As we’ve selected nine recent iPod touch and iPhone apps for this week’s installment of Weird + Small Apps, we’re dividing it up into three sections: “Light Fun,” “Small Apps,” and “Dumb Apps.”
The one clear winner in this week’s roundup is the well-developed educational app Wheels on the Bus; the rest of the apps range from nice but nichey to bizarre little wastes of dollar bills. Titles that we’ve marked this week with B- ratings merit our “limited recommendation,” indicating that though they may lack true mainstream appeal, some users looking for the functionality will be satisfied anyway.
The single most impressive small app we looked at this week was Wheels on the Bus ($1) from Duck Duck Moose, an inexpensive educational app for kids. Based on the famous song “Wheels on the Bus,” this app provides 12 versions of the song—including five languages, different instruments ranging from piano and cello to violin and kazoo—plus the option to record your own version, and then plays the verses across nine simple interactive screens.
Duck Duck Moose has illustrated the screens beautifully, provided kid-friendly touch-for-a-result interactions with different people and animals on the bus, and provided on-screen text to go with the song and interactions, all reasons we would recommend this app highly for users with young children… at least, ones who won’t throw or smash up iPods and iPhones. While smoother fade-based audio transitions from screen to screen and verse to verse would make it even better, this is a truly great $1 piece of educational software for kids. iLounge Rating: A-.
If you like the classic body-bending game Twister, Giuoco Piano’s new Touches ($1) aims to transform the iPhone or iPod touch into a version for your fingers. Two people play on a grid, putting two of their fingers on the screen at the same time, and then take turns receiving commands to place a third finger on the screen, remove another finger, and then hold the remaining two fingers in place while the other person tries to do the same. Touches isn’t flashy, and its touch sensor is appropriately unforgiving, but it could be a fun app for those looking for an excuse to come into close contact with someone else’s hands. More game modes and enhanced art would make it more interesting. iLounge Rating: B-.
We aren’t huge fans of amorphous, seemingly pointless sound and graphic-generating apps, but a couple of eye-catching ones appeared this week. The first is Jiyuka ($3) from Jiyuka.com, an Asian-styled, single-screen title that lets you draw animated flowers on a background shaded in your preferred color. Synthesized, vaguely Japanese music plays in the background and as you touch to draw lines of constantly spinning flowers, which can subsequently be dragged around, made larger or smaller, or erased en mass. More than 20 different flowers can be chosen to draw with. While Jiyuka is too expensive and ultimately doesn’t have much of a purpose beyond to mildly relax and entertain the user, it’s a cute little demo of how gestures, audio, and simple graphics can work together. iLounge Rating: C+.
Rustcycle’s sorta-game Nano ($1) is made from similar cloth, though it offers an objective to keep you interacting with the screen, and a lower price tag. At the center of the screen is a colored dot generator—actually, several clumped together—and the particles are directed by a series of gates to travel in one or more directions. You control the gates and try to steer the blue and green “benign” dots towards two or more “nodes,” while moving orange and red malignant dots away. Activate all of the nodes on the screen and you move on to another, similar level with simple synthesizer music going in the background.
Nano’s gameplay could really use some tweaking and focusing, plus better interaction between gestures and sounds, but this title has the start of what could with some additional work become a compelling experience. It’s better than a demo, but not quite a real game yet. iLounge Rating: C+.
On the surface, and even at the core, Tallymander ($3) from Danilo Campos is way too simple of an application to justify its asking price. It just counts things, and potentially, multiple things at once. You use a setup screen to tell it the name of each item you want to count, then press a button on that item each time you want to increase or decrease a number, or alternatively, you can use a shake gesture to change one of the on-screen tallies. When you’re done counting, you can email a report of what’s been counted. Without going into unnecessary detail, Tallymander is cleanly designed, and serves its purpose for people who are trying to keep scores, perform repetitive counting tasks, or take stock of outgoing items in an inventory. But is it worth $3, given all the amazing stuff that’s out there for this price? Not in our view, but you can decide for yourself whether to add this app to your growing count of App Store microtransactions. iLounge Rating: B-.
vCarder ($1) from Synium Software is a different story: an app that will instantly appeal to hundreds of thousands of iPhone and iPod touch users, perhaps more. It is supposed to let you transfer contact information from one iPod touch or iPhone to another, using either e-mail or a Bonjour instant wireless connection as a conduit. You pick contacts, specify the parts of their contact information you wish to share—a smart idea—then select an e-mail or currently connected Bonjour recipient, and press a send button. Simple, right? Unfortunately, it’s not always reliable.
Due to a requirement that you set up an in-app e-mail account rather than just drawing upon the Mail application and settings already found on the device, we were able to get it to work with a G-Mail account, but not with MobileMe, which is supposed to be supported. We also had mixed results transferring contacts between two vCarder-equipped devices that were supposed to be finding each other with Bonjour; we suspect that a bug relating to MobileMe authentication may have been to blame, as the Bonjour feature started to work when we succeeded in creating a working e-mail connection to G-Mail. When vCarder works, it works well, but when it doesn’t, it leaves you confused; when the bugs are resolved, it’ll be worthy of higher than our limited recommendation. iLounge Rating: B-.
The final three applications this week are ones that struck us as either worthless or pretty close, but who knows, perhaps you have some extra dollar bills just waiting to be blown on apps you’ll use once or twice and then never turn on again. They start with Motorcycle Engine ($1, aka Throttle) from Lonely Duck, which does nothing more than simulate the sound of an accelerating motorcycle, letting you gesture to shift gears and rev the engine. We’d say that this app would be cool for kids, but something about the utter lack of tactile or visual stimulation beyond two on-screen gauges makes us think that even children would expect more to play with. Seriously, what’s the point? iLounge Rating: D.
If you’re like most people, us included, you’ve spent the last season of Sci-Fi Network’s Battlestar Galactica anxiously waiting for the final episode—in part to see how everything gets resolved, and in part so you can stop suffering through the weakening scripts and ham-handed weekly revelations. How better to show your support for stretching out the series with filler episodes than to spend $2 downloading NBC Universal’s Battlestar Galactica Cylon Detector, an app that—har har—claims to analyze pictures and tell you whether the people in them are Cylons. Clearly developed as a promotional tool that someone later decided to try and profit from, the app does nothing worth even $1, let alone $2. Let’s just say that it doesn’t even work reliably on the show’s own Cylon characters, and leave it at that. iLounge Rating: D-.
Finally, there’s Lie Detector 800 ($2) from Indy Associates NY, one of a number of similarly fake lie detector applications that have been released for the iPhone. To this developer’s credit, and despite the awful name, Lie Detector 800 isn’t completely stupid: it has you put your finger on the screen to ostensibly measure your reaction to 10 questions that are either asked by the app from a collection of categories, or presented by you verbally to someone else holding the device.
A polygraph simulator draws lines on an ever-moving on-screen graph, appearing to indicate little more than the stability of the finger’s pressure on the display at any moment; a summary is provided at the end to determine whether or not the subject was lying. Unfortunately, we found the results useless even by joke app standards, which is a shame, because the app’s interface gives it a certain plausibility; except for the title screen, and up until the end, this is one of the rare joke apps that looks and seems to work well enough to be worthy of mainstream attention. iLounge Rating: C.
Earlier iPhone Gems and Weird Apps columns are available here.