Welcome to this week’s edition of Weird and Small Apps. Today’s collection of apps is as scattered as they get, mixing useful little applications with small games and an educational tool.
We start with the edutainment release Feed Me!, this week’s highest-rated mini-app, then move on to a collection of miscellaneous apps, and finally four mini-games. Though none of the games is a real standout, the new app SNS Contact will be useful for users with lots of contacts and too few photos of them, while the wireless photo-sending application PhotoBeamer may appeal to some second-generation iPod touch users.
As parents, we’re always interested in seeing worthwhile edutainment releases for the iPhone and iPod touch, and Feed Me! ($2) by Edutainment Resources certainly qualifies as worthwhile. The concept behind the application is very simple: you’re presented with a hungry monster on the right of the screen, looking to be fed from one of two or three items on the left. Sometimes, the monster just wants to eat something purple, so any purple pick can be touch-dragged from left to his mouth on the right to sate him. But more often, the monster indicates a pattern of items: a fish made from four shapes that have been disassembled on the left, or a color plus a shape, or a number that needs to be matched with a number of objects.
The graphics, animation, and sounds are all very cute, making the game fun for either a child to play or an adult to watch, and everything is nicely voice narrated; as you progress, eight different sections are unlocked. If there are any issues with Feed Me!, they’d be two: first, the game isn’t specifically recommended for a particular age or development level, and though the initial lessons seem right for a two- or three-year old, later ones ramp up into clock-reading and other skills that will challenge five- and six-year olds. Additionally, Edutainment Resources sells Feed Me! in literally eight separate $2 versions, each in a separate language, rather than offering one multi-lingual version. We love the interface, the art, and the audio; small tweaks would make this a great purchase for kids of any age and language. iLounge Rating: B+.
If o2 Creative Solutions had affixed a price tag to its new music discovery app Ghostly Discovery (Free), we would have been much less enthusiastic about it: charitably, we’ll describe the concept as a bit odd. You’re presented with an image of a ghost, surrounded by a rainbow-colored ring, and you’re supposed to pick a “mood” by selecting a color; explanations of the colors are hidden on a separate screen. Then you play with two “style” sliders, one with “digital” and “organic” as poles, the other with “faster” and “slower,” and hit a “Discover” button when you’re done. Lo and behold, Ghostly Discovery generates a playlist of matching music to stream from the catalogs of Ghostly International and Spectral Sound, along with album art, and hidden buttons to see iTunes purchase and artist bio options. On the plus side, the app is free, the interface is very clean, and the music isn’t bad; on the minus side, the color-mood feature is gimmicky and initially confusion, and discovering music from a limited collection of mostly unknown artists isn’t as appealing as doing the same thing with the massive collections in Slacker, Last.fm, or Pandora. Given the free price, Electronica fans can give this one a shot; others can easily pass. iLounge Rating: B-.
We’re including but not rating a simple utility that arrived this week: Nice Trace ($1) by Pavel Ahafonau. Not glamorous or designed to appeal to the masses, this application lets iPhone and iPod touch users do a simple IP trace, complete with reverse host name, country, speed and packet data results, and settings for maximum TTL, packet timeout, packet rate, and error threshold. Though we tend to do IP checks on our computers, firing up this app is sort of like whipping out a pocket calculator, leaving the small screen to handle the small task while using the big computer display for more important things. It’s easy to imagine a more complex and broadly useful set of tools within this interface, but what’s here may be useful for some techies as-is. iLounge Rating: NR.
The last two non-game apps this week are ones that would make a tremendous amount of sense as integrated iPhone OS features, but are questionable as standalone applications from third-party developers. First is PhotoBeamer ($1) by appMobi, a legitimately useful tool that enables iPhones and Bluetooth-enabled second-generation iPod touches to wirelessly send photos back and forth to each other, either with or without the ability to save the photos once they’ve been received. Photos can come from your library or fresh from an iPhone’s camera, and get shared one at a time, fairly effortlessly. Except, of course, that both users need to have the application, and that they already have a pretty good alternative in Apple’s Mail app, which now enables sending of multiple photos at once. This app’s value is therefore limited to those who either don’t have persistent e-mail connections—second-gen iPod touch users outside of Wi-Fi range—or those who really need to send full photos immediately from device to device without waiting on e-mail servers. Apple really should add more Bluetooth sharing capabilities to its devices for features such as this, but until it does, PhotoBeamer is a fine option. iLounge Rating: B-.
