iPhone favourites and iTunes whines

A quick review roundup on some of the useful apps on my iPhone at the moment (hiding in 6 screenfulls now), and some of their "quirks"...

Twittelator Pro is currently my portable Twitter app of choice, mainly on the "it just works" principle - although it needs some work on failing gracefully when it can't send a tweet - it tends to forget about it instead of saving it for later. One particularly nice feature is its ability to track conversations in a single view, and the search looks impressive.

Spend, which I've mentioned previously, is an extremely useful budgeting app, which is proving extremely useful in both controlling my expenditure and feel confident in spending saved money on a holiday.

The Google Mobile App is currently at the stage where it promises much more than it delivers. Voice searching is slow and unreliable, and the "super-ajax" search hinting just isn't fast enough to be useful. Perhaps with some work it might provide useful voice dialing.

A trio of apps help me get around: Tube London City, London A-Z and MyRail Lite. The Tube app is useful both to provide a map and route plans, and also to give realtime tube status. MyRail Lite (I've not seen a "heavy" version) is an interface to realtime departure boards and service schedules for pretty much every station and surface train in the UK - frankly, a lot quicker to use than the public departure boards at Waterloo at the moment (as the direct access to platforms is currently closed and you have to go via the concourse, which tends to mean walking away from the platform you need to see the board).

But why the A-Z? Isn't Google maps enough? Well, one problem is that you need a network connection to use it; not great for planning ahead underground. And, as has been mentioned elsewhere, google maps have a nasty habit of being under-detailed and out of date. The A-Z is *the* map for London, and having it on hand is invaluable. The app's not perfect, but the joy of iPhone apps is that you tend to get free improvements.

Shazam wins for Cool Points - an extremely accurate (and free) music recognition app (so long as you don't get *too* obscure. I've already bought a couple of albums of music identified this way.

NeoReader is a 2Dcode / QRcode reader, but feels like a problem waiting for a solution. QRcodes aren't widely used yet, and the iPhone's camera doesn't read them very smoothly. That said, it does work.

Tiny Violin is just amusing - for those moment when you really do need to pull out, and play, the world's smallest violin.

Microsoft's first iPhone app, Seadragon Mobile, is extremely impressive; it's essentially an image viewer, but it's designed for vast images, even of gigapixel size - it's a similar technology to Google Earth, and indeed includes various images of the whole Earth, Moon and Mars, alongside access to the online Seadragon and Photosynth archives.

FileMagnet is one of a class of apps that lets you store files - particularly PDFs on the iPhone. This is great for storing things like full tube maps, and the study guides for my rapidly increasing selection of audiobook language guides.

That brings me to one irritation about the iPod app on the phone - getting to audiobooks, particularly multipart audible audiobooks, is clumsy:

Go to 'iPod'
Click 'Back' out of whatever's playing at moment
Click 'More'
Click 'Audiobooks'
Click 'Audible'
Look through a list of things called 'A History of Britain, Vo...'
Try and guess which one is Volume 3, Part 1
Realise the only way you can be sure is to start one of them, and turn the phone sideways to rotate to coverflow view which will give you the full title.

I mean, c'mon guys, you're supposed to be usability experts!

The iTunes store has a few issues that bug me, too, and they're just clumsy.

Trying to find the URI that links to an iPhone app in the store is absurdly difficult; you can either hack around the web or "send to a friend" to yourself. It almost seems that they don't want people to discuss or recommend apps. And the ratings system may as well be designed to draw in harsh reviews. The only time you're encouraged to rate an app is when you're deleting in - probably not the way to get representative reviews from people who actually like the app. For those reviews that are left, there's no way of telling when a review was left - how old it is or which version of the app it relates to - so, as the store gets older, more and more of the reviews are outdated, and the scores unrepresentative of the current version. This is both unfair on the developer, and unhelpful to the user.
Posted by parsingphase, 2008-12-18 21:43

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