My Five Best iPhone Apps

Posted on 18th Feb 2009 at 09:17 by Alex Watson with 23 comments

Alex Watson
Part 1. What’s your name and where do you come from?
Hello, Hello. It’s good, as they say, to be back. Although, do they say that any more, now that Gary Glitter’s a disgrace and Morning Glory is over ten years old?

Anyway, I thought I’d introduce myself. My name is Alex Watson, and though I’m the editor of Custom PC, this isn’t the first time I’ve written for the mighty bit-tech. You might have seen my name on the round-up of iPhone earphones at the end of last week, but I also wrote for the site back in 2006, on topics such as game difficulty, weird controllers and politics.

In the intervening years, I’ve always been a reader of the site, and it’s great to be back now as a writer, and to have the bit-tech guys working right next to Custom PC.

Along with the other CPC staff, I’ll be contributing articles to the bit-tech blog and to the site itself (this is a process that goes both ways – if you picked up the last issue of the mag, Issue 66, with the flaming game discs on the cover, you’d have had the pleasure of reading bit-tech Editor Tim’s erudite take on what DirectX 11 means for instance, and Joe’s excellent game writing will be brought to inky life in the next issue).

Part 2. Specialist subject
As well as saying hello, I thought I’d use this first blog post to talk about a few of the tech things that interest me. Although I’ve worked for CPC for over five years, I still get excited about new technology – I always think it’s depressing when you meet other geeks who moan that they’re bored with computers these days. The people who say nothing is new, graphics cards and CPUs are all the same.

That said, the following might sound a little hypocritical, but probably the area of tech that I’m most excited about at the moment are smartphones. When it comes to the iPhone, Google’s Android and Nokia’s next-gen models, you’re got a situation as exciting and volatile as PCs were in the early 90s. Hardware is developing at a rapid pace, with huge changes in a matter of months and software is cheap to buy, and more importantly, cheap to develop.

The barriers to entry for mobile developers are incredibly low. When it comes to software, computers are relatively static – want to make a new Office app? You probably wouldn’t bother, Microsoft dominates the market. Got a good idea for a new photo editing program? Good luck with that. There are exceptions of course but desktop PC software market moves slowly and sludgily these days, and marketing hype is more common than revolutionary new ideas. It takes a big firm to really disrupt things, such as Google with Chrome.

It’s completely different when it comes to software running on phones. Anyone with a good idea can brush up their coding skills in a reasonable period of time (weeks not years), get to work and make something. Of course, some phone software is complete dreck, opportunistic, overpriced and a total waste of time, but equally there are phone apps which are smart, different, engaging and useful. All of which brings me to my third point.

Part 3. Five Great iPhone Apps
1. QuadCamera (£1.19 from iTunes)
The problem with multi-lens toy cameras such as those from Lomo is that while they’re fun to play around with, the fact they involve film makes them expensive experiments. QuadCamera takes a series of photos in quick succession to create really interesting images. Even better, you can grab the free QuadAnimator app from the developers’ site and make animated gifs, which, as everyone knows, are so funny as to be considered one of the periodic elements of comedy.

2. Instapaper (Free from iTunes)
Log in to Instapaper and you can save interesting articles you find on the web to read for later. Fire up Instapaper on the iPhone when you’re on the train or a break at work and there’s your list of links to good reading. Even better, the iPhone app allows you to get a text view of the page, which formats the text ideally for the iPhone’s screen.

3. Trains
Sadly it seems like this is no longer available; it allowed you to see the live departure boards at a selection of UK train stations. The interface was a elegant (although it was basically a rip-off of the iPhone’s weather app). Suggestions of replacement train time apps welcome.

4. Fieldrunners (£2.99 from iTunes)
Much as it pains me to disagree with Joe, I felt his review of Fieldrunners was a little off the mark. Specifically the mark that says ‘this is one of the best games I’ve played in months.’ True, you have to like Tower Defence Games, and there are only three levels (it’s been updated since Joe reviewed it), but I love its Chaos Engine style graphics and the slickness of the controls. You know you’re on to a good thing in a game when the controls seem to melt away and it’s just you and your pixellated enemies. Such is the case with Fieldrunners.

My Five Best iPhone Apps  My 5 Best iPhone Apps

5. TumiNeko, aka Mew Mew Tower (£1.19 from iTunes)
It’s quite something to be in with a shout of being called the silliest app on the iPhone – especially when other contenders include an app that allows you to make photos of boobs wobble, and a virtual pint which not only removes the alcohol from the lager, but the actual lager too, thus making it the least fun thing ever – but regardless of these fine efforts, Mew Mew Tower has to be in with a shot. It’s basically giant jenga. With cats. Needless to say it’s from Japan.


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Horizon 18th February 2009, 09:43 Quote
Sorry, I draw the line here. The blog's got to go.
wuyanxu 18th February 2009, 11:13 Quote
QuadCamera seems like a good idea, but personally i would never trust the iPhone camera to give me anything other than a blur. the ONLY app i use camera with is Darkroom (formally Steadcam) free and takes sharper photos.

