Between the comments on yesterday's holiday gift thread and notes I've received from friends, it appears it was an iPod Touch Christmas for a lot of people out there. If so, congratulations! You just got one of the coolest presents you'll ever receive. My wife bought me an iPod Touch a year ago–inscribed on the back with my favorite quote, "Don't feel so alone with the radio on"–and it instantly became one of my favorite things ever, even though it wasn't yet at full strength. I made good use of my iPod Touch in the first part of '08, but the true potential of the device didn't really get unlocked until a July software update that allowed users to access the new "App Store" on iTunes, and download games, feed-readers, geegaws, and other neat-o applications.
Over the past month, we've been summing up the year in movies, books, music and TV, but for me, a major part of my entertainment year involved loading apps onto my iPod–along with reading about apps, using apps, and showing off my apps to every interested (and uninterested party) I came across. I've been adding, deleting, researching, sorting and displaying applications in much the way I tried to put together the perfect baseball card and comic book collections when I was 12. When the iPod Touch ads refer to the device as "the funnest iPod ever," they're not exaggerating. I can't say that I'd rank my iPod over my TiVo or my laptop in terms of technology I both need and enjoy, but neither can I overrate the pleasure it's brought me.
There are currently over 10,000 apps for sale on iTunes, the majority of which I've never laid eyes on and would likely never need, but over the past six months I have tried a bunch of different applications, and have returned repeatedly to a small handful. I'm not a hardcore gamer, so what I like may not be of interest to everyone who just got an iPod Touch or iPhone in their stocking, but if it'll help some of you to pick through the pile of available apps, here's a short list of the ones I've gotten the most out of:
Favorite game: Trism … No matter how many different games I download, I'm still inclined to kill time with Trism. It's a simple puzzle game–just slide triangles around until they match and disappear–and the scoring is often too wonky, but Trism offers an escalating challenge that requires just the right amount of low-stress strategizing. I play it while I'm watching TV and unwinding, as a reward for getting through another busy day.
Honorable mention: I also enjoy Burning Monkey Puzzle Lab, a Tetris-like "falling shapes" game that features some clever variations on the concept, as well as a "mission mode" that allows the player to try those variations in sequence. I've recently downloaded–and just barely tried–the iPod versions of Monopoly, Uno and The Price Is Right, and all seem to simulate those games well. Topple is a very cool stacking game that utilizes the iPod's accelerometer and some cute animation to create something at once fun and unusual. Line Rider recreates the popular "draw a line, turn it into a sledding run" experience superbly, and is perfect for idle doodling. Alli's JigSaw turns any personal photo into a small jigsaw puzzle, and though the puzzles aren't especially difficult, it's a good way to kill 5 minutes while sitting in a waiting room, and a good way to make use of your photo collection. 2 Across allows users to download crossword puzzles from major publications (including this one), to work offline. And though I've just downloaded them and haven't had a chance to play them yet, the iPod community is wild about the whimsical puzzle game Rolando and the sports simulator Real Soccer.
Favorite reader: Instapaper … I use eReader and Stanza to download books (the latter of which allows downloads of Project Gutenberg books, which is very cool) and Net News Wire for my RSS feeds, and I also have the apps that download The New York Times and USA Today daily, though I rarely have cause to use them. The reader I use the most is Instapaper, which allows users to download full articles off the internet to read at a later date. Whenever I come across a story on Slate or Salon or what-have-you that runs more than two pages, I save it for Instapaper, and read it offline while my kids are playing on the playground. It's a great time-saver, keeping me from reading lengthy articles on my laptop when I should be working.
Honorable mention: I'd like to speak up again for Stanza, which hooks users up with some of the greatest books ever written, for free. I'm also enamored of ComicZeal, which is like a Stanza for public domain comic books: old sci-fi, romance and horror books from the '40s, plus a healthy selection of the original Plastic Man stories from Police Comics, all in surprisingly readable form.
Favorite show-off app: LED Football … There are quite a few apps on iTunes that recreate the look, sound and feel of old videogames (including a version of Atari's classic Adventure that looks just right but is practically unplayable), but the one I drag out most often, just to show off the dopey things you can put on your iPod, is a simulation of Mattel's classic handheld Football game, complete with all the kickoff bleeps and little glowing lines. The buttons even wear down if you play long enough. There's apparently a version of Football II now available, but I haven't bothered with that one yet. After all, I don't really play the thing… I just show it off.
Honorable mention: I used to show off Labyrinth (an alarmingly real-looking version of the old marble maze game) or iPint (a glass of beer you can pretend to drink), but these days I'm more inclined to show off Aqua Hoops, a fun and accurate recreation of the kind of water-basketball game you can pick up at any dollar store. I also still like MotionX Poker, a dice game in which the player shakes the iPod to roll them bones. And if I played the guitar, I'd probably do more with Pocket Guitar, a fully playable instrument that looks ugly but makes respectable music.
And now a few quickies:
Favorite social networking apps: I'm getting to the point where I prefer the iPod's Facebook app to the official site; it's cleaner, better-organized and more readable. And though it's not perfect, Twitterific allows the Twitter-addicted to update their status and read their feeds easily. (And for fun, I also occasionally look at Twinkle, a Twitter service that organizes feeds by location, so that users can find anyone who's Twittering in their immediate area, whether they "follow" them or not.)
Favorite resources: I can't stand the interface, but I can't argue with the content of i.TV, which tracks local TV line-ups and movie theater times, as well as allowing users to update their Netflix queues and find on-line clips of the programs listed in the guides. I also use Currency and Untis Convertor more often than I would've expected (for example, to calculate miles to kilometers and different money to dollars while watching The Amazing Race), and I appreciate the iPod-formatted design of Wikipanion.
Wish I had cause to use more: The downside to having an iPod Touch instead of a iPhone is that I have to use wi-fi to access many apps instead of a cel phone network. Otherwise, I'd be listening to Pandora, Stitcher (for news broadcasts), and Wolfgang's Vault (for live concert archives) all the time. As it is, I can only play them when I'm at home, and I don't have much cause to play the radio at home.
And those are the basics, for me anyway. How about you other iPod Touch and iPhone users? What apps do you most recommend?
P.S. For new iPod Touch and iPhone owners, keep an eye on these websites for all kinds of useful app news and reviews: iLounge, AppVee and Finger Gaming.