To say that Apple's iPhone is a phenomenon is clearly an understatement. When it was introduced in 2007, it caused a sensation, with eager gadget freaks camping out at Apple stores and AT&T retailers. The iPhone offered features unheard of in previous cell phones, along with Apple's expertise in product and user interface design. In addition to its cell phone capabilities, the iPhone offered a screen big enough to easily read e-mails, surf the Web or watch videos. This was the perfect combination of mobile phone and iPod. But there was much more to come.
Apple is known for keeping its technology close to the vest, which is why there are no Mac clones. For the iPhone, however, Apple opened up the vault enough to allow third-party developers to create applications to add functionality and fun to the fast-selling gadget. They even made it easier by providing a programming environment to simplify and speed the process. The catch? All applications must be approved by Apple and can only be sold on the company's App Store. Oh yeah, and Apple also gets a sizeable cut of all sales revenue.
The result has been an explosion of applications (or apps) that range from the sublime to the ridiculous. Not long ago, Apple announced the one-billionth download from the App Store. And the beat goes on. New apps appear daily, showcasing the creativity (and sense of humor) of their authors.
It's difficult to select 10 titles from the thousands of apps available, so we'll take a look at some great applications from different groups, listed in no particular order. And most of these iPhone apps will also run on the iPod Touch.
It won't surprise you to learn there are literally thousands of games available for the iPhone. There are classics reborn, easy time wasters and highly complex, graphics-intensive supergames designed to satisfy even the most ardent gamer. We decided to go for something unique.
Glyder is a game that combines skill and cunning with a touch of elegance not typically found in this genre. The magical graphics flow smoothly, our hero Eryn glides effortlessly and the music is like nothing you've ever heard in a hand-held game. In short, Glyder is a class act.
Glyder was created by Glu and is designed to test the limits of the iPhone's capabilities. Your character, Eryn, finds herself in a "dimensional rift" with only her amazing flying apparatus. To get home, she must collect crystals while flying through a fantastic landscape.
The game begins with Eryn standing on a platform overlooking an incredible, magical environment. Simply tap the screen and Eryn takes to her wings. Flight is controlled by tilting the iPhone in the direction you wish to go. Catch available updrafts to gain height and dive to pick up speed.
With Glyder, Glu has created something amazing. A game that is at once challenging and relaxing. Glide on, Eryn!
Utilities: 9-Tool Box
The cool-factor associated with carrying what amounts to a pocket-size computer around with you is pretty high. But, if your wiz-bang device can actually help you do stuff; well, now you have a cupcake beneath all that icing. The app 9-Tool Box, from e2ndesign, includes 9 (actually 10 -- they added one right before release) utilities to help simplify your day.
Here's what's included in the app:
Currency -- Currency converts among 161 currencies.
Date Calc -- If your in-laws are due to arrive in 23 days, this utility can help select the right date for your "unexpected business trip."
Days Until -- This utility provides a countdown to any important date you enter.
Holidays -- When is Memorial Day this year? This utility provides a calendar of holidays in 83 countries.
Two Inclinometer -- This utility does other level apps one better by including both a surface and bubble level. Data are provided in degrees, percent and pitch.
Loan -- Tap in the required data and Loan provides details on payment amount, payment schedule, monthly interest, total interest and total repayment amount.
My Girl's Day -- This clever app helps women track and estimate their menstrual cycle to provide critical information for healthcare and family planning purposes.
Tip Calc -- Calculates a tip based on the percentage you choose with or without taxes.
Units -- This app instantly converts units for area, distance, pressure, temperature, volume and weight.
Price Grab -- Enter the total price and quantity of any item and the app provides a unit price.
Telephone: A Special Phone
When you get right down to it, the iPhone is, well, a phone. You would expect there to be tons of apps to make calling easier -- and there are. The goal of this app, however, is to make it easier for blind or visually impaired individuals to do something most of us pretty much take for granted: make a phone call.
A Special Phone -- Adaptive Keyboard is a very long name for a deceptively simple application. The ingenious functionality of this program makes you think, "Why didn't someone think of this before?"
