Best iPhone Apps

The Guide for Discriminating Downloaders
A Guide to Some of the Best Things You Can Find in the App Store.

Josh Clark‘s Best iPhone Apps is a collection of 200 of what the author figures will make readers, “more productive, more creative, more happy”. The format of this book is simple: there are seven broad categories like “At Work” and “At Leisure” that are broken down into sub-categories; for instance, under At Leisure the Taking Photos section has four sub-categories with a Best App for each. In each category, you’ll find a mix ranging from the well-known to the kind of applications you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere but on the iPhone. Each winning application is given a few screen-shots, a description of why it was chosen, price, the version tested and the application’s developer.

The best iPhone applications take advantage of the platform’s unique features; not just mapping – which was an early favourite for developers – but functions like the accelerometer, which are used to good effect by several of the winners such as iHandy Carpenter (p.192) and the Urbanspoon restaurant finder.

In addition to the winners, there are honourable mentions for several categories as well. Typically they lack some of the features of the winner, but are also cheaper, which might make them more attractive- through an expensive iPhone application generally is less than US$ 15, and most of them are in the $2 -$5 range. Some of the categories also have side-bars explaining what they are (like Twitter) or iPhone-specific issues (Skype) which are mostly to do with the iPhone currently only allowing Apple’s programs to run in the background.

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Apple’s App Store distribution system allows for some off-beat titles to potentially find an audience. Examples include SitOrSquat (find wash-rooms nearby – with ratings ) or games like Zen Bound and Ruben & Lullaby, two games involving wrapping an object with string and a couple having their first argument. While there has been some criticism by developers over the apparent lack of transparency in the App Store approval process, the iPhone is the only platform that gives less commercial software equal footing with games like SimCity and Crash Bandicoot. Non-genre games like Zen Bound are the types of games that you just don’t see made much any more. The kind of weird games that you hear talked about in books like Racing the Beam (about the birth of home video games with the Atari 2600). Or maybe even some of the games that came out of Electronic Arts and Activision (Master of the Lamps, Little Computer People, Hacker) in the mid-1980s, when developers there were trying to push the boundaries of what computer games were. No doubt Apple is aware that it must find a balance between the free-for-all approach that doomed Atari in 1983 and Nintendo’s heavy-handed approval process that was a response to that, but in-turn led to risk-averse game development. Until Google/Android or Nokia get their acts together and offer compelling alternatives; this is the only platform for developers who do want to “think different”.

Best iPhone Apps is small enough (15x20cm) to be packed away for a bus ride or flipped through at a coffee shop. Indeed, this book will be a bit out of date in a few months, but most of the applications look solid, so you can expect them to be still useful. Apple should look at putting together something like this to include with every iPhone. With several thousand applications now available, a guide like this is needed and welcome.

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