The 2012 App Gems Awards

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Plenty of iOS apps for reading PDFs are out there, but if you need to edit a PDF, PDFpen is the way to go. Pull a PDF into the app—from email, Dropbox, Evernote, iCloud, Google Docs, WebDAV, FTP, or iTunes sync—and edit and annotate it. Options include basic highlights, underlines, and strikethroughs, as well as a slew of lines, shapes, text boxes and bubbles, and proofing marks. For all these items, you can choose the color, size, fills, opacity, and more; and PDFpen offers a place to save frequently used items for quicker access. You can also add your own images and scanned signatures, rearrange and delete pages, and even edit a document’s original contents. If you need to create a PDF, the app also lets you make new documents from scratch. Perhaps best of all, for those of us who’ve long been fans of PDFpen for Mac, is that iCloud and Dropbox syncing ensure all your documents—and edits—stay in sync between your iPad, iPhone, and Mac. If you need to work with PDF documents on the go, PDFpen is indispensable.—Dan Frakes
4 out of 5 rating; $5 (iPhone), $15 (iPad); SmileOnMyMac

Pear Note

Pear Note, a note-taking app for iOS devices, lets you take rich-text notes. Even better, it records the audio of the presentation you’re documenting and synchronizes your notes with the audio. As you play back the audio, the app highlights the text that you were typing at each point in the recording; conversely, you can tap anywhere in your notes to jump to that spot in the audio. A Mac version ( is also available, so you can sync notes and audio between Macs and iOS devices via Dropbox.—Dan Frakes
4 out of 5 rating; $5; Useful Fruit Software

The Room

Some games you use to waste time, and other games you actually sit down with your tablet specifically to play them. The Room falls into the latter category. The game sets its eerie mood beautifully, with detailed, painstakingly drawn, pseudo-3D graphics and an elaborate soundtrack. The gameplay itself is even better: The Room contains an intriguing safe, and your job is to break it open. To do so, you’ll need to solve increasingly complex puzzles, with little guidance. The game offers up occasional hints, but you’ll still have plenty of problem solving to do on your own. For instance, you’ll notice that a seemingly ordinary panel masks a tappable portion that grants access to a hidden section, and that tapping these buttons in the right order will open a secret drawer. The Room includes at least 3 hours of entertaining gameplay, and you’ll wish you could keep going when you finally finish.—Lex Friedman
4 out of 5 rating; $2; Fireproof Studios

Ski Safari

Ski Safari doesn’t break new ground when it comes to the world of unending side-scrolling games. But Defiant Development gets the elements right in its Nordic-themed adventure, in which you have to keep a skier named Sven one step ahead of an onrushing avalanche. As with many iOS apps, a series of in-game challenges keep the gameplay interesting while also helping you to level up. But Ski Safari lets you tackle those challenges one at a time; if one is too hard, you can knock off other achievements instead of getting stuck on the impossible. Ski Safari lets you make in-app purchases, but it also makes it easy enough to collect in-game currency via regular gameplay. And Defiant Development has rolled out a steady stream of updates in the past year—new costumes, power-ups, and race courses that keep you coming back to aide Sven.—Philip Michaels
4.5 out of 5 rating; $1; Defiant Development

Toca Train

In last year’s App Gems Awards, we sang the praises of apps from Toca Boca. So what earned the innovative maker of iOS kid games a return visit to the winner’s circle? Its philosophy that the best apps for children are ones that spark their imagination. Toca Train takes the simple toy train of childhood and re-creates it beautifully on the iPhone and iPad: As the train putters around the track, picking up cargo and passengers, your kids can create their own stories about the train and its payload. Toca Train provides a visually pleasing form of transport for kids’ imagination; where that ultimately takes them is up to them.—Philip Michaels
4.5 out of 5 rating; $2; Toca Boca

App Gems Hall of Fame

A few iOS apps have excelled for so long, have become so essential for so many of us, they've become classics. Here are this year’s Hall of Fame inductees.


Evernote has developed an avid following. Evernote devotees use it for everything from keeping to-do lists to preserving photos of favorite bottles of wine. This year, the iOS version got a needed face-lift. It’s still the do-it-all info-storage utility, able to store text, images, PDFs, and audio recordings, and it can still tag all that input for easier searching. But it now does all that with a friendlier design: Page-wide tabs organize notes by place, tag, and notebook, and search is more accessible.

The app is also faster. Most anything you want to do is just a tap or two away. It’s easier to create new notes and to find old ones. And the lists of notes are easier to parse, thanks to a cleaner layout. Evernote has become one of the most distinctive and durable iOS apps—earning it a spot in our Hall of Fame.
3.5 out of 5 rating; free; Evernote


Apple might have forgone a file system on its iOS devices, but sometimes you still need one. Good.iWare’s GoodReader fills that role and more, offering the ability to organize files into folders, easily share them, and secure them with high-security encryption. It’s also great for reading files—you can annotate PDFs, add bookmarks, and convert PDFs into plain text. You can load text files, audio, video, images, and anything else iOS natively supports. You can also transfer files via iTunes File Sharing, the app’s built-in Wi-Fi file-sharing, or services such as Dropbox, Google Drive, and more. GoodReader isn’t just good—it’s great.
4.5 out of 5 rating; $5; Good.iWare

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