Welcome to Weird + Small Apps 27—the first in a while with an app that truly qualifies as weird. This week, we look at the oddball life lessons application Anitello, a separate app that offers Gmail push notifications, a vacation time tracker, a car-friendly, gesture-based control replacement for the iPod music playback feature, and a track pad application for iPhone/iPod touch and Mac users.
None of the applications in this week’s roundup qualified for a B+ or higher rating, but both PlaySafe from Chilli X and TouchPad from Edovia received flat B general recommendations. All the details are below.
Every once in a while, an application arrives that completely dumbfounds us, leaving us as close to at a loss for words as we come. This month, Anitello ($2) from the same-named company Anitello claims that prize: an app that loads up with a list of life lesson-themed animations that you’re supposed to choose from to learn how to do things. Important, completely random things, like “making a paper airplane,” “safety in a thunderstorm,” and “cooking steaks,” because who wouldn’t want to download an app to learn these and three other completely random skills—stretching exercises, jumpstarting a car, and tasting wine? Anitello teaches using slow-paced, pre-recorded animations with bad sound effects and text overlays, worse yet depending on a live Internet connection to stream the videos. The company plans to release another six animations later in the year; we honestly can’t imagine why. iLounge Rating: D.
Users of Google’s Gmail have been waiting for a way to receive push notifications automatically whenever messages come in—a feature offered to users of Apple’s MobileMe and Microsoft Exchange servers, but restricted for everyone else. G-Push Mail ($2) from Jon D gives you limited push functionality with a scheme that’s going to appeal to some users but not others: you pay $2 for the app and get “a free 3 month subscription” to the service, which uses “servers sitting securely on Amazon’s Cloud maintaining a stable connection to Gmail’s IMAP servers,” monitoring your account from minute to minute and sending out notifications if messages come in. If one does, your phone will vibrate, make a noise, and/or put up a badge on the app’s icon to increment your number of waiting messages. While G-Push Mail works, and provides you with an e-mail reading and searching front end that looks like Google’s own design, there are three issues: do you really want to hand off your Gmail password to someone other than Google? Is it worth paying ongoing charges for Gmail monitoring, given that the app expires after three months of use? And why can’t the app at least offer to show you a pop-up of the incoming message? While this is a less expensive alternative to using other iPhone push-based e-mail services offered by Apple, we aren’t fans of subscription-based services or apps that stop working; unfortunately, this and similar apps will be the only way to get Gmail push notifications unless Google or Apple takes positive steps towards offering the feature for free. iLounge Rating: B-.
If you have a salaried job, you most likely have vacation time, sick time, and other time that’s annually allocated to you for your personal “away from office” needs. iTrackVacaTime ($1) by JNS Global Consulting is a simple, unsexy application that helps you manage that time with four screens: first is a summary page for the current year that’s broken up into vacation time remaining, used, and planned, sick time remaining, used, and planned, and “other time off” remaining, used, and planned. Next are separate screens that show only time used or time planned, and finally, there’s a settings screen that lets you insert your allowances for each category, plus the date when the year ends for purposes of computing everything. Every page has a + button at the top to let you save a new vacation time event relatively quickly. Other than the plainness of its interface, and the fact that the time used and planned screens really add little given the existence of the summary screen, iTrackVacaTime’s only issue in our testing was one that happened the first time we launched it, but not afterwards: after playing a little with the end of year date, and restarting the application, it lost the information we’d previously inputted. Beautifying the app and ensuring that it doesn’t lose computed data—possibly through a backup that could be emailed—would make it better. iLounge Rating: B-.
The idea behind PlaySafe ($1) from Chilli X is an inherently great one—one that’s hard to believe Apple hasn’t incorporated into the iPod touch and iPhone already: trying to control music playback on the device while driving is a serious pain at times, so rather than adding on remote controls, why not just improve the playback interface with simple gestures? That’s what ChilliX has done, using the existing iPod library’s album art with plain bottom-of-screen text. Need to stop or start a song? Just tap the screen. Need to skip backwards in tracks? Swipe to the right; for skipping forwards, swipe to the left. Three buttons provide scrollable, unchanged access to your iPod music library, a shuffle on/off mode, and a help screen. Though up and down gestures for volume adjustment would be nice additions, amongst others, and the premise here is that you’ll create your own playlist to avoid the otherwise impractical task of skipping around in your library, the premise here is a good one, and the price unobjectionable. Apple should have offered similar in-car controls as an option. iLounge Rating: B.
We covered a wide variety of trackpad and mouse applications back in 2008, and the latest one—TouchPad ($4) from Edovia—offers more of the same in a simplified, solely Mac-compatible program. This program achieves its Mac connectivity through a neat trick, having you activate Screen Sharing on any 10.4, 10.5, or 10.6 machine and then giving you a Wi-Fi-based full screen trackpad with the ability to be used horizontally or vertically, with or without a keyboard. We typed that last sentence on it—not surprisingly, the keyboard is as problematic as any standard iPhone app’s keyboard, minus auto-correction and the ability to see on the little screen what you’re typing. That aside, the trackpad surface is easy to use, supports two-fingered scrolling and two-finger tapping for right-clicks, and offers a sensitivity scrollbar. Other apps we’ve tested, such as Snatch are now more impressively priced and machine-compatible than they were back in our prior review, making TouchPad feel comparatively stripped down for its $4 asking price, but it’s still a nice little app for those who prefer to use their iPhones to control their Macs. iLounge Rating: B.