Welcome to Weird + Small Apps, iLounge’s weekly look at recently released mini-applications and mini-games in the App Store. This week’s edition is decidedly more “app-” and “small-” heavy than recent columns, due to developer submissions of quite a few small programs, and relatively few mini-games that we felt were worthy of coverage. And there’s only a little weirdness to be found here this week.
Our top apps of the week are three Yubisashi-series foreign language tools and the Kensington clock application Rise & Shine. Following initial publication, we added another game—TightWire—as well. Read on for all the details.
It’s hard to argue with a good, free app, and strictly speaking, that’s what Rise & Shine (Free) from Kensington is. Previously discussed in a Backstage article, Rise & Shine is technically the software half of a combined hardware and software offering from Kensington called the Nightstand Charging Dock for iPhone, which sells for $40. Together, the app and charger turn your iPhone or iPod touch into one of three types of desktop clocks, complete with a simple weather bar that can be touched to bring up a five-day forecast, all remaining on the undimmed screen for as long as you want to keep the app running.
Without the charger connected, the app and screen will slowly leech down the iPhone or iPod’s power, just like any other clock app for these devices. While Kensington’s design isn’t breakthrough in any way, it is undeniably attractive, making good use of the display in either wide or tall orientation, and apart from their omission of alarms, the three clocks are all nice, particularly their ability to auto-dim the screen with a swipe, which would be even better if given more graduated brightness settings. Due to App Store rules, Rise & Shine is available for free, and if nothing else, it’s a nice promotional tool for the charger. iLounge Rating: B.
Though we wouldn’t use it ourselves, we really like the concept behind Got2Go ($2) from Grind Vision. The premise: you’re sometimes in a social situation that you don’t want to be in, and really need an excuse to get out. Your iPhone becomes the excuse. Got2Go mimics text message, calendar, or missed call notifications, faking the look of the Home screen and then popping up a clickable box that takes you to a similarly fake SMS, calendar, or Visual Voicemail screen with a message that varies based on your preference from trivial to catastrophic in seriousness. There are even fake voicemail messages, including one from “Dad” that tells you that you need to join him at the hospital because someone’s been hit by a car. While the premise here is a solid one, the various screens are all obviously fakes upon close inspection, starting with the unnecessary presence of a faked “TDC” carrier name, and between the all-black home screen and lack of other customizations, the app is only going to fool someone who neither knows you nor the iPhone interface very well—assuming they even see the screen. Additional polish cold make this a much better little application. iLounge Rating: B-.
At some point, probably right around the time the third or fifth fart application was approved for sale, the App Store began to resemble a Spencer’s Gifts novelty shop, and small developers realized that there were dollars to be made on selling gag and trinket-class apps. In the same general category as Magic 8-Balls is Front Pocket Media’s new Ask Happy Buddha ($1), a cartoony picture of a golden-skinned Buddha who laughs and vibrates when his belly is rubbed, then gets asked a question, shaken with the accelerometer, and produces a useless response. “Should our friend move to Buffalo,” we asked the Buddha. “Yes!,” he proclaimed, “Like the type you yell only during those special moments.” Wow. Save your money. iLounge Rating: D.
We love receiving e-mails from developers in Japan, not just because of their obvious enthusiasm for their applications, but also because the pitches behind their apps can be intentionally or inadvertently comical. “DeliCam processes the photograph delicious!,” said this morning’s e-mail from Kei Kusakari, “It makes the photograph of your lunch happy.” Given that we also write about food for Buffalo Chow, we were more than willing to give this $1 app a spin, regardless of what exactly it was supposed to do.
As it turns out, DeliCam doesn’t do much. It takes the photograph you’ve snapped or selected from within the application, enhances its saturation and contrast, and then outputs the result as either an 800×600 or lower-resolution file to e-mail—surprisingly, via the company’s own server—or Twitter’s TwitPic. The good news is that the results of its processing tend to look a little bit better than they started, because the iPhone’s camera—even the iPhone 3GS’s camera—doesn’t completely optimize its color output, and DeliCam’s small tweaks do help a little. But it doesn’t make a huge difference. Is it worth a dollar? Only if you’re really in need of sharing modestly better food images with your friends, and not in need of having images snapped by the application saved at higher than 800-pixel resolution. iLounge Rating: B-.