Instapaper seems like a fantastic app. thanks.

Fieldrunner is the best. the new weapons in the latest update are fantastic! love the flame. alternative tower defence games are: 7 Cities, Creepers and Zombie attack

Mew Mew Tower seems good. but i personally prefer TowerBloxx. i used to have a similar game (exactly same buildings) on my Java enabled Sony Ericsson.

the blogs are good. i'd love more iPhone related stuff. really don't understand the hostility against Apple.
badders 18th February 2009, 17:41 Quote
Good Blog - but is there a real need for so many links?


The main problem I personally have with Smartphones is...What's the point?

I know, I know - this is Bit-tech, there doesn't have to be a point to technology. But where are we really going with them?

Alright, so they're a little more useful than USB rocket launchers, I'll give you that.
The list above, which contains five top applications only contains one useful one ("Trains", in case you hadn't guessed) and that's no longer available.
I'm not entirely sure where I'm going with this, but who needs smartphone applications to take four pictures and animate them? Sure, it's good for a laugh down the pub - once - but after that all your mates have seen it and are bored with it too.

I have all the things I need from a phone in my 5 year old Nokia 6230i - It makes calls and texts, has a camera (for taken drunken pictures of the word "Win" made from peanuts at a party), calculator and calendar.
It even does email on the go. Oh, it also deos MMS without a seperate App. ;)

What more do we need? Most of us have a netbook or laptop that we carry with us - document editing can be done on these, not on a fiddly 3-inch screen with Pocket Word.

That's the other thing as well - the ridiculous price of the contracts that go to subsidise these phones (if you buy them off-network, you're looking at more than my PC cost). My phone is on a £15/month contract, which comes with something like 200 minutes and 400 texts, which I've never gone over. The desire to grab the latest phone and get a £35/month contract for 18 months to pay for the phone just hasn't been there for me. What would I really be paying the extra £20 for? The ability to play Tower Defence games at home or at work? Oh wait - I have a PC for that.

Sorry for the long post - I just don't get the whole Smartphone business.
wuyanxu 18th February 2009, 18:12 Quote
point is to use it as an all-in-one device??

eg. phone + texting + mail checking + music player + gaming + web browser + quick document viewing + a memory tool (eg, tag items with camera, write lists) + emergency memory stick (AirShare app).

the iPhone (can't say for other devices) is a jack of all trade, master of none device. does everything, imagine you taking: PSP + netbook + Sony walkman + your camera phone. (don't forget the chargers)

it's just one device that does everything, but not exception at anything.
badders 18th February 2009, 18:27 Quote
Fair enough, but would you use all those devices if your phone didn't have them? Would you have a big bag of devices?

TBH, that's probably a lot of the reason why I don't see the appeal - My PSP sits in a drawer (or gets used to VNC to my HTPC), I don't need to take a laptop anywhere (everywhere I go has a PC I can use), and I don't listen to music, even in the car (LBC FTW).

Let me make this clear - this isn't an attack on smartphone users - I'm genuinely interested :)
wuyanxu 18th February 2009, 19:48 Quote
not accusing you of any forms of attacks :)

i do agree that one usually only carries a camera phone. but smartphones just makes it less likely for you to be in "ah, if only i had bring that" moment.
Shepps 18th February 2009, 20:06 Quote
I use myrail lite, has live departure / arrivals information and was free last time i checked ;) .
Sifter3000 18th February 2009, 20:47 Quote
Originally Posted by Shepps
I use myrail lite, has live departure / arrivals information and was free last time i checked ;) .

Cool, I'll have to check that out - was rather annoyed when I had written the blog, had put it into the CMS and then couldn't find any links to the Trains app as it had been cancelled :( (weirdly appropriate, tho... :p)

As for why do we need smartphones... It's a tricky question, because people who ask that tend very much to have their minds made up already. Personally, what I love about the iphone (although this is true, I suspect of Android phones and the new Nokia ones) is just how much like a computer it is. You can play music while browsing the web, the web on the phone looks like the web on your PC, you can take photos and email them, check RSS feeds, load a game if you get bored of doing your email etc.

I think I'm one of those people who likes using technology and I'm quite prepared to use it before there's an obvious use for it - I've used RSS for years, and arguably, it's only really come into its own now I've got the iPhone, because I can check out what feeds I've got to read whenever I have a spare minute. I got into Twitter before I knew anyone else on it, just because it looked interesting. Now my friends and colleagues have caught up, and it's both interesting and useful. I can, however, see why people hate Twitter, can't be arsed with RSS and don't find smartphones all that appealing.
Teknokid 19th February 2009, 11:41 Quote
Big up the iPhone :)

I love my iPhone, its a great little tool, and can do practically everything.
I've had smartphones and pocketpc's in the past, but there is always problems with them, and it always seemed to crash. iPhone just work, and do it well.

