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Weblog Entry

Third Party

February 26, 2008

Ahead of the possibly-delayed iPhone/iPod Touch Software Development Kit, and the plethora of applications that will undoubtedly ensue, I thought I’d do a quick run-down of some of the more interesting third-party applications that already exist, in an unofficial capacity.

Since I had to jailbreak my phone in order to get it working outside the four countries where it has been officially launched, it was hardly a stretch to start playing around with the software that’s being developed anyway, SDK or no. This could very well end up being a preview of some of the first applications that will be officially available once the SDK is released.

My list below isn’t comprehensive by any means; these are just some of the apps I think deserve mention due to their utility or polish. There’s a lot of crap to wade through already, so I think it’s worth calling out some of the gems. All these are available directly from Installer.app, provided you have also installed Community Sources.

The images above link to larger screenshots. I just recently updated to firmware 1.1.3, and all of the existing iPhone Screenshot utilities don’t seem to be working for me anymore. So pardon the grainy photos.

Apollo

There are a few native IM clients out at the moment, and obviously Meebo works just fine too. But I’m finding none of the native clients thus far are any good, or even good enough. Apollo is the one I’ve been using occasionally when I need IM on my phone, but it still needs a lot of work. Active development stopped back in October, with the developers stating they’re focusing on an official version once the SDK is released, so this may turn out to be one of the first official IM clients for the iPhone. Hopefully it will have seen some massive updates in the interim.

Killer feature: IM over EDGE. It’s not great for long chat sessions, but damn if it isn’t useful to have the ability to ask an IM contact a quick question when out and about. (Terrible video of Apollo in action)

FiveDive

Just your average Yahtzee clone, but polished to a shiny finish. FiveDice is one of the few games worth having thus far, in my opinion.

iAno

Almost more of a proof of concept than a useful app at this point, iAno is still fun. It’s a piano simulator that crams a full octave on screen at once, and can play any note between C3 on the low end and C7 on the high end. What makes iAno stand out is its use of Multi-touch; chords are possible, you can play three notes at the same time. Here’s a video of iAno in action, and you’ve probably already seen it on the top phone in the iBand video going around recently. If they end up adding a sequencer to the app, I’d expect to start seeing rather a lot of iPhone-generated music in the future.

iMatrix

My screenshot above is mostly useless, as the entire point of iMatrix is what the iPhone’s camera sees and I wasn’t able to demo that. What it does is two-fold.

First, if you happen to run across a QR Code or other 2D code, you take a quick snapshot of it with the phone. Then iMatrix will process the data contained within, and automatically (with your permission) use the data to open a URL in Safari, add a contact to your address book, dial a phone number, or a few other actions.

Second, it’s able to generate 2D codes on the screen of the phone that can be read with scanners. Some of the applications this opens up: virtual ticketing, coupons, identifaction, and other purposes where simple authentication or data exchange is useful.

The idea of 2D codes isn’t unique to this application by any means, they’ve been around for over a decade. They’re not common in North America yet, but given time and more devices that are able to process them, it seems like momentum’s building. They may be as common as URLs in a few years. Here’s a poorly-narrated video of iMatrix contact exchange in action.

iSolitaire

I don’t really need to describe Solitaire, do I? This particular version just happens to look great, and makes fine use of the touch screen for dragging cards around. If it’s not one of the first official solitaire apps, I’ll be very surprised.

Labyrinth

You know the classic wooden labyrinth puzzles? Yeah, it’s just like those. Using the accelerometer, Labyrinth has you tilt the entire phone to guide the ball into the hole. It makes for a great demo of what having accelerometers in these devices can get you. Unlike most of the other apps in this list, Labyrinth is a demo; there’s a full version available for purchase. The iPhone software market has already begun.

Photoboard

Remember that wow feeling after watching Jeff Han’s TED demo of a multi touch interface a few years back? Photoboard brings a bit of that to the iPhone/iPod Touch with its rotation and zoom ability. It’s a fairly simple toy at this point, akin to a basic lightboard for photos. You pull in photos from your device’s library and then use two fingers to rotate them, pinch zoom in and out, and layer them on the screen. It’s cramped on the small screen, doesn’t save your setup when exiting, and isn’t really altogether useful yet, but it’s a great tech demo and shows promise for what might be possible in the future. Here’s a video of Photoboard in use.

