It’s the latest “useless but sort of cool” application: the “virtual lighter.” As of today, 16 different iPhone apps all do generally the same thing: simulate a pocket flame on the screen of your iPhone or iPod touch, serving as an alternative to holding a real lighter up at a concert. Some do a little more, and some—clearly designed to make a quick buck—do a surprisingly poor job at this meager task.
This roundup looks at each app and provides a brief summary of what they do, how well they do it, and how they rate. We start with the free apps, which do a surprisingly good job relative to the paid ones, and then look at two categories: $1 apps and $2 apps. One thing worth noting up front: our ratings consider these applications as they were generally intended to be used—as concert-ready lighter substitutes. For that reason, though we note whether the apps will have issues staying lit as concert lighters, or playing iPod music while the app was running, we only deducted from our ratings for the former type of problem, and not the latter.
Our top pick of the bunch is Sonic Lighter by SonicMule/Smule; skip right to it if you want to see an impressively developed $1 app. Freebird and iConcert are both fine free app picks, but not as impressive in depth or features.
What Does It Do? Choose from 20 Zippo lighters. Open one up, flick the igniter, and watch a shaky video of a flame play, swaying as you tilt the device. Includes a lighter ignition sound effect and a lighter close/open sound effect.
How Well Does It Do It? Virtual Zippo is okay. The screen dims after a short period of inactivity and the flame isn’t huge. It also flipped out when we tried to play music when opening it, looping part of the song endlessly and then hanging.
iLounge Rating: C+.
What Does It Do? It places a lit photorealistic lighter on the screen with a flickering, non-interactive, and cartoony flame. There’s nothing to do but watch it appear, and deactivate it by quitting the app with the Home button.
How Well Does It Do It? myLighter is boring; it also dims after a brief period of inactivity. However, it didn’t have any issue with iPod music playing in the background.
iLounge Rating: C-.
What Does It Do? It puts a huge flame on the screen, exaggeratedly tall, wavering slightly from digitized video animation. You can change the graphic to a non-animated candle or non-animated glo-stick.
How Well Does It Do It? The huge flame ls extremely easy to see, but non-interactive and not amazingly animated; it’s fine. The candle and glo-stick are poorly implemented additions. The screen dims and goes out after a brief period of inactivity; iPod music plays without an issue. Our rating is based largely on the fact that it’s free.
iLounge Rating: B-.
What Does It Do? Puts up a relatively large on-screen flame with a small image of a disposable lighter’s top at the bottom. The app is non-interactive and has nothing for the user to do except quit.
How Well Does It Do It? iConcert’s flame is decently animated and moves from side to side automatically as if affected by a light wind; the screen dims and goes inactive after a brief period of inactivity. It crashed in the middle of displaying its flame animation for the first time, requiring a complete reboot of our iPod touch. The problem did not reoccur on a second test; it also had no issue playing back iPod music. Our rating is again based largely on the fact that it’s free.
iLounge Rating: B-.
What Does It Do? Places the top of a metal lighter with a large animated flame on screen. You can choose from a number of colors for the flame.
How Well Does It Do It? It’s awful. The flame’s animation is terrible, as is the art of the flame, which looks to have been hand-drawn. Colored flames are all unbelievable. The app dims and shuts off the screen after a brief period of inactivity. It’s worse than any of the free apps we tested, but doesn’t have issues with iPod music.
iLounge Rating: F.
What Does It Do? It lets you touch or shake the device to open a simple gold on-screen lighter, displaying a large blue and yellow flame on nearly the entire screen. There’s a sound effect for the opening and closing of the lighter.
How Well Does It Do It? It’s okay. The flame looks good, but the animation is unrealistically fast, and movement of the device doesn’t impact the flame—except to extinguish it. We wouldn’t call this better in any way than the best of the free apps we tested, except that it has a smart “never sleep” option that keeps the screen from going dark during use. This feature alone may endear it to some users. It doesn’t have issues with iPod music playing in the background.
iLounge Rating: C+.
