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kottke.org posts about iPhone apps

Hit me on my burner

posted by Aaron Cohen   Aug 08, 2012

Burner is a new iPhone app that will give you a disposable, short term cell phone number to give to randos at the bar, weirdos on Craigslist, and Marlos on the corner.

Disposable cell numbers certainly seem like they might be used for nefarious activities, but founder & CEO Greg Cohn said these numbers can be used for any number of purposes in the era when a cell number is so closely tied a person’s identity.

(thanks, Alex)

Kingdom Rush for the iPhone

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 28, 2012

In the amount of time I have spent playing Kingdom Rush on the iPad, I could have completed a second or even third college degree. So it is with some relutance that I have been made aware of the iPhone version of Kingdom Rush, out today. It’s the same game, optimized for the smaller screen on the iPhone and only 99 cents. Maybe the reason the whole “can’t use the iPad/iPhone for creation” thing persists is that everyone is using the damn things to play tower defense games instead.

Turn your iPhone into a toy car

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 04, 2012

Makego is an interesting iPhone app…it turns your phone into a toy vehicle. This short video explains:

Makego turns your iPhone / iPod Touch into a toy vehicle. It encourages fun, open ended collaborative play between parent and child. Combining creativity and imagination with the virtual world on screen. Select your vehicle within Makego, then interact with the drivers and their world through animations and sound. This release has 3 vehicles to play with: a race car, ice-cream truck, and river boat.

I could easily see building a neat case out of paper and having Ollie and Minna playing with it. I could also see Ollie taking the race car over a big jump and smashing it into another car and oh shit the screen is cracked. The Lego case option is cool though…just slap some wheels on it and away you go.

iOS apps and your address book

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 15, 2012

Details are finally starting to trickle out about how various iOS apps use the address book data on your phone. The Verge and Venture Beat both have good article on the subject. What they’re finding is nowhere near the 13/15 ratio that Dustin Curtis reported last week but Curtis has also said:

Second, for obvious reasons, I promised the developers I reached out to that I would never reveal who they are. Many of them have, since last week, changed their practices.

What I like about The Verge and VB articles is that they both end with Apple’s role in all this. In a future release, Apple should make sure that rogue parties can’t do stuff like this. If you’re going to have a store where every app has to be approved for the good of the end users and the integrity of the system, this is *exactly* the type of thing they should be concerned with.

Update: Insider did some digging as well.

More on iPhone address book privacy

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 08, 2012

Yesterday, developer Arun Thampi noticed that the Path iPhone app uploads a user’s address book to their server without asking the user first. And by address book, I mean all the phone numbers and addresses and email addresses of everyone in your phone’s address book just gets sent off to Path. And not only that, Path stored that information on its server. To their credit, Path apologized and deleted the data from their server.

But this is a larger problem than just Path. In a post from earlier today, Dustin Curtis reveals the dirty little secret of iPhone developers everywhere.

It’s not really a secret, per se, but there’s a quiet understanding among many iOS app developers that it is acceptable to send a user’s entire address book, without their permission, to remote servers and then store it for future reference. It’s common practice, and many companies likely have your address book stored in their database. Obviously, there are lots of awesome things apps can do with this data to vastly improve user experience. But it is also a breach of trust and an invasion of privacy.

I did a quick survey of 15 developers of popular iOS apps, and 13 of them told me they have a contacts database with millons of records. One company’s database has Mark Zuckerberg’s cell phone number, Larry Ellison’s home phone number and Bill Gates’ cell phone number. This data is not meant to be public, and people have an expectation of privacy with respect to their contacts.

13 out of 15! Zuckerberg’s cell phone number! Maybe I’m being old-fashioned here, but this seems unequivocally wrong. Any app, from Angry Birds to Fart App 3000, can just grab the information in your address book without asking? Hell. No. And Curtis is right in calling Apple out about this…apps should not have access to address book information without explicitly asking. But now that the horse is out of the barn, this “quiet understanding” needs to be met with some noisy investigation. What happened to Path needs to happen to all the other apps that are storing our data. There’s an opportunity here for some enterprising data journalist to follow Thampi’s lead: investigate what other apps are grabbing address book data and then ask the responsible developers the same questions that were put to Path.

Update: I am aware of this very confusing display of data from the Wall Street Journal. It indicates that of the ~50 iPhone apps surveyed, only three (Angry Birds, Facebook, and TextPlus 4) transmit address book data to a server. That’s not exactly the widespread problem that Curtis describes (the data sets are likely different)…it would be nice to see the net cast a bit wider.

Update: Oh, and that WSJ survey is two years old. (thx, @marcprecipice)

Payment in your pants

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 04, 2011

Square’s Card Case app for iPhone or Android automatically opens a tab for you at your favorite spots (using your phone’s location) and you just pay by saying your name.

Accurate short-term weather prediction

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 31, 2011

Predicting the weather is really hard…butterfly wings flapping and all that. But often we only care about the very short term weather: Do I need to take an umbrella to the store? When’s this rain gonna stop? Is it going to start snowing before I get home? Enter Dark Sky, an iOS app currently in development.

