The single most asked question of all time….since 2008 (Part deux des trois)
And I’m back to add to my exhaustive and definitive guide to iOS apps. Now that we’ve gotten the banal “how-to” formalities out of the way (Ring of Fire, etc.), let’s dig into the guts of your iPhone and replace those apps. We’ll make it better, faster, stronger, much like the Kanye West song, but with less unattributed sampling of Daft Punk (Google it).
First on anyone’s list when rummaging through the digital shelves of the App Store is obviously productivity apps. Just joking. Let’s run down some of the best games out there right now.
A Sprinkling of Games
OK. So this might already be on a lot of your iPhones, but I’m a Ruzzle junkie and my letter tile dealer said he’d give me a two-for-one if I mentioned this game. In its most distilled form, Ruzzle is a timed, UI-driven word search, crossed with a scoring system suspiciously similar to Scrabble. Words are made by connecting adjacent tiles, each worth a certain number of points. With two minutes on the clock, you’ll be slowly eroding the glass of your display as you frantically swipe through as many words as you can find, attempting beat some faceless (or faced, as the game can be linked to a Facebook profile) adversary in a best of three rounds match. Users can purchase an in-game upgrade for detailed stats, but most of the fun comes for free…The first tile is always free…
This digital adaptation of the board game by the same name takes a bit more skill and forethought than the above title; no button mashing or finger flailing here. A lot of love went into making this app, and it shows. Everything from the board tiles to the sound design smacks of quality, though some may be turned off by an abundance of skeuomorphic design (that’s when coders get overzealous and make everything look like real-world objects). Gameplay is solid. Based squarely in the realm of what my fellow oil tycoon George “Dubya” Bush calls “strategery,” you build a medieval landscape piece by piece, making sure to complete towns and roads for bonus points. When dueling against another player online or in meatspace, the game allows for a nearly endless number of options and play styles; from aggressive monarch to honest farmer working on a burgage (Google it), Carcassonne supports all comers.
Expansion added – Now with more wapentakes (if you’re from Yorkshire)!
Designed for iPhone and iPad
Platformers are fun, but add some puzzle to the mix and you’ve got a really infuriating game. So, so maddening. Unless it’s done right, which is the case of Penumbear. Not to be confused with Pedobear (don’t Google it), this title from BulkyPix, players control the movements of a little bear with accompanying fellow firefly that can remotely turn lights on and off. Perhaps not the most impressive super power, but important nonetheless as Penumbear can walk on the intersection between light and dark to traverse obstacles and bad guys through 100 diverse levels. As with any story involving a shadow bear that can walk on intangible light beams, the plot is interesting.
Anything from NimbleBit
If you’re nothing like me and are totally into being unproductive, then games from app developer NimbleBit are exactly what the lazy doctor ordered. From the team’s first foray Scoops – Ice Cream Fun for Everyone to the latest quasi-multiplayer Pocket Planes, NimbleBit has been serving up little pieces of addiction since 2008. Each game has its own flavor, but the play style is such that you’ll keep wanting to come back for more. For example, Tiny Tower lets you build a — wait for it — tiny tower and gives you control of its operation. From letting “bitizens” into your tower, to putting them to work, much like He-Man, you have the power.
Turn Your Smartphone into a Superphone (see what I did there)
Last month I mentioned that you should download Clear, the innovative swipe-able to-do list that is no doubt already on many of your iPhones. The aptly-named Mailbox is in keeping with Clear’s user interface, but applies all that swiping goodness, along with some resourceful backend task management, to Gmail. At launch, users are presented with a fairly normal looking inbox, with conversations bundled together in tidy boxes. However, this is a special inbox; I’ve even seen people throw down their phones, screaming, “Sorcery!” after playing with the app for just a short time. The entire premise behind Mailbox is to bring the number of inbox messages to zero. You do this by swiping right on a message string once the task or discussion is finished, which sends the bundle to the “completed” pile. Swipe a bit further to the right to completely delete the conversation from Gmail. We can’t get to every single email instantly. Mailbox knows this because they’re smarter than we are, and have thus provided the left swipe, which lets you “snooze” an email for later action. Pick from one of the app’s presets, like “Later Today,” “This Evening,” or my favorite, “In a Month,” and the email will be whisked away to the “Later” pile. Now keep in mind that the messages will return to the inbox at a predefined time, or one of your choosing if the “Pick Date” option is selected, so cheating is sadly not an option. A longer swipe left allows for further email management by sticking the message into a customizable to-do list.
What’s that you say? Don’t have a Gmail account? Well skip this one because it’s for the Google mail set only and the prospects of iCloud support aren’t looking good. Oh, and there’s a waiting list because the cool people are all about this app.
Being a digital packrat — ok, hoarder — I’ve got a lot of files spread out over a number of devices. Cloud syncing can only go so far, so I needed a direct transfer solution robust enough to move gigabyte-size files between machines. Luckily for me, and now for you, Instashare can do most of what I want, and do it without wires. Using Bluetooth or an ad-hoc Wi-Fi connection, the app can transport images, text documents, PDFs, completely legal movies and more. Mobile-to-mobile is supported out of the box, and mobile-to-desktop can be had with a download of an OS X client.
Price: Free (with ads)
There’s quite a few “scan to PDF” apps floating around in the iOS App Store, promising to convert paper documents into .pdf files using nothing but the iPhone’s camera and seahorse dreams. Image conversion tools have been popular for years and with right software, the latest iPhones’ cameras can make “scans” that could actually pass for scans (from the 1990s). As Tenacious D so eloquently put it: Good enough for me. The UI may not be pretty, and the frills few, but TurboScan delivers some of the highest quality reproductions I’ve seen.
Close runner-up: Free app Genius Scan. Plenty of sharing options, great image output for B&W docs, and a sexy UI.
The End of the Middle
Top apps from two categories covered, 22 more to go. Direct your browsers in this general direction next month as I whittle out the last pulpy chunks from my triptych masterpiece of app wisdom.