Welcome to the first of two late-breaking editions this week of iPhone + iPad Gems. Once again, we’re taking a rapid-fire look at a big collection of recently-released applications across a wide collection of different categories. Eight of the apps are either iPad-exclusive or developed solely to run on the iPad, while the other two are iPhone and iPod touch applications.
Our top picks of the week are Amazing Animals: Savanna for iPhone, Photogene for iPad, and TiltShift Generator for iPad. Read on for all the details.
Developed solely as an iPhone application, Tapitu’s new edutainment title Amazing Animals: Savanna ($2) still manages to look quite good when upscaled to the larger display of an iPad. Conceptually, Savanna is extremely simple, presenting you with an ultra-wide panning landscape filled with baboons, ostriches, zebras, elephants, antelope, and the like, allowing kids to scroll left or right through the collection, touch any animal, and watch the app gently zoom in, make a sampled noise with an animation, then speak its name. While we could easily picture Savanna including a second layer of depth—more information on the animals, video content, and so on—the gentle animations of the sun, clouds, and cartoony beasts are charming, and there’s a little bird who flies around the plains, dancing across the screen for amusement if you click on it. For the price, this is a very good little app for kids, and we’d love to see it get bigger and better. iLounge Rating: B+.
As fans of Mike Judge dating back far before the days of Office Space, Idiocracy, and King of the Hill, we were excited to see what MTV Networks had whipped up in its iPad app Beavis & Butt-Head ($3)—a celebration of the initially dim-witted and funny but increasingly insightful MTV cartoon. Good news: the app ships with a bunch of video clips from past episodes, as well as links to buy the entire series through iTunes for 99 cents per show, and has a somewhat funny TV remote-based interface to tie together a collection of mini games, the video player, and a soundboard with voice samples that can be e-mailed to friends. Bad news: the mini games may look even better on the iPad screen than the cartoons, but the gameplay’s awful, serving mostly to keep you occupied before events take place: the arrival of Cornholio, a visit to the principal’s office, and so on. Structured just a little better, this app could have been a great tool to sell B&B episodes to old and new fans alike. iLounge Rating: B-.
Having selected ALK Technologies’ CoPilot Live 8 as the best overall turn-by-turn GPS application for the iPhone 3G + 3GS, we’re not going to completely revisit our review to discuss CoPilot Live HD North America ($30)—an iPad 3G-specific version of the same product. But we will say this: CoPilot Live HD isn’t just the first turn-by-turn GPS program for the iPad, it’s also the only one that we were really anxious to see upgraded. The field of iPhone GPS apps has continued to be a mess for the last year, with prices and performance that just didn’t make sense relative to buying dedicated units; CoPilot Live HD’s $30 price tag and overall feature set make it worthy of serious consideration.
On the plus side for CoPilot Live HD are the facts that it exists, works, and has an ever-increasing list of features thanks to continued free iPhone app updates by the developer. You can create multi-destination trips, access “live local search”—effectively Internet-based additional POIs not in the software database—and communicate your current location over Facebook, amongst numerous other nice little features. The app provides synthesized text-to-speech guidance as you drive, naming streets and providing ample warning before turns, though some roads still get named by obscure numbers rather than their proper names. On the other hand, CoPilot Live HD makes relatively weak use of the iPad’s screen and graphics hardware, displaying little more than the same plain line-based map content found on the iPhone application, in higher resolution, split with oversized text either onto the left or top half of the screen. Little bugs here and there sometimes make previously traversed streets appear at the end of the list of upcoming turns, as well, while not affecting upcoming guidance. With the iPad, ALK had the opportunity to build an amazingly powerful new engine, but instead, it quickly rehashed the old one—this may suffice to satisfy the initial wave of iPad 3G GPS users, leaving everyone else waiting for CoPilot Live 9. iLounge Rating: B.
Okay, we probably shouldn’t have been as giddy as we were when Clever Twist announced iBrite ($2), an iPad take on the classic Lite Brite toy. How exactly could a developer capture the essence of what’s essentially a tactile experience—one in which little colored plastic pegs are attached one by one to a pegboard, then illuminated as glowing pieces of art? To Clever Twist’s credit, it’s trying, and according to its App Store page, hugely open to suggestions on improving the app, which right now is little more than a finger-based drawing tool with a blank hexagonal peg canvas and a pinch-to-zoom feature. You have to tap a button to bring up a color selector, manually choosing each color value, and then switch colors with this tool every time you want to draw. The result? A flat 2-D collection of dots that can be saved and screengrabbed, but not much else. Our advice: start out with a permanent on-screen collection of user-selected colors—tweakable with the color slider—then improve the sharing options, and let users render out the board in rotating 3-D form with fully visualized pegs. For now, this is a good idea with too bare of an execution. iLounge Rating: C.
Hunger pangs started as soon as we heard about O’ngo Food Communications’ new Korean Food Dictionary ($2)—we’re hard-core fans of Korean cuisine and would love to have a useful reference tool to discover new dishes and drinks. This one’s not bad, but not great. Seven beef dishes, 11 chicken dishes, 5 beef dishes, and 16 seafood dishes suggest the limited scope of the collection—there are more items on the menus of most Korean restaurants we’ve visited—and the descriptions aren’t particularly useful, either. A very small selection of eight recipes are similarly nearly useless relative to the wealth of information that can be found for free on the Internet. While some of the entries are interesting even by foodie standards, such as “Col-Pop: Cola and Chicken in a Cup… makes it easy to drink soda and eat chicken,” it’s hard to recommend spending even a couple of bucks for the content offered here. iLounge Rating: C+.
