and then next time someone sends you a link, just hit the bookmark, and the article will be saved to your phone so you can view it in the app offline. It also helps keep me on task at my desk since I can instantly save the article for later and then continue with whatever I was doing.

Flipboard – It’s not the best RSS reader, but it might be the prettiest.  I put a lot of my blog feeds in here and enjoy flipping through them every so often.

Facebook camera – This is a *much* better interface to upload photos to Facebook. It’s an official Facebook app, but many people don’t know about it.

Songza – In my opinion, the improvement to Pandora. Fewer ads, and the lists are curated by humans, which turns out to be better than the Pandora algorithm for giving me music I want to listen to.  You pick the theme, and the good stuff is just there.

Fancy hands ($) – See my post on Fancy Hands (the service). Their iPhone app is pretty good. Especially for including a picture attachment if needed when you make a request.

Whatsapp – Essential for keeping up with international buddies.  It’s also a much better group IM app. You can create a group, use it, then leave it.  Try doing that with iMessage. Ha.

Futureme – I’ve been using since 2005. It’s really simple, you send an email to your self, and it’s delivered in the future.  It sounds to simple to be interesting, but it’s fantastic to wake up on a random Tuesday morning and get a letter from yourself 3 years ago.  Now they have an iPhone app, which means you can include photos. Awesome.
On a similar note, there’s now an app called TimeHop, which basically does a similar thing, but shows you what you posted on FB, Instagram, Twitter, etc, 1 year, 2, years, 3 years ago.  Great for perspective.

Dropbox – If you have dropbox (and why wouldn’t you?) the mobile app is pretty good. I have almost all my personal files in a 50GB dropbox share, and I can access most anything I might need right on my phone.  Great in some emergency situations.

Twist – I never thought this app would be as useful as it is… but it’s really good. The premise is simple. Let people know when you’re arriving, and know when your friends are arriving. You send them a twist, and it mutually shares location and send them text messages to let them know you’re leaving your house, or arriving to the restaurant. And your friends don’t have to have the app for it to work. (But I bet they’ll download it after you try it with them).

Ink (sincerely) – I love this app, and go through spurts of using it. You take a photo, manipulate it in the app or in another app (see Over), then you add an address, write a note and pay $1.99 and the photo is turned into a real world postcard and sent anywhere in the US.  $2.99 and you can do it internationally. Try sending a photo you want a print of to yourself to try it out.

PaperKarma – Awesomeness. This app lets you take a photo of junk mail (real junk mail, like in your mailbox) and they auto-unsubscribe you from the mail.  It really works!

Talkto – This app lets you pick a business on a map, and then send a text, asking questions like, “how long is the wait” “Do they have x product in stock?” “Please make a reservation for 4″.  The service has a call center that actually calls the business/restaurant, and then texts you the answer back.  Usually takes about 5 minutes. I used it yesterday morning to check a bunch of gyms in NYC to see what their pricing was for one day use.

Youtube – This one should be obvious, since it used to be included by default.  But since it’s not anymore, you should download it.  It’s improved greatly in recent months.  Same goes for the Google Maps app.

Instacast  ($)- I like podcasts. They are a great way of consuming content while on the go. I use Instacast rather than the iTunes Podcast app. I like that I can listen at 1.5 or 2.0x speed, and it downloads stuff offline, etc.  There’s also a newer app called Swell, which is kind of like Pandora for podcasts that I have been trying out and like.

Over – This is a great app to pair with Ink. You can modify and add text to your photos, and in a really artistic way. There are great examples in the app, and once you try it and post it, you’ll be hooked. Great design too.

Thinglist – I started using this a few months ago for remembering suggestions.  Restaurants, movies, books, etc. I used to have a todo list or use the Notes app, but this is way better.  I recommend putting in the restaurant, and then in the notes suggestion, write where you currently are or who is telling you about the restaurant. It helps jog your memory later.

LookOut – This is a slightly better version of FindMyIphone, and it’s free. Think about it as free insurance for when you lose your phone. It allows you to lock, wipe, and make your phone “scream”.

Financial – I have an app for every financial institution I use. (Schwab, CapitalOne, Amex, Paypal, Citibank). I recommend you download the apps for the institutions you use too. They are immensely useful. I usually use them instead of going to the websites.

I’ve purposefully left off any games on this list, since that tends to be highly variant depending on who you are, but these are probably the first apps I would download when I get a new phone. There are far too many people who have an iPhone and just stick with the stock apps, which I find sad, since it makes the phone much less useful (why not just get a cheaper phone then?).


Fancy Hands. A Virtual Assistant For The Rest Of Us

by craigdos on September 4, 2013

Fancy-Hands-LogoI was in Lake Tahoe with my HyperZen group on our annual retreat, and someone mentioned this new startup, Fancy Hands. A virtual assistant.

Meh. I’ve heard of virtual assistants before, and even looked into setting one up. But despite recommendations from people I trust, I had big questions as to the utility:

But I could never figure out what I would be employing them for?
Would I even have 5-10 hours of tasks to give them a month?
For 5-10 dollars an hour (if they are abroad), what would they have to do to justify $100+ a month?
What about security?
If they are in a different time zone, how would they answer my request in a timely fashion?

 Well, Fancy Hands was only $25/month for 5 tasks, and it was 50% off for the first month, so for $12.50, I figured I could spare it to find out. I signed up.

It. is. Awesome.

