Welcome to this week’s Weird and Small Apps roundup. After last week’s initiation of the series, we’ve been testing a flood of new apps, eight of which we thought were worth sharing with you today. They span a wide variety of different genres and—with one exception—all sell for $0 to $2.
This week’s top picks are Arcade Bowling Lite, CompareMe, SkyCoaster 3D, and Yo Mama. Read on for the details.
We were intrigued when we received the e-mail from Smashart announcing AirPhones ($7), the most expensive app we look at today. It’s designed to let you spool any audio that’s playing from your Mac or PC directly over Wi-Fi to your iPhone or iPod touch, using the app purchased from the App Store and a free server program downloaded from the company’s web site. For the time being, there’s only an Intel Mac version of the server, with “Mac PPC/Universal Binary” and Windows versions “coming soon.”
On a positive note, Smashart’s Intel client app is simple, can be set to launch automatically on your computer or not, and only spools when your iPhone or iPod touch is actually connected and running the AirPhones app. At that point, it deactivates audio from the computer’s speakers, treating the portable device as the sole output device. Note that as with all iPhone/iPod touch-to-computer apps, you need to have your computer on an 802.11g-ready network.
Unfortunately, we tested AirPhones before and after a restart, and experienced very staggered playback of our computer’s audio—it wasn’t the sort of smooth, seamless connection one would expect. There’s a delay in connecting initially, a small lag in spooling when the audio changes, and sometimes a problem catching up to where the audio currently is; we found that issues were exacerbated when more programs were running on the Mac. As we never heard a continuous, uninterrupted audio stream, and the audio sometimes degraded to an unlistenable level, we’d describe the overall experience as poor; while promising, this expensive app needed some more testing before release. iLounge Rating: D.
We like 3-D special effects enough to keep a few spare pairs of different 3-D glasses sitting around, just in case we come across a movie or game that’s been encoded using one of the several tricks out there. Anaglyphs ($1) from Boiled Goose is the first one we’ve actually tried on the iPhone, employing the old red-and-blue anaglyph encoding technique for a very simple 4-by-4 concentration game. If you don’t have 3-D glasses, the developer suggests you order a free (41-cent) pair from Rainbow Symphony, or play the game in 2D mode.
There’s not much to say about this title’s gameplay: you just try to remember and match pairs of cards from eight possible icons that are exposed with touches. The game has almost no audio to speak of, and presents you with the choice of either “Classic,” “Winter,” or “Classic 2D” modes, the last the same as the first, but with 3-D effects turned off. None of the modes makes dramatic use of 3-D, but the cards do appear to be floating in front of a mildly 3-D backdrop, and their icons seem to be floating a little, as well; in Winter mode, you can barely make out particle-like snowflakes falling through the scenes. Anaglyphs is an interesting tech demo, but not a great game; we hope to see more compelling titles in 3-D, hopefully with better glasses or rendering tricks, in the future. iLounge Rating: C.
Surely, either you or someone you know loves Skee-Ball, the miniaturized carnival and arcade version of bowling that gives you 10 or so brown balls and a set of circular targets to hit for points. Skyworks—a company that includes famed Atari developer David Crane of Pitfall! fame—has released Arcade Bowling ($2) and Arcade Bowling Lite, Crane-developed versions of this title for the iPhone and iPod touch. Stunningly, the free version is better than the paid one; both include a futuristic, pleasantly upbeat soundtrack.
In each version of the game, you’re given 9 balls that earn a minimum of 10 points per roll—unlike some if not all of the arcade variants we’ve played, there’s no zero-point gutter. You can roll multiple balls quickly at once, or try and precisely flick each one into the target. A classic mode, featured in both versions, ends after 9 balls; a progressive mode featured in the full version lets you keep playing if you reach certain scoring targets that are only achievable through skilled play. While we’d normally prefer a version with that sort of challenge, Skyworks has for some reason used different control schemes for the Lite and paid versions, the former simpler and more intuitive, the latter more difficult and in our experience less responsive. You also get so much of the skee-ball experience from the free version that there’s little reason to need to buy the full app, a problem which some would remedy by killing the free one, but smart developers would tackle by making the paid one more compelling. For the time being, we’d strongly recommend a download of the Lite version (iLounge Rating: A-) if you’re a Skee-Ball fan; just don’t expect the paid version (iLounge Rating: B-) to be better.