Sketches

A basic note-taking and sketching app, Sketches has a few basic drawing tools that turn your finger into a pencil. You can import photos from your library or the iPhone’s camera and use them as a canvas, save your creations, email them, etc. Given the limitations of using your finger as an imprecise stylus, this feels like the perfect mix of basic utility without going too far into more advanced and harder to use features. There may be apps in the future that allow more complex image editing on the iPhone, but right now this seems like the furthest you’d want to go.

Plus, to erase the image? You just shake the device. How cool is that? There’s a reason the icon looks like an Etch-a-Sketch. Here’s a video about using Sketches’ tools.

Others

This is just scratching the surface; it seems like every week there are a handful of new ones worth keeping. A few more notable applications:

Categories
This is a recent discovery; it allows for folder/group creation on the iPhone/iPod’s home screen. You choose an icon for the folder, then drag a few apps into it. To get at them later from the home screen, you tap the group, then a new menu pops up with those icons. Pretty much as you’d expect.
weDict
A reusable dictionary/lookup app. If I get it, and I’m not 100% sure I do, you plug in various installable dictionaries, and then use the application to search them. Right now I have French > English and English > French dictionaries, and if I look up “neige” it tells me that the French > English dictionary thinks that word means “snow”.
Books
A basic eBook reader. It’s ugly, but it works. I’ve seen some public domain titles available for install, and a few newer CC-licensed works, like Cory Doctorow’s books.
Evolution RGB
This is a little toy/game thing that doesn’t make any sense at all when it first loads. In a nutshell, you have pre-defined elements like fire, water, plant, clay etc. You draw them onto the screen, then watch water interact with fire, fire interact with plant, etc. It’s generative like the old-school evolution game from decades past, and setting up some opposing elements and watching them interact can be vaguely hypnotic. This is the best video I could find that demonstrates how it works. It won’t win any beauty contests, but it’s really worth taking a look.
NES, gpSPhone, Frotz, ScummVM
Various emulators for games past, of varying and questionable legitimacy. In order: Nintendo Entertainment System, Game Boy Advance, Infocom text adventure games like Zork, and the LucasArts Scumm system that powered classics like Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle. (I say “questionable legitimacy” because the practice of emulting ROMs is kind of a legal grey area.)
VNotes
A simple audio recorder that uses the iPhone’s built-in mic. Something that ought to be officially available sooner or later, but isn’t yet.

Update: And it figures that as soon as I hit publish, I discovered that firmware 1.1.4 came out today. Not sure yet what it changes, if anything.


1
February 26, 13h

Dave, don’t forget Twitterific.

Although it’s not as good on iPhone/iPod Touch as on a Mac… still useful.

2
February 26, 13h

Excellent summary of Apps, Dave.

3
February 26, 13h

wow… over 3 months. nearly as bad as me :)
Thanks for the list Dave, considering that I am getting an iPhone at the end of the month!!

4
February 26, 13h

Nice writeup! Holy carp!

Not jailbroken, so I don’t enjoy these apps/ features yet. But hopefully the SDK will change that for me. Would love to play labyrinth while waiting for my coffee!

5
pepelsbey says:
February 26, 13h

iPhone Screenshots works fine on my iPhone 1.1.3

robota.nl/products/iPhone%20Screenshot.html

…and Books app deserving attention too ;)

code.google.com/p/iphoneebooks

6
Dave S. says:
February 26, 13h

“iPhone Screenshots works fine on my iPhone 1.1.3”

Yes, but not on mine, as I said. Same app. Doesn’t work. Not sure why.

“and Books app deserving attention too ;)”

But I did. Really. Look up.