What Does It Do? Offers three flames—a normal flame, a blue flame, and a red flame, the latter two signaling support for U.S. Presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain, respectively. Has a flame sound effect, a lighting sound effect, and tilt sensitivity to make the flame bend as you tilt the device; you can blow on an iPhone or iPod touch attached microphone to make the flame flicker or go out, as well as playing with the ignition to create glowing, burning gas. Animation and sound effects to show that you’re burning the edges of your iPod touch or iPhone if you tilt the flame too far to the left or right.
Sonic Lighter includes a 3-D globe that tracks the blue and red flames that have been activated around the world, using location awareness to determine support for Obama and McCain. Notably, though the app lets you play music while it is active, it puts up a warning that its features won’t all work properly; the wind effect, for instance, doesn’t function with music on.
How Well Does It Do It? The good news is that Sonic Lighter’s various peripheral features—the globe, political tracking, and playing with lighter effects—are all really cool, and well done. All that’s missing is a really great animated flame; other than the little special effects found here, which we liked, we preferred the look of most of the flames we tested in other apps. This is the only reason the app doesn’t rate an A; it is otherwise very impressively designed. Notably, the screen does not dim when the app is in use, which we prefer, though there’s no option to turn this feature off.
iLounge Rating: B+.
What Does It Do? Select from 12 lighter cases, manually open one with a flick, ignite the spark, and watch an animated flame appear. The flame is computer-animated rather than video, and moves semi-realistically as you tilt the device, filling the screen with lighter and flame if left upright. Settings let you make it difficult to spark the lighter, deactivate a useless intro video, and deactivate sound effects; these effects must be turned off if you want to listen to music with the lighter on.
How Well Does It Do It? It’s good, but not great—the screen dims and turns off after a brief period of inactivity, which needs to be fixed. Though the flame isn’t extremely interesting and looks a little fake, it at least animates and moves with your tilting actions. The most interesting option is the ability to pick between lighters from the U.S., Canada, and a number of European countries. As noted, it does work properly with iPod music when you deactivate the video and sound effects.
iLounge Rating: B.
What Does It Do? Places one of three cartoony animated lighters on the screen, which you shake or touch open. Each produces a lighter sound effect and an opening/closing sound effect. You can change the device’s Settings menu to display one of them by default.
How Well Does It Do It? The lighters look fake and the animation looks fake—amongst the worst we saw in the bunch; the sound effects aren’t bad, though. As with some other apps, the screen goes dim quickly, and there’s no setting to stop this from happening. Lighter also stops your iPod music from playing. It’s unfortunately typical Chillingo quality.
iLounge Rating: D-.
What Does It Do? Puts a large lighter on the bottom half of the screen and an initially tiny flame right above it, letting you flick the lighter on or turn it off with a spark effect and sound. You can change between 12 lighters, ten of which look disposable, and only one of which has a different flame effect—a poorly animated video flame. You can increase the size of the standard, decent animated flame by swiping the screen left or right, making the tiny flame stretch off the top of the screen; the video flame can’t be increased in size.
How Well Does It Do It? It’s not bad, except that the screen dims after a brief period of inactivity, and the video flame lighter looks poor. The standard lighters aren’t exciting to watch or interact with; they’re okay. iPod music continues to play when you use it. A better flame and a lower-positioned lighter would make this app a lot better.
iLounge Rating: C+.
What Does It Do? Offers the choice between a candle flame, gas flame, match, or blow torch on screen. The first three turn as you turn the device; the last does not. The flames appear as small fires at the bottom of an entirely black screen. There’s a “Flamous” gallery of user photos, showing themselves using the flames.
How Well Does It Do It? Flametastic is really poor for a paid app. The flame is one of the worst we’ve seen, looking only modestly real, and depending more on jittering back and forth than any real animation. The screen also dims after a brief period of inactivity. iPod music continues to play as you use the app.
iLounge Rating: F.