First. charging by the task instead of by the hour is WAY better. Not only is it likely overall cheaper, but you don’t have to do the mental calculation of how long the task will take (which is hard to judge because you don’t know how the assistant will do it) and therefore how much it will cost you.

Second. They don’t charge for setting up appointments. You can give them access to your Google Calendar, and say “Call my dentist and setup time next week for me to go in to see him.” and they will do it, and set up the appointment. For FREE!

Third. Outsourcing crappy admin-work to someone else is *thrilling*. I have never been so excited to get stuff done. It’s so much fun to think up things for Fancy Hands to do. I thought I had nothing to give them, but the more stuff they do, the more I think up for them to do. There are tons of things I procrastinate on that I’m happy to have someone else do.

Here is a list of tasks I’ve had them complete:

  • Find a heater shield for my gas heater in my house so that the heat is deflected away from my TV (which is mounted on the wall above).
  • Find me cheap options for a flight from SFO to NYC on these dates.
  • Setup an appointment with my accountant in 3 weeks at 10 in the morning.
  • Call my lawyer and ask why I received this bill, and what it’s for.
  • I’m going to Barcelona, give me restaurant and night life recommendations.
  • I have an iPad to sell, please post on Craigslist and deal with the responses.
  • Please de-duplicate my Google Contacts.

For those last two, I temporarily gave them access to my Craigslist account (can’t see how they could really cause harm there) and my gmail account. The last one caused me some reflection. I had to change my password temporarily, and if the assistant was malicious, she could definitely have caused me some pain, but I decided to try it. My thought process was the following:

  • Fancy Hands is a business, and they have an incentive to hire trustworthy employees, and keep information confidential.
  • It’s temporary access (took a couple hours)
  • If something happened, I’d know who did it.
  • The assistants change per task, so the person working on it didn’t have all the other information about me.
  • I was willing to take the risk.

You may have also noticed that I have completed more than 5 tasks. That’s because yesterday I upgraded to the Premium plan (25 tasks/month) for an entire year. That’s how much I like Fancy Hands. It comes out to $1.90 per task, which is *insanely* awesome. Also, when you buy the annual plan, you get your entire stock of tasks at one time, so you don’t have to budget them out per month, just use them up within a year or less. I found this freed me completely from the whole question of “should I use a task on this?”.

Other awesomeness:

  • You can connect it to Evernote and it auto logs all your requests as notes.
  • Connect to Asana or Basecamp if you want to assign stuff straight from there.
  • Connect to your Google Calendar, as mentioned above.
  • Connect to Facebook and let them try to anticipate your needs (haven’t used this yet).
  • They have a good iPhone app    , and you can request stuff with a voice recording. Or by phone, or by email, or online.

Here’s a link for the 50% discount if you want to try it out for a month (works out to 5 tasks for $12.50). I get $10 for the referral (full disclosure) but honestly, I have 300 tasks to work through before I pay again, so whatever.

Highly recommended (that you try it for a month), your mileage may vary, but I think the first month is worth it for nearly everyone.


Better Questions For Fun And Profit: Ignite San Francisco

May 1, 2013

Ignite is a great event that started in Seattle (I was at the first one, way back when). They invite a bunch of speakers (anyone can propose a topic), give them 20 slides and 5 minutes with the slides advancing every 15 seconds automatically. No product pitches, just good thinking and 5 minutes to deliver […]

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And… I’m back!

May 1, 2013

After a long hiatus, I’m bringing this blog back. There was some concern from my investors about having a public facing site, but I really like some of the thoughts I have on this blog and I want them back out in the open.  I want to re-read them myself, actually. And I think I […]

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A First Experience at Burning Man

September 6, 2011

I like new experiences, and being exposed to extremes. It would seem like going to Burning Man would be an obvious choice for me, but until this year I really wasn’t enthralled with the idea of going. A “hippie art community in the desert” didn’t really sound much like me, and even after my roommate […]

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The Travel Curve: Expectations For The Big Trip Abroad

May 14, 2011

I wrote this up for a friend who is doing a big trip abroad for the first time and I thought it would be nice to share with a broader audience. I’ve been very fortunate in how much I’ve been able to travel.  I was initially introduced to the concept by study abroad (Australia), and […]

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New Music is a Great Gift

February 6, 2011

It’s been a long while since I blogged.  With each passing day, the pressure to write something substantial, something meaningful, piles up.  Eventually I have nothing to say that is worthy of that pressure and this remains an empty notebook. What better way to get back into the flow than by showing off one of […]

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Blogging about Work

May 14, 2010

I’ve decided (spurred by a conversation with my good friend Fil) to start blogging more about my industry.   I’ve been involved heavily in the mobile industry for a year now, and in the consumer internet industry for longer than that.  Last night I gave a talk at the Plug and Play Center on Mobile […]

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The dos Santos Family Christmas Letter

December 24, 2009

This year, the dos Santos Christmas letter is brought to you by Craig. Alissa has gone through four years of journalism school, internships with newspapers, and now a full-time job as a journalist, yet decided to pass the torch to someone who has only written e-mails and blog posts over the last eight years. I’m […]

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My 10-Year High School Reunion

December 23, 2009

Whoa… wrote this after my reunion last month.  Guess I forgot to post it! Last night was my 10 year reunion. After much planning, mostly on the part of my good friend Sara Hume, the event went off quite spectacularly.   I think everyone was a bit surprised at how much fun they had.  I […]

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