Also useful is the second app, SNS Contact ($2) by Zerohachi. Planned for release on July 24, this app does only one thing: it pulls images from your Facebook or Twitter contacts and lets you add them to your iPhone’s contacts. More specifically, it pulls only the Facebook or Twitter profile image, not photos that are within Facebook albums or Twitpic links, and deposits it at whatever resolution it gets into the iPhone contact of your choice. The results aren’t always beautiful when displayed on your full iPhone screen as people are calling, particularly when the images come from low-resolution Twitter, but with Facebook, the higher-resolution pictures can be either a good start or a fine full-time solution for image-less contacts. Though we had very few contacts without pictures who were also on Facebook or Twitter, certainly users with huge contacts databases and lots of Facebook or Twitter friends will find SNS Contact to be a far easier solution than manually hunting through their photo collections or the Internet to procure photos, though the images won’t always be as detailed. This is a nice little quality of life application, and for some, it’ll be worth the asking price. iLounge Rating: B.
Years ago, an obscure Japanese company released Dezaemon, a “game” that actually let buyers create their own overhead shooter using streamlined editing and drawing tools; this program and its successors helped to break down the line between game players and game designers. The iPhone SDK has done the same, empowering people with limited artistic resources to create simple titles with whatever art they may have at their disposal, and A Doodle Flight ($1) by and its free Lite version are examples. Employing hand-drawn enemy and character art, presented on what looks like grid paper, Doodle Flight makes no attempt to seem “professional,” and its action is extremely simple: fly through stage after background-less stage, shooting alien-looking monsters, airplanes, fish, and birds, fight oddball bosses, and occasionally unleash a bomb attack that takes the form of a flying chicken complete with overlaid ice cream truck music. You have a lifebar, the infrequent ability to power up your auto-firing gun with more bullets and a wider spread, and the corresponding ability to lose your gunpower in stages as you get shot. All you do is rock the iPhone or iPod touch to steer, and clear enough of a path ahead to keep flying through the eight stages, while dodging bullets. That’s really it, set to a playful, looping, pipe-like audio track. While we can’t claim to be really impressed by the gameplay, the art, or the music, the price is low enough to appeal to those interested in seeing how a basic overhead shooter can be assembled by hand. iLounge Rating: C+.
By comparison, Formula Racing ($2) from Tiny Utopia feels as if it required a considerable amount of additional development effort, but as with so many iPhone OS titles suffers from mediocre controls. This 3-D update to the classic game Super Sprint presents you with a view of one of 10 race tracks on which four F-1 cars compete to finish in the fastest time. There’s no music, and the sounds of cars zipping around the track all seem to be pre-generated rather than based on whatever’s actually happening at the moment, but the movement of the cars and the dynamic forward and backward motion of the camera to follow your car’s progress around the track are both smooth, and spot-on. The major problem is the user interface, a foolishly implemented steering wheel-style design that we could never get to feel or work right for control or acceleration, even after playing with the calibration settings; simple left and right buttons would have worked better. In its current form, we didn’t even want to play past the first of Formula Racing’s tracks, but with additional development and polish, it could be a nice version of a once-popular arcade racer. iLounge Rating: D+.
Moondrop ($1) by Nimblebit is another old game with new paint: this simple title challenges you to safely land space pods on the surface of the moon when they’re dropped from the top of the screen towards a landing pad. First, there’s one pod to land, then two, and so on, and your challenge is to quickly manage their dangerously rapid descent by tapping nearby, firing their reverse thrusters to keep them in the sky. You get points for each pod you land on the pad, and as the stages progress, having to juggle multiple pods at once with controlled landings becomes a challenge. Dreamy music loops in the background as you tap around the pods, and beeps indicate that you’ve succeeded in a landing, with a fizzly explosion noise when you fail. It’s simple, cheap, and semi-fun; not a title we’d actively recommend, but not bad, either. iLounge Rating: C.
Last in the games section today is Traffic Control ($1) by Jon Davis, a title that seems more like a demo than an actual game. You’re presented with an overhead view of two suburban intersections, and can tap on cars as they move in fixed directions on the streets, speeding them up to avoid crashing into other cars. That’s it. Control traffic by making some cars go fast and letting others stay at their prior speeds, in order to rack up a number of cars that made it through the streets. It’s dull, with the droning sound of traffic in the background, and more incentive to cause crashes for the occasional “bang” sound than anything else. Picture Flight Control without freedom, purpose, or style and you’ll have the general idea; we’re honestly not sure why anyone would ever pay even a dollar for something like this. iLounge Rating: D-.