Dark Sky is an app for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch that predicts the weather.

Using your precise location, it tells you when it will precipitate and for how long. For example: It might tell you that it will start raining in 8 minutes, with the rain lasting for 15 minutes followed by a 25 minute break.

How is it possible predict the weather down to the minute? What’s the catch?

Well, the catch is that it only works over a short period of time: a half hour to an hour in the future. But, as it turns out, this timespan is crucially important. Our lives are filled with short-term outdoor activities: Travelling to and from work, walking the dog, lunch with friends, outdoor sports, etc.

New Yorker’s Goings On app

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 08, 2011

The New Yorker took their awesome Goings On magazine section and crammed it into an iPhone (and Android) app. More details here.

In addition to collecting the magazine’s listings for theatre, art, night life, classical music, dance, movies, restaurants, and more, the app has exclusive new features. More than a dozen of the magazine’s artists and writers have contributed entries to the My New York section, which showcases their personal cultural enthusiasms: Alex Ross introduces readers to Max Neuhaus’s Electronic Sound Installation in midtown; Susan Orlean revisits the Temple of Dendur, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art; and Roz Chast drops by the Tiny Doll House, a unique Upper West Side shop. Critics also lead readers on audio tours created specifically for the app: Peter Schjeldahl tours the Frick Collection; Paul Goldberger walks the High Line; Calvin Trillin shares his favorite downtown food; and Patricia Marx goes in search of vintage clothing.

Hedgehog Launch for iPhone

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 28, 2011

Why didn’t anyone tell me that Hedgehog Launch was available on the iPhone? You’re all fired!

Angry Birds theme, covered by Pomplamoose

posted by Jason Kottke   May 11, 2011

Angry Birds is still the top paid app in the App Store. And Pomplamoose is still twee and adorable. (via ★glass)

Atari iPhone app

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 07, 2011

Atari’s Greatest Hits is a free iOS game that come bundled with Pong and the option to purchase 99 more classic arcade and 2600 games. Available games include Tempest, Missle Command, Crystal Castles, Centipede, and Asteroids, some of which are multiplayer over Bluetooth. (via df)

Everyday iPhone app

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 21, 2011

What a great idea…Noah Kalina, Adam Lisagor, William Wilkinson, and Oliver White made an iPhone app that helps you remember to take a daily photo of yourself inspired by Noah’s Everyday project.

Watch closely for the Noah Durden character…

Swipe Four for iPhone

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 09, 2011

I love Boggle, so Swipe Four is right up my alley…it’s sort of Boggle in reverse. You build up the board letter by letter in an attempt to maximize points. There’s a playable online demo and it’s only 99 cents on the App Store.

Tiny Wings is the new Angry Birds

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 07, 2011

Tiny Wings is a nifty one-tap game featuring a flying bird…the graphics are really lovely and feel almost handmade.

Available on the App Store for $0.99.

Don’t miss new music releases

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 11, 2011

Nomis is an iOS app that looks at the artists in your iPhone or iPod’s music library and shows you their latest and upcoming releases. Showed me a couple things I was unaware of: the new Cut Copy and an Underworld album from September that I’d missed. The only bummer is that it’s kind of absurdly slow in looking through your library. (thx, brandon)

Two new Angry Birds games coming soon

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 02, 2011

The big new game will be called Angry Birds Rio. It’s a movie tie-in (blech), but as long as the game features a ton of that trademark bird-flinging action, who cares?

There will also be a Valentine’s Day edition of Angry Birds, perfect for ignoring your beloved on that special day.

Precorder

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 18, 2011

Precorder is an iPhone app that constantly buffers video and only saves the last few seconds when you press the record button.

By constantly saving the previous few seconds of video before you hit record, Precorder lets you wait until something interesting happens to start recording, and you’ll never miss a precious moment or get stuck with hours of boring video to painstakingly edit down.

More info here. The creators were inspired by the camera used by the Planet Earth team to capture Great Whites jumping out of the water to catch seals.

Antiqued digital video is the new antiqued digital photography

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 18, 2011

8mm is an iPhone app that shoots videos that look like stuttery 8mm films.

8mm Vintage Camera brings your iPhone and iPod Touch back in time to capture the beauty and magic of old school vintage movies. By mixing and matching films and lenses, you can recreate the atmosphere of those bygone eras with 25 timeless retro looks. Dust & scratches, retro colors, flickering, light leaks, frame jitters — all can be instantly added with the swapping of a finger.

Oysterpedia iPhone app

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 14, 2011

This one is mainly for my wife: the Oysterpedia iPhone app.

Not only does it give you tasting notes on 200 North American oysters, but it lets you rate them — a great thing if you’re always forgetting which types you do or don’t like.

Word Lens

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 17, 2010

This is just flat out magical…you hold your iPhone running Word Lens up to some text in, say, Spanish, and you’ll automatically see it translated into English.

!!! No, like !!!!!

iPhone app corrects for color blindness

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 16, 2010

Dan Kaminsky’s iPhone/Android app corrects for color blindness (in anomalous trichromats anyway)…just point your phone at what you want to see in color and make a few adjustments.