What Does It Do? Displays a non-interactive video of a flickering candle top, which occasionally stops briefly to reload and play again. If you tap on the screen, you’ll notice that the video zooms slightly in and out. You need to figure out to go into the device’s Settings menu to change the flame from “Normal” to “Tiles,” “Cube,” or “Strobe,” each a crappy variant on the original flame; strobe just brightens and dims the background from black to white, for example.
How Well Does It Do It? While this is the best-animated flame out there, it doesn’t look like a lighter, doesn’t offer any interactivity, and is the only app we’ve seen that actually stops part way through performing to reload its animation. It doesn’t dim your screen, but because it’s playing a video clip endlessly, it might well eat a lot of your battery. Having to go into the settings menu to change the flame is also pretty moronic. It stops your iPod music to run the video.
iLounge Rating: D.
What Does It Do? Gives you a large on-screen flame that can be resized by touch from short to full-screen in height. Flickers a little bit and bends with the way you’re turning your device. Turning the device on its side displays a huge scrolling dot matrix ticker that you can change to the text of your choice, storing three text strings and toggling between them in a settings menu. You can also adjust the speed of the ticker.
How Well Does It Do It? The flame is above-average—not the best we’ve seen—but the banner idea is pretty neat, a nice way to signal to friends or other interesting people at a concert. ConcertBuddy lets the screen dim and turn off after a brief period of inactivity, however, and doesn’t provide a setting to stop this. iPod music does continue to play, however. Small tweaks to the flame, the dimming, and the tilt mechanism could make this a truly great app.
iLounge Rating: B-.
What Does It Do? QuickLight places either a flat color on the iPhone’s screen—your choice of white, red, or blue-green—or an animated image of a lighter. Shockingly, this app is the only one of the bunch that’s not compatible with iPod touch.
How Well Does It Do It? The lighter animation is pretty terrible, but the actual image the developer started with is a good one—if the same flame was properly animated and interactive, it would be pretty cool. Unfortunately, the effects here are all just dull, and the placement of a flat color on the device’s screen is really stupid; there shouldn’t be a charge for software like this. However, it doesn’t dim the screen after inactivity, and iPod music continues to play as the app runs.
iLounge Rating: D.
What Does It Do? As a novel way to distribute American Idol winner David Cook’s single Light On, Sony has released this app, combining playback of the song Light On and an animated lighter on the screen. Pressing a button turns the lighter and song on; pressing the same button turns both off, restarting the song when you press the button. Menu options include a pause feature for the song, a buy button, and links to visit a website, iTunes to buy the song, and e-mail info to a friend. The buy button currently brings you only to the iTunes Store, not to the as-yet-unreleased album.
How Well Does It Do It? The lighter is boring—an artistic representation rather than a realistic depiction—but if you’re a David Cook fan, as we are, the question is whether the app is worth buying anyway, perhaps to bring to a concert. We don’t see the value in buying this app—you can pay less and get a better free lighter and the single, which can be enjoyed in higher quality and with better iPod scrubbing controls—but some fans may like it. Not surprisingly, it turns off whatever other music you’re playing when you start it up, but doesn’t dim the screen while the lighter is running.
iLounge Rating: C.
What Does It Do? Offers non-interactive “flashlight,” “candle,” “lighter,” and “twinkle” effects on screen. The lighter and candle look fine, but the flashlight and twinkle effects are next to pointless.
How Well Does It Do It? The flashlight is an awful graphic of a couple of colored circles in your choice of seven colors, and the “twinkle” takes a photo from your photo library and adds a terrible, tiny “twinkle” effect to some part of it when you touch the screen. Lights!‘s candle and lighter features are both movies that play back on a loop; they’re both OK in animation, not great. They’re completely non-interactive, and none of this is close to worthy of a premium over free apps. The lights go dim after a short period of inactivity, but iPod music continues to play.
iLounge Rating: C-.