The application enables users to set up a list of up to six contacts that can be called by simply shaking the phone. In addition, users can record themselves saying the name of each contact and upload a photo. When you shake the phone, it announces the contact name and waits two seconds before placing the call. To call the third contact on your list, for example, shake the phone three times until the correct name is spoken.
This elegant and useful application makes it much easier for visually impaired people to place calls. It is also useful for anyone who needs to place a call without looking at the phone.
Educational: Wheels on the Bus
There is a relatively recent trend in iPhone apps that's a bit unexpected. The number of apps designed for toddlers and other very young children is exploding. Although some of us might hesitate to hand an iPhone over to a three-year old, the educational and fun aspects of these apps just might make you change your mind. Although you'll still want to be nearby…just in case.
Wheels on the Bus does a lot of things babies and young kids find fascinating. In fact, many users have reported problems getting their phone back from the toddler when a call comes in.
As the name implies, Wheels on the Bus is based on the popular children's song. In this case, however, you can choose to hear it in one of five languages. Each section of the song (such as "the wipers on the bus go swish, swish, swish") is sung as a special page is displayed. Each page includes small elements that move or make sounds when the child touches them. The wipers, for example, go back and forth. The child can move from page to page by touching arrows at the bottom of each screen.
Thise app appears to have just the right number of elements for young children, who will learn how to get things moving quite easily. If you don't mind hearing the song over and over again, Wheels on the Bus will be both fun and educational for the younger set.
A great app can make your life easier and more fun at the same time. Urbanspoon solves a problem that has vexed mankind throughout the ages: where to eat.
Urbanspoon uses a creative, clever interface, combined with an extensive database, to suggest restaurants that meet your criteria for type of food, location and cost. Or, if you're completely undecided, just give it a shake and see what comes up.
Urbanspoon uses the iPhone's GPS capability to determine your current location. If you prefer, you can also enter a city manually. Fire it up and you'll find a main screen that looks like a slot machine with three tumblers. On the left is a list of local cities. In the center, various restaurant styles such as Italian, Chinese or American. Or you can choose categories such as fast food, sandwiches or pizza. The right tumbler provides a guide to the expected cost using a scale of one to four dollar signs.
Shake your iPhone and the tumblers begin to spin, stopping on a random item in each column. You can also freeze any column to limit the choices. When the tumblers stop, a restaurant suggestion appears at the bottom. Tap the name and you will see a page describing the facility and, when available, showing an actual menu. You can call the restaurant with a single tap or view a map showing its location. Google Maps is available to provide driving directions.
Other cool features enable you to share information with friends via e-mail or on Facebook. You can also browse the local database or search for a specific restaurant. No matter which restaurant you choose, however, the bill is still on you.
Music Making: iShred LE
iPods and iPhones were invented to play music, not make it. Many developers have tried to create apps to help you make music on the iPhone, with limited success. As a result, you can turn your iPhone into any number of musical instruments, including a cowbell, triangle, guitar and even an ocarina. Technically, these apps make music, but in most cases, it's not something you'd want to send off to a recording company in search of a contract. There is one app, however, that could actually make this possible. Well, almost.
iShred LE takes iPhone guitar apps to new levels of reality and utility. Even the best guitar player will appreciate the breadth of sound options available. What truly sets iShred LE apart, however, is that the developers designed the interface so you play it the way the iPhone works. Strum or pick out a tune with one finger and play chords using a series of buttons above the digital fret board. They didn't duplicate a guitar for the iPhone, they created a guitar for the iPhone.
The app uses actual guitar sound samples and passes them through your choice of eight effects pedals and a simulated amplifier. Play with the effects pedals to your heart's content, or choose from several pre-set styles including Heavy Metal, Psychedelic 60s, Surf's Up, Area 51 and New Waver.
For even more capabilities, you can move up to an enhanced version that allows you to create your own chords, select an actual model of amplifier, use multiple effects and more. The fact is, there's a guitar superstar lurking in almost everyone. iShred LE is a fun way to set yours free.