Having reviewed and really liked the iPhone and iPod touch version of Pandora Radio back in 2008, we were sort of glad to see Pandora return with an updated universal version of Pandora Radio (Free) for the iPad. The concept is the same, giving you free access to collections of Internet streaming songs that have factors in common with an artist, song, or composer you specify, while limiting you to simple play/pause features and skipping a certain number of tracks in a row—you can discover and listen to full-length songs you might like, then buy them through iTunes. While the app is every bit as useful as its predecessor, Pandora has missed out for the time being on an opportunity to really overhaul the user interface for the iPad, instead dividing the screen into three panes: a top bar with a search pill, music control and rating buttons, and a timeline for the current song, then a vertical stripe with a list of “stations” you’ve created—all synced from your Pandora account—and a larger pane with information on the currently performing artist. Album art’s too small, text too large of a presence on the screen, and the overall UI design appears to be geared more towards reorganizing prior iPhone visual elements than improving their appearance for the iPad. Thankfully, the music streaming works well as of the current update, even over 3G, and the free price tag means that Pandora has an opportunity to knock the next version out of the park without upsetting current users. iLounge Rating: B.
Back in 2008, we reviewed and loved the iPhone application Photogene, which added a collection of post-processing photo tools to the optically challenged camera of the iPhone and iPhone 3G. Now developer Omer Shoor has released Photogene for iPad ($4), which is essentially a repackaging of the same tools and minimalist interface in an iPad-friendly format. The app includes cropping, rotating, filtering, level adjusting, and basic frame/cartoony dialog bubble graphic overlay tools, with exporting tools that let you share up to 3-Megapixel versions of edited photos over e-mail, Twitter, and Facebook.
And though Photogene mightn’t be as necessary on the iPad—which imports photos from real cameras with proper white balance, color rendition, and filters built in—it’s a fun and extremely easy post-processing tool for shots that you really want to adjust before sharing. Even good digital photos can benefit from the cropping and post-shot filtering tools, even if the dialog bubbles and text are beneath the iPad’s UI standards. Due as much to its larger screen and powerful processor as anything else, the iPad is surely capable of doing a lot more with photos than this app, but until there’s a full-fledged version of Photoshop available, we’ll be using this. iLounge Rating: B+.
iPad users missing Apple’s iPhone and iPod touch Stocks application will be pleased by the features, though probably not the price of Toughturtle’s new StockWatch – iPad Edition ($6). Once you’ve customized it a little, the first screen effectively captures all of the separate information found by swiping and switching orientations in Stocks, displaying a list of stocks you’re tracking, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, and market news regarding either the Dow, other markets of your choice, or individual stocks as you click on them. Moreover, StockWatch provides lots of additional customization for the tracking chart, including overlays, 5-year and even multiple-decade-tracking historical data, then adds a full browser to read the included news stories without leaving the app. A second screen lets you assemble tracking data for portfolios, while another lets you sync your stock and portfolio data to a computer, areas that aren’t addressed at all in Apple’s iPhone app. While it’s easy to recommend StockWatch even in its current form to people who want an efficient way to track their stocks and related information during the day, the app does feel largely derivative of Apple’s design without any of the style, and could stand to be a little more interesting visually for the asking price. iLounge Rating: B.
As appreciated as iPad versions of previously-released iPhone photo processing applications are, few such applications will justify higher prices than the originals—or probably even merit installation on a device with the capabilities and limitations (read: no camera) of the iPad. TiltShift Generator for iPad ($3) from Art & Mobile is an exception: a tool that doesn’t just make crappy iPhone photos look better, rather, it can even work wonders on the point-and-shoot camera and some DSLR images imported to the iPad by the iPad Camera Connection Kit. The core feature of TiltShift Generator is its ability to create artificial depth of field—blurring of backgrounds relative to a specified subject—which it accomplishes with either linear or radial blur effects that increase as they become more distant from the focus point. Touch controls let you specify the areas of focus and blur, which is extremely straightforward on the iPad screen. Actual tilt-shift lenses are extremely expensive, and depth of field is beyond the capabilities of many point-and-shoot cameras, so these effects alone can instantly make even good photos look great. TiltShift goes further by adding saturation, brightness, contrast, and vignetting effects that enable you to blow out or ratchet down the colors of a photo, adding to the dramatic blurring visual impact. With variable resolution export features, it works well enough to let you e-mail several Megapixel images or create files that are worthy of syncing back to your computer. This is one tool we’re going to keep on the iPad with Wi-Fi + 3G for a long time, unless something dramatically better comes along. iLounge Rating: A-.
Last this week is Urbanspoon for iPad (Free) from Urbanspoon, an update to the popular iPhone restaurant lookup application that we’ve relied upon numerous times over the past couple of years. Though we’d like to be able to tell you that Urbanspoon is a great app, it has gone through somewhat rough times on the iPhone over the past year or so—an augmented reality feature, for instance, actually made the app harder to use—and the iPad version is a somewhat messy, rushed effort to port similar functionality over to a new format. In either orientation, Urbanspoon presents you with the similar slot machine-like neighborhood-cuisine-price spinner that can be partially or totally unlocked to increase the randomness of local restaurant recommendations; it also presents you with a peg-littered map or a list of “most popular restaurants” with no particular sense of distance. Clicking on one of the pegs calls up a bare informational window resembling the contents of the iPhone application. A “View Details” button loads up the full Urbanspoon web page, but with a less than simplified interface for getting driving directions from your current location. More than anything else, Urbanspoon for the iPad feels right now like an application that doesn’t really add value or convenience to the web site from which it originates; hopefully it will see a complete redesign to bring its genuinely useful information into a more accessible interface, soon. iLounge Rating: C-.