Favourite iPhone Apps

My New iPhone

About two weeks ago, I received a long-awaited package in the mail – my new iPhone 4. My previous phone was the original iPhone, purchased in September 2007 about two months after its initial release, and before it was available outside of the US. Of course, I didn’t know any of this at the time, and simply bought the phone because I’d heard good things about it, and I happened to be in the 5th Avenue Apple store on my first day in New York buying a new laptop computer. While my shock and awe at first switching on this iPhone will never compare to that memorable first time, when I was an iPhone virgin, popping my iphone cherry, it was still pretty special. The most obvious difference is the new screen, which has an impressively high resolution – not quite high enough for me not to be able to distinguish individual pixels, but almost.

The second most obvious difference is that it takes micro-sim cards, rather than mini-sim cards (which are the standard on all mobile phones. This is a much smaller problem than it seems, because the chip itself is actually the same size, only the plastic surrounding it is smaller. A pair of scissors and a nail file later, my new iPhone was ready for action. Another welcome addition was the inclusion of an orientation-lock function which can be accessed by double-tapping the home button, making bedtime (read: sideways) iPhone reading just that much easier and thus making my already busy and hectic life a little more bearable.1

In actual everyday use, the device is much faster than the original iPhone as it has a faster processor as well as more RAM. In addition, the model I ordered has 32gb of storage space, while my old phone only had 4. While my old phone was only really useful for checking emails, browsing the web (slowly), and playing the occasional song or game, the new phone has the capacity to do so much more. As a result, I’ve been installing and testing a whole bunch of apps, and here are some of my favourites. Click on the headings to be taken to the website of the app.

Align of Sight

This may go down as one of the coolest apps ever. The intent of the app is for cameramen to be able to align their cameras in an exact manner. In particular, it allows the user to take a shot, record everything to do with that shot position-wise, so that the shot can be repeated later. As a photographer who occasionally dabbles in motion in addition to still photography, this is a very useful app. However, in being able to do all those things, the makers of this app have created a very powerful tool which can be used for many other things. It is a GPS, a spirit-level, and a compass all in one. In one foul swoop, this app has pretty much replaced three apps that I used quite frequently. The screenshots speak for themselves:

Sleep Cycle

This is one of the applications that existed on my old iPhone. The idea is easy enough – it tells you how well you sleep. It does this by using the accelerometer built into the phone. When you need to sleep well (like, say, if you’re a professional athlete training for the olympics), you need to first have useful feedback about how well you’re actually sleeping. This app provides that information in the form of a handy sleep-graph. It is also supposed to wake you up at a “convenient” time as far as where you are in your sleep cycle is concerned, but that isn’t really what I use it for.

The more time you spend in the “Deep Sleep” region of the graph, the better you are sleeping. This way you can look for patterns in your sleeping behaviour over many sleeps. For example, you may be partially woken up every night at 3am because your heater makes a funny noise and that could be causing you to sleep poorly for the rest of the night. Without a sleep graph, you would never have known. I used to wear a heart rate monitor to bed once or twice a week to figure out the same things and, while it was interesting to learn that my heart rate hovered at around 40bpm while I was in deep sleep, this is better mostly because it isn’t as uncomfortable, allowing you to monitor your sleep every night.

Undercover

Ever had a phone stolen? How about a computer?2 Well, the purpose of this application is simple enough – to locate a lost or stolen iPhone, iPad, or MacBook. It’s pretty simple really, if your phone is stolen, you log in to the website (where you’ve registered previously) and report your phone stolen. The device gets pinged, and you are well on your way to finding it.

(it's actually about 50m off…)

Convertabot

There are a multitude of unit converter programs out there, but this one has stuck with me. Converting units is simple enough, but designing an intuitive, user-friendly interface is sometime difficult, and convertabot does very well. What also impresses me about this unit converter is the number of units from which one can choose. For example I can convert nautical miles to angstroms, smoots, or even light-minutes…

World Weather

Just as there are a multitude of unit converter apps out there, there are a plethora of weather applications available for the iPhone. I like world weather because it doesn’t tell me more than I really want to know. Of course, what I want to know, and what anyone else wants to know are not necessarily the same, or similar, which probably explains why there are a plethora of different weather applications available. (if you’re wondering about what information I’m interested in, there’s a weather box towards the top-right corner of this website). At first glance, it tells you the essentials – temperature and windspeed (actually the most obvious first thing is the sun or lack thereof, which is fine for me because I usually check this when I’m still in bed and the curtains are drawn). Then with one tap, you get all the other stuff. If you’re not bored of the weather by this point, you can rotate your phone to see a 6-day forecast…

First three days of the six day forecast:

Shazam

Don’t you hate it when you hear a song in an elevator and don’t know what it’s called?3  I used to try remembering an unusual section of the lyrics, then google the text later in between double inverted-commas. This doesn’t always work though, because the lyrics aren’t always very clear or distinct (try googling something like “I miss you”, and you’ll see what I mean). Sometimes a song won’t have lyrics in a language you understand (like Juanes’ “La Camisa Negra”), and sometimes there won’t be words at all (most of Enigma’s “Return to Innocence”). Shazam is an application that can listen to a small section of the song, and identify it… which is pretty darn nifty if you ask me.