7
Mike D. says:
February 26, 13h

The most important thing I learned from installing iPhone apps over the last several months is how few of them I actually need. Zero at the least… three at the most. There just isn’t a whole lot the iPhone doesn’t already do that I’d want it to do. Exchange Mail and IM… those are about the only two holes for me.

8
pepelsbey says:
February 26, 14h

> But I did. Really. Look up

Oops, i see. Sorry.

Maybe it would be intresting for you: app from russian developers — http://ripdev.com/caterpillar But it’s not just app, it’s rather usefull tweaks.

9
Dave S. says:
February 26, 14h

“…how few of them I actually need”

Oh yeah. It’s hard to disagree with that. I’ve uninstalled plenty more than I’ve installed, and many of them sit there without being used.

I wouldn’t even go so far as to say any of the above are “must-have”, but iMatrix strikes me as one with legs, and I think Sketches is handy to have around.

It may be the biggest effect from the SDK will be a boost in overall quality; right now it has to be tough to justify building a tight, polished app for a strictly unofficial environment. Once Apple has given their blessing, I can see a lot more useful apps being developed.

10
Riddle says:
February 26, 14h

Good points, Dave. I’d like to add similar (well written and polished up) apps to your list if I may.

* “MobileScrobbler” is damn helpful when you have an account on Last.fm. It allows your device to automatically scrobble listened tracks to database (via WiFi or EDGE, your choice). Moreover, it’s a gateway for Last.fm’s kick-ass radio. Design & UI is very good, resembling original applications almost in 100%. My favorite app out there.

* “Touchpad” is an app I discovered recently. Quick configuration of my iMac’s VNC and I’m able to use mouse & keyboard from my iPhone anywhere in the room. It’s very convenient while watching a movie, fully recommended.

* There’s plenty of good games out there but I must recommend “Tap Tap Revolution” as a perfect blend of music and agility. Something like Guitar Hero or DDR, but with a different input device. ;) Make sure to try it out on WiFi (iTunes Library), default tracks may be boring.

I also love these small tweaks which Apple forgot to put into iPhone – like sending full-sized pics via email (“SendPics”), deleting single SMS and/or call logs.

I hope SDK will open doors of quality for all those small helpful programs. :)

11
A2D says:
February 27, 04h

As someone who is very tactile about things, I find this to be incredibly exciting. This really is how we should interact with computers. It looks so natural, movements you might do with a physical object translating to the screen

regards

12
Julie says:
February 27, 08h

I won’t jailbreak my phone either, so I’m limited ‘til the SDK release. I did find flytunes, which lets you listen to & cache internet radio on my iphone. Their site is www.flytunes.fm.

13
Anson says:
March 02, 01h

I know I’m a little late here, but I thought it would be worth mentioning that you can take screenshots from the command line with Erica’s Tools.

Install from Installer.app, then ssh to your iPhone and run `snap screenshot.png’ to capture whatever is currently on the screen. (Or if you’re on the go, use MobileTerminal and run `sleep 5; snap screenshot.png’ and hurry back to your desired screen setup.)

14
Debra says:
March 08, 10h

Another cool iPhone application is the wPhone which is what I use to mobile blog with

15
pepelsbey says:
March 18, 07h

> Screenshots … Doesn’t work. Not sure why.

BTW: iPhone (springboard.app, actually) can take screenshots without additional apps.

You just need install little tweak: russianiphone.ru/blog/2008/03/18/screenshots-made-easy/

16
Rob C says:
June 13, 03h

OK, that NES iPhone emulator above has to be just about the coolest thing I have seen in the past couple of years.

If it’s Nintendo related, I definitely want to see what it’s about. I’m an old-school NES junkie; what can I say.

I never gave a second thought as to how the controls would be implemented, but when I saw it was simulated on the screen, I just about fell out of my chair.

That is some wicked cool stuff!

17
June 18, 14h

Great games, exquisite graphics. However, at least on my iPod Touch, not only is there no recognition that there are no more possible plays, it appears to deal the same sequence of cards after one or two games (I wasn’t paying that close attention, but possibly since the first game) I’d donate in a heart-beat if I knew that problem was going to be addressed.