The vast majority of color blind people are in fact what are known as anomalous trichromats. They still have three photoreceptors, but the ‘green’ receptor is shifted a bit towards red. The effect is subtle: Certain reds might look like they were green, and certain greens might look like they were red.

Thus the question: Was it possible to convert all reds to a one true red, and all greens to a one true green?

The answer: Yes, given an appropriate colorspace.

Andy Baio, who is colorblind, says emphatically: “it works”. (thx, derek)

Inception iPhone app

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 09, 2010

The Inception iPhone app takes the music from the movie and remixes it with the sounds around you (office chatter, street noise, etc.).

Inception The App transports Inception The Movie straight into your life. New dreams can be unlocked in many ways, for example by walking, being in a quiet room, while traveling or when the sun shines. You will get realtime musical experiences, featuring new and exclusive music from the Inception soundtrack composed by Hans Zimmer.

Bad: I can hear the people in the office talking, which is the precise thing I’m attempting to prevent by wearing headphones.

Muji iPhone and iPad apps

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 02, 2010

The Japanese no-brand retailer Muji is taking an interesting approach to their iPhone and iPad apps. Instead of just having a product catalog/store app (although they have that too), they’re also offering apps that are very much like the products they offer in their real-world stores. There’s a simple calendaring app that syncs with Google Calendar, a notebook app for sketching and note-taking, and an app called Muji to Go that combines a bunch of different functions that travellers might need (weather, currency exchange, power socket guide).

Clock Blocks

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2010

A little Friday fun: Clock Blocks. It took me a bit to figure out how to play, but basically you clear a grid of clocks by shooting from clock to clock at the angle of each clock’s rapidly spinning second hand. Ok, maybe not so basically, but you’ll get the gist after playing for a few seconds. There is also an iPhone version.

MoMA iPhone app

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 16, 2010

The only reason I ever go to MoMA anymore is so that my son can see the helicopter and whatever motor vehicles are on display in the design collection, but if I get a chance to sneak away soon, I’m definitely making use of the MoMA’s new iPhone app: tours, a catalog of thousands of works, events calendar, etc.

Dueling Carls

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 13, 2010

Talking Carl is an iPhone app that records snippets of audio and then plays it back at a higher pitch. If you put two Talking Carls next to each other, this is what you get:

Note to Mouser and Aaron: parrot feedback! (thx, matt)

OffMaps

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 01, 2010

If you’re travelling abroad with the iPhone and understandably wish to avoid AT&T’s ridiculously high data roaming charges when trying to find the train station in a new city, I would highly recommend OffMaps.

OffMaps lets you take your maps offline. It is the ideal companion for any iPhone and iPod Touch user, who wants to access maps when travelling abroad (and avoid data roaming charges) and who wants to have fast access to maps at all times. This app (and the icon) just has to be on the right hand side of Apple’s built-in maps app.

OffMaps uses OpenStreetMap that include a lot more information than simple road maps: from ATMs and train stations to restaurants and pubs! You choose which areas to download instead of buying a new app for every city you want to visit.

I used it for a week in Paris and it worked great; the GPS and compass both still work when data is off so locating yourself isn’t a problem. Just download the proper maps before you leave for your trip and you’re good to go.

Grocery shopping with the iPad

posted by Jason Kottke   May 28, 2010

FreshDirect is an online grocery store that delivers in the NYC area. I needed to do an order this morning, so I downloaded their iPhone app on my iPad and discovered that grocery shopping is one of those things that the iPad is *perfect* for (an it would be more perfect with a native iPad app). You just take the thing into the kitchen with you, rummage through the cabinets & fridge, and add what you need to your FD shopping cart. Then you take the it with you around the rest of the house (the bathroom, the garage, the pantry in the basement) adding needed supplies as you go. It inverts the usual “wander around the grocery store searching for items” shopping practice; instead you wander about the house looking for what you need.

Obviously the iPhone would work for this as well, but a tablet-sized device is generally better at these sorts of tasks: activities where your attention is shifted back and forth between the screen and something else (or shared between two people). The iPhone is a greedy little thing; it’s better for tasks that require your full attention on the screen.

Foursquare for movies

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 29, 2010

There are likely several “Foursquare for X” apps out there (and many more to come), but I thought Miso was pretty interesting. From Cinematical:

Instead of checking in to a location (though you can do that too, if you link your existing Foursquare account), you check in with what you’re watching. Miso keeps track of your check-ins and rewards you with badges relating to specific genres (and sub-genres) of film and television. Link your Twitter or Facebook, and suddenly, you’re posting what you’re watching with friends and seeing what movies they’re watching as well. Genius.

iPhone/iPad-only for now.

The iPhone blows

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 25, 2010

Speakers move air to make sound. Some clever developer has used this fact to make a foosball game that uses small puffs of air from the iPhone’s speakers to move a tiny real-life Styrofoam ball around. Video (or it didn’t happen):

Another app from the same company called the iPhone Blower can blow out birthday candles. (via convo.us)