Red Laser

The icon says it all – this is a bar code scanner. You would be surprised how much fun you can have with this. Walk up to your favourite hemorrhoids cream at the supermarket, hold up your iPhone, and the camera scans the barcode.4 Then it searches the internet for various sellers and prices so you can see if your local Aldi (or Woolworths, Tescos, or Wal-Mart) is ripping you off, and by how much. Then you know exactly what to say when you finally get around to writing that angry letter to the manager about price gouging.

Lonely Planet Guides

This might sound strange, but I’m not actually much of a guidebook person. I’ve used guidebooks before – Nick’s Mexico lonely planet saved us from being ripped off by a taxi driver within an hour of landing in Mexico City, and my Footprint South American guide pretty much got me through my 5-month odyssey, but I generally like to just talk to locals and do non-touristy things. That said, the iPhone lonely planet guides are actually very useful. They provide a lot of background information you wouldn’t ordinarily learn and they also now have very useful and useable maps which, when paired to an iPhone with GPS, can save you a lot of time and stress if you’re sightseeing on a tight schedule. The information in the electronic guides is not quite as comprehensive as in the books, but they also cost a lot less, and take up less space, and weight in your baggage.

Also… and I’m not sure why, but I like reading through lonely planet guides of places I’ve lived in (Melbourne, New York, Hong Kong etc.)

Gourmet Restaurants

Anyone who has been paying any attention to this website will know that there are three things that I love to do with my time – traveling and eating good food.The Fat Duck only accepts bookings by telephone up to two months in advance of the desired date”.6 How useful this app actually is remains to be seen, as most of the restaurants listed require bookings months in advance.

Games

Now finally we come to games. Obviously, I have all the well-known and popular games, such as Angry Birds, Stick Wars, Doodle Jump, Bubble Free (where my high score is a staggering 337), Oregon Trail, and Flight Control, but I thought I’d include some of the lesser-known games which I have also spent a lot of time… er… testing.7

Auditorium

Auditorium is a game I first came across before iPhones existed (I think). The concept is simple enough – a stream of stuff flows across the screen. You are given some things with which to direct the stuff at little squares that look like graphic equalizer bars. Ok, that was an uncharacteristically awful description, but play the demo on the website and you’ll know what I mean. I was asked by a friend to recommend a game for procrastination purposes, and being as I am, an expert in the arts of procrastination, I directed my friend to the website where I then learned that the iPhone version had been recently released. The majority of my solo train trips in Holland were spent playing this game. It is challenging and rewarding, not only because it is challenging, but also because the game is aesthetically beautiful; observe:

iGo Free

Go is an ancient board game with origins in China. Earliest records date to the Zhou dynasty, but it is likely that the game is much older. The game is rich in strategy despite having very simple rules. I prefer go to chess because games are generally quicker, and because go can be played in a smaller board if a faster game is desired. Another interesting point about go is that computers are very bad at it. It took a computer until 1997 to beat Gary Kasparov, while a computer has not yet managed to come close to beating even an intermediate-level go player.8 The fact that the number of possible go games exceeds the number of atoms in the known universe may have something to do with this. They say that playing board games reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, so this one’s for my health.

The free version of this game allows you a maximum of five games per day (I play about that many in a week), so if you’re a go nutcase you might want to invest in the full version.

Age of Curling

Did you really think I wouldn’t have a curling game on my iPhone? After trying out a few different curling games, this was, by a long way, the best of them. In terms of simulating the actual game of curling, this game does a very good job. You decide how much you’re going to spin the thing, then you adjust the weight of your delivery, then you throw your rock. The graphics give a realistic account of what it is actually like to follow the stone down the ice as it approaches the house, and you can vigorously rub your iPhone’s screen to simulate sweeping. The AI is decent, but not brilliant, and I am by no means an experienced curler, but when you are able to deliver a stone as consistently as the game allows you to, it is difficult not to win as long as you have even the most elementary smattering of curling strategy know-how.9 A full 8-end game takes about a third the amount of time that it does in real life, and it obviously lacks the social aspect of the game, but it’s a fun distraction while waiting at the airport.

and finally, a screenshot of my lovely background image:

Footnotes

  1. This is a lie – my life is neither busy nor hectic at the present time De Librijie are booked out a year in advance. If you’re wondering – yes, it was totally worth it
  2. I’m testing to see how many hours of playing Angry Birds it would take to give me carpal tunnel syndrome
  3. In case you were wondering, I’m very much a beginner go player
  4. As of writing, I have played a total of 3 league games of curling, so no, I am not an experienced curler

3 Comments on Favourite iPhone Apps

  1. And I thought I would be able to get work done this morning…

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