As a tiny app designed to solve a specific shopping problem—one that has been mitigated in some places with laws requiring products to be shelf-labelled not only with prices but also with prices per quantity or volumetric measurement—CompareMe ($2) from Codedifferent does one thing: it lets you calculate which of two products is a better value based on what’s inside the package.
Using a streamlined, clean-looking interface, you’re given the choice between using unit numbers, mass measurements, volumetric measures, square surface units, or lengths to make comparisons, and if the prices for units can be compared, CompareMe will do so after you hit a button, providing a simple answer as to which of the products you’re considering is a better buy on pure price. It’s also possible to drag details from one side of the screen to the other with a simple swipe gesture. While the basic comparative details here may be located on a store’s shelf labels, this is a handy app to have if you frequently shop somewhere without this information. iLounge Rating: B.
There’s nothing quite like being told that you’re smart, and few things as humiliating as being told that you’re not. Currently on sale for $1, IQ Test ($2) from Max Voloshin promises an intelligence test “developed by professional psychologists,” using various types of pattern-matching and logic games to provide an estimate of one’s IQ. “Test results are only informative,” notes the App Store promo page, “and are not to be used as argument for intellectual superiority on getting vacancy.” Right. You need to allot 40 minutes for the test, and have one minute per question to answer.
We were feeling pretty good about our score of 151 out of 160—a little higher than Madonna and Richard Nixon, as IQ Test notes, and a little lower than true geniuses such as Sharon Stone and Albert Einstein—until we saw that other App Store users were reporting crazy high scores, too. Then, we tried the app with completely random answers and scored higher than Muhammad Ali, slightly lower than Andy Warhol. Is IQ Test accurate? That’s unclear; the 40 questions are merely shuffled from a small, arguably limited deck rather than randomly selected from a larger pool, and answers aren’t provided post-test, so it’s hard to know how scoring is being done. Grammatical mistakes in the application don’t inspire much confidence, either. But we like the idea of apps like this; hopefully there will be more and better ones in the future. iLounge Rating: B-.
Good 3-D hardware can be used for many types of applications outside of gaming, as Skycoaster 3D ($1) by Ziconic demonstrates. This app does one thing: it randomly generates 3-D rollercoaster tracks that are displayed against panoramic photographs of six locations, while techno music plays in the background.
You can look at the track from a rotating side view, tell the app to remake the track based on various preferences for more height, length, loops, corkscrews, or downward spirals, and change the acceleration speed. Press a play/pause button and you then get to experience the track in 3-D, riding the simple rail as if you were in a rollercoaster.
While there isn’t enough in this application to make it compelling over the long term, Skycoaster 3D’s basic premise of offering a customizable 3-D simulation of a real-world thrill ride is really interesting, and there’s no doubt that Ziconic has done a very good job of blending the 3-D track—simplistic though it may be—with believable photorealistic backdrops. The app’s missing the presence of a visible rollercoaster on the track, the ability to change your perspective during the ride, and some of the details, such as a physical structure for the track or the screams of riders, that would make it all more believable. That said, the underlying tech demo here is one that just might be worth a buck if you like rollercoasters; it’s actually neat to play with the options, even if they don’t lead to a fully satisfying end result. iLounge Rating: B.
We’re not going to pretend that Yo Mama ($2) from 100 Proof Software is either a great piece of software or even the best implementation of its idea that we could ever imagine. It is, in short, an interactive jokebook: you’re given a single screen with five options, “stupid,” “fat,” “old,” “poor,” and “ugly,” plus a “generate” button. You select one of the five categories, building the on-screen phrase: “Yo Mama So (Stupid),” then hit the generate button, and come up with a joke: “Yo Mama So Stupid, She put on her glasses to watch 20/20.”
Currently, the Yo Mama app includes 125 jokes, and the developer promises to add a new category and additional lines to the software in the future. Even as it is, it’s funny, with a bunch of classic lines that are worth repeating to anyone with the right sense of humor: “so fat, when she ran away, they had to use all four sides of the milk carton,” “so old, when she was in school, there was no history class,” “so poor, she chases after the garbage truck with a shopping list,” “so ugly, it looks like she ran the 100 yard dash in a 90 yard gym.” The idea of a $1, easily usable jokebook strikes us as a good deal, and when the jokes are as good as these, we’re happy to recommend it. iLounge Rating: B.
Earlier iPhone Gems columns are available here.