Digital reading devices have been around for a long time, but they never really caught on until Amazon introduced the Kindle. This device downloads books from a selection of thousands and displays them in a readable, clean interface. There's a Kindle app for the iPhone and it works extremely well. But, there's another reading program that has legions of dedicated users, can be downloaded for free and includes access to thousands of classic book titles at no charge. This may explain why this application was recently acquired by Amazon.com.
Stanza makes reading on your iPhone easy. While there is nothing the app can do to make the screen larger, the interface gets the most readability out of the space available. You may find that, once you read a few pages and begin getting involved in the book, you completely forget about screen size.
Stanza provides access to more than 50,000 titles for purchase from the Fictionwise eReader store. Prepare to be amazed by the number of books, newspapers and publications available for free. In addition, more than 50,000 items can also be downloaded at no cost from Project Gutenberg, Feedbooks and other sources. A particular favorite is a site called "Now a Major Motion Picture!" Here you'll find dozens of free books that became popular movies.
Install Stanza, download a bunch of good books and curl up with your iPhone.
Social Networking: Echofon
When it comes to social networking, Twitter is one of the hottest sites around, and has become the online home for celebrities, politicians, sports figures and lots of folks like you and me.
Twitter is a simple concept. The key element of the site is the "tweet," a 140-character answer to the question "what are you doing?" If you care about what a certain person (tweeter?) is up to, you can follow them with a single click. It's a simple and fast way to keep up to date with friends, stars and even the White House.
Echofon is an easy to use app that enables you to read other people's tweets and send your own. It includes support for all major Twitter features, such as links and direct messaging. Using the iPhone as a Twitter machine somehow seems right, given the simplicity and speed of the site itself. Launch Echofon and see the latest entries instantly. Oh, and did we mention Echofon is free?
Relaxing: Karma Art
Let's say you've got some time to kill, or things are getting a bit tense. Imagine if your iPhone could help you relax and pass the time. And, you could create something fun to send a friend or your significant other. That's what Karma Art is all about. It's simple, fun and won't tax your tired brain. Not even a little.
Begin by choosing from eight background textures, and then add elements from categories such as transportation, people, animals, scenery, clouds and more. The developer promises many more design elements in future releases.
You can resize and move the design elements to your heart's desire. When you tilt the phone, the image automatically adjusts from portrait to landscape mode. Finally, pop up the on-screen keyboard, add a special message, save your artwork and e-mail it to someone important.
It's fun, it's easy and you don't have to know how to draw. Nice.
Reference: The World Factbook '09
What would take an iPhone app from release to number one in less than a week? How about the opportunity to have the world at your fingertips, or the chance to impress your friends with interesting information about Auckland, or a quick satellite view of Gabon? The World Factbook '09 shot up Apple's most popular paid application rankings fast, because it seemingly puts the whole world in your hands.
With detailed information on more than 250 countries and territories, you're sure to discover something interesting every time you launch the app. In addition to the basic information you would expect, such as population, imports/exports and land mass, the World Factbook '09 includes political information, military issues and up-to-date details on specific areas of the world whose status has not been resolved, such as the Middle East.
By linking directly with Google Maps, World Factbook '09 allows you view satellite images and maps of specific areas of interest in any country. This is a great app to have on hand when you're watching the news. And free updates are included, so you'll always have the latest facts on hand.
For more on the iPhone and related technologies, dial up the next page.
Are you glued to your phone chasing down a MewTwo? HowStuffWorks Now investigates how Niantic is selecting all those in-game locations.
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- Morris, Christine. "Wheels on the Bus Review." 148Apps.com. (April 30, 2009) http://www.148apps.com/reviews/wheels-bus/
- New Mobile Tech. "Twitterfon Review." (May 7, 2009) http://newmobiletech.com/twitterfon/
- Stone, Brad. "Amazon Acquires Stanza." The New York Times. (May 5, 2009) http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/04/27/amazon-acquires-stanza-an-e-book-application-for-the-iphone