For many people, the concept of Against The Grain Development’s app MiValue ($1) won’t make a lot of sense, but for those who believe both that time has a monetary value and that purchases should be measured against the amount of work they require, there may be some value here. MiValue tells you to enter either your annual income and work hours per week, or your hourly wage, and then calculates the amount of time you’d have to spend working to pay for purchases at any given price you enter. Thus, if you’re working 40 hours a week for $30,000, your hourly rate is $14.42, and roughly 7 hours of labor will buy a $100 item. The app isn’t impressive visually, and doesn’t do any more than what’s described here, but for those who live their lives on billable hour schedules, it can be a handy tool to figure out how much extra work will justify a purchase. Some may feel that’s worth the $1 price. iLounge Rating: B-.
Though the next three apps here aren’t really small or inexpensive, we wanted to let readers know about them anyway: Yubisashi China, Yubisashi Japan, and Yubisashi Spain ($10 each) from Phonex Communications are basically language assistance tools that will be useful to English-speakers as they travel outside of the United States. Each version contains 4,300 or more words and phrases that can be easily searched, and displayed to native Chinese, Japanese, or Spanish speakers when you need assistance; roughly 3,000 of the words and phrases are accompanied by spoken voice versions that can be clicked on to say something to a person rather than displaying the screen. The interface is bright, occasionally populated with little bits of cartoony artwork, and culture-specific, with sections dealing with the specific geographic and culinary options of each country, as well as common issues—life, shopping, emergencies, and transportation—the confront all travelers. Everything has been sorted into smart categories, and rendered searchable by keywords as well. These are nice apps, and easy to use; their content and pleasant design makes them worthy of $10 asking prices. iLounge Rating: B+.
Last this week are two related games from Spawn Studios, Magnetrox ($2) and Magnetrox Lite (Free). In short, these two apps are puzzle games that challenge you to move what looks like a ring of energy from one part of a grid to another, using only North-South-East-West swipes that carry the ring straight in one direction until it hits a wall; this general gameplay concept has been included as a free mini-stage in more complex games, and taken into 3-D with the earlier, same-priced game Monospace. Though the game begins with only one challenge—move your ring to the exit without swiping it off of the screen—Magnetrox adds 45-degree angle bounce walls and other sorts of obstacles as you continue to play the levels, which use graphics that are well below the iPhone’s capabilities, and include only basic sound effects with extremely limited music. We’d sooner go with a more impressively developed title like Monospace, but those who are willing to accept only so-so graphic design to get a more varied collection of obstacles may enjoy this. Give the Lite version a shot before ponying up for the 40-level full version; it actually gets to the game’s interesting parts more quickly. iLounge Ratings (Both): C+.
It may have come in just after our publication deadline, but we had to share it with you today, anyway: TightWire ($1) by iBright Studios. Put aside the fact that the concept—overweight guy on a tightrope—is going to amuse some people and not others; hopefully, the developer will add some alternate character models. What’s here right now is a seriously cool idea for a $1 iPhone game, combined with an impressive if not completely polished graphics engine, and limited audio. You’re presented with a slanted overhead view of a character who needs to walk from the top of one building to another on a wire, circus-style, and “treated” to a 3-D view of his demise and the sight of cracked pavement every time he falls. That happens often.
Why? Control is simple, yet surprisingly challenging: you use the accelerometer to try and keep the guy in balance as he moves forwards, tilting ahead to move on and tipping left or right to correct for his instability. While the experience isn’t completely fun, taking what we’d describe as the least compelling gameplay portion from third-person action games such as Mirror’s Edge, there’s something so interesting about seeing it all work in 3-D on the iPhone that we keep on coming back again and again to try and progress through the five stages. Only polygonal seams in the buildings detract from the presentation, which is pretty solid given what iBright Studios is trying to do here. Similarly, the character’s body enables the developers to show some believable jiggle as he teeters, and create a huge impact on the ground—complete with Mortal Kombat-style shattered bricks—when he fails. Tweaks to the controls and enhancements to what’s here aside, we are truly anxious to see what this developer does next. iLounge Rating: B+.