Nice write up Alex, I've downloaded a couple of the apps.
twentynine 20th February 2009, 01:03 Quote
Hmm. One app I use a lot more than I thought I would is Shazam. If you hate not knowing what a song is...this is the app for you. I was surprised at just how well it works.
Tomm 20th February 2009, 01:09 Quote
For me, upgrading to an iPhone was as big a leap as when I first got a mobile phone. Having the whole internet in your pocket (to use a sickening Apple cliche) more or less wherever I am is just... brilliant. But to have it work so flawlessly AND be a complete joy to use is something else.

Bear in mind that the phone I had previously was an HTC Winmob affair, which matched the iPhone in terms of features pretty well. I'm sure there are other decent phones now with all-you-can-eat data packages which would impress me as much, this opinion is not limited to iPhone fanboyism (I'm really liking the look of the Palm Pre as it happens)

I don't think I would use half of the features of the iphone if it was horrible to use, so for me there's definitely an element of just enjoying using of a shiny gadget as well!
Tomm 20th February 2009, 01:12 Quote
Oh yeah, and I meant to say - Fieldrunners is superb. It's just a very good interface for an already addictive game. This would be perfect for a long train journey, although I wouldn't advise you sit down and play it at home - you'll lose entire evenings...
Sifter3000 20th February 2009, 10:18 Quote
Originally Posted by Tomm
Oh yeah, and I meant to say - Fieldrunners is superb. It's just a very good interface for an already addictive game. This would be perfect for a long train journey, although I wouldn't advise you sit down and play it at home - you'll lose entire evenings...

Spot on - my fiancee played it for about 8 hours straight on boxing day!
DougEdey 20th February 2009, 10:29 Quote
Originally Posted by Sifter3000
Spot on - my fiancee played it for about 8 hours straight on boxing day!

That is one way to work off the christmas lunch
Fly 20th February 2009, 17:02 Quote
Originally Posted by Shepps
I use myrail lite, has live departure / arrivals information and was free last time i checked ;) .

myRail lite is the train app that has gone. An Apple legal wrangle forced the programmers to remove it from download, probably never to be seen again. i have avoided upgrading my phone in case I lose my copy...
wuyanxu 20th February 2009, 19:30 Quote
Originally Posted by Fly
myRail lite is the train app that has gone. An Apple legal wrangle forced the programmers to remove it from download, probably never to be seen again. i have avoided upgrading my phone in case I lose my copy...
you won't loose it as long as you have the IPA file in iTunes or have it on your phone, one sync will have it both on your phone and on iTune, no matter what.

also, you can just backup the IPA file if you value it so much.
Fly 21st February 2009, 10:17 Quote
Thanks for the hint wuyanxu. Though I never really trust what iTunes is actually doing on my PC with my iPhone. Recently I upgraded my Girlfriends iPhone and all my apps appeared on her phone although iTunes was logged in on her account.
Tomm 22nd February 2009, 10:46 Quote
I jailbroke my iPhone and MyrailLite still made the transition, and appeared on the freshly-jailbroken phone. I would imagine you'll be fine.
Perforated 22nd February 2009, 11:51 Quote
Doubt my phone is quite a smartphone (6500c), but damned if I'm doing without a decent mobile browser ever again. Next phone will likely be a smartphone-proper if only for the tendency towards larger screens, more storage, and a better interface. Not an iPhone though. Nokia probably, and the new Toshiba looks interesting at a glance.

Quite agree mobile office apps are of dubious use, but moblogging & having Wikipedia anywhere justifies them alone, in my opinion :p

As for whether you'd carry every component item around if you didn't have your phone? No, I wouldn't - sort of the point for me, actually. I don't carry a bag if I can avoid it, and hate full pockets. A blurry camera shot is fine by me if all I need do is document something, every photo needn't be art - I often use it just for snapping addresses off envelopes, or ads from the paper, to save having to write it out and save the scrap of paper. And my DS is played at home, but rarely carried out - "portable" to me just means "anywhere in the house".

I do carry a seperate MP3 player, though - I'm too picky about my audio.
wuyanxu 22nd February 2009, 12:43 Quote
speaking of iPhone wikipedia, you guys should try on your iphone, fits the screen perfectly.
badders 11th March 2009, 16:08 Quote
Damn you all.
On the strength of your arguments, I went and got an iPhone.

By Golly it's the most useful thing I've used in ages.

Web, Facespace, Twitter, train timetables, RSS Feeds, Push Email,, VNC client, LBC Radio App - the list goes on.

I must say that Stanza and the free online book repositories are awesome for waiting about.

I regret buying fieldrunners though, there are much better TD games for free on PC.
Nexxo 11th March 2009, 16:24 Quote
I owned a Razr V3 for years. Nothing else could compare with its sheer functionality --until the iPhone 3G. Many of its features may seem gimmicky, until you actually find yourself using them regularly. Some of the features that are lacking seem an oversight --until you realise, weeks later, that you never needed them.
wuyanxu 11th March 2009, 22:10 Quote
copy and paste is one you have to have tough, just realise how useful they are after installing Clippy through Cydia.
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