Since the App Store opened its doors a year ago, more than 50,000 iPhone apps have found a place on Apple’s virtual shelves. And we have to be honest here—a solid majority of those 50,000 apps are not all that memorable. But just as assuredly, there are more than a few apps that have made a name for themselves in the past year and, in their own way, helped make the App Store the success story that it is.
We’re not necessarily talking about the best iPhone apps here—we listed our favorite iPhone apps at the end of 2008 (and we’ll do so again, in a much bigger way, at the end of this year). Rather, we’re focusing on apps that made an impact, whether by way of quality, innovation, popularity, or sheer chutzpah.
We asked our iPhone-using editors to name the most significant apps to appear on the scene since the App Store’s July 2008 launch and came up with a list of 12—one for each month that the App Store’s been open. Not every app on our list is a must-have—the presence of a gas-passing simulator should be your first clue there. But we think this collection represents apps that, for better or worse, have defined the iPhone platform. These are the programs that, a year into the App Store’s existence, give us an overview of the state of third-party development for the iPhone.
Hey, we didn’t say that you would find every one of these apps within the App Store itself. Because one of the iPhone’s most important applications is one you won’t find in any Apple-sanctioned emporium—Cydia, the installer application for jailbroken iPhones and iPod touches. It’s through Cydia that you can install tools for accessing the complete contents of your iPhone or iPod touch as well as add applications that provide capabilities not provided (or allowed) by Apple. With Cydia installed, any jailbroken iPhone can shoot video, tether, stream video, download YouTube videos, file applications into folders, bear a customized interface, and much more (Free; Jay Freeman).
The iPhone platform is fast becoming a gaming juggernaut, rivaling the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP in capabilities—and dwarfing both platforms combined in terms of the number of available titles. But among the iPhone’s most compelling games is one of the simplest: Flight Control. An onscreen airfield features two runways and one or two helipads; as planes and helicopters appear on the screen, you use your fingertip to create a flight path from each to its proper landing site. Sound easy? It is until your airspace starts to get crowded, forcing you to manage those flight paths to avoid collisions.
Really, this space could go to iFart. Or myFart. Or FartFX. Or any one of the dozens upon dozens of off-color noise-making apps that turn up when you type a certain slang term for passing gas into the App Store’s search engine. It’s not something that Apple is likely to tout at its next iPhone press event and we’re not sure we entirely understand the phenomenon ourselves, but the fact remains: There are a lot of offerings in the App Store whose sole function is to simulate the sound of breaking wind. We like to think novelty apps like iFart Mobile maybe inspired their developers to move on to creating bigger and better things once the novelty died down or that App Store shoppers looking for flatulence apps might have been tempted to try out some of the more useful apps available for download in the store. Nevertheless, there’s no denying these kind of programs had their finger on the pulse of the App Store in its first year, and that a lot of customers were eager to pull that finger ($1; InfoMedia).
MLB.com At Bat
If you’re looking for an example of how much an app can evolve in the short span of a year, consider the changes that MLB.com’s At Bat has undergone. The app was there from Day One of the App Store, offering live scores, game status data, and in-game video highlights from Major League Baseball games. By the fall, MLB.com released an update that made in-game data even more accessible with play-by-play and pitch information that mirrored what you’d find on Major League Baseball’s Web site.
There are those who will lament no longer having to listen to the strange intonations of the Moviefone guy, but Movies by Flixster brings the cinema outing into the 21st century. Sure, you could go to Google or one of the numerous movie showtime Web sites, but Flixster one-ups those offerings by allowing you to quickly and easily find showtimes for movies in your area: no need to wrangle with ZIP codes, thanks to the iPhone’s location services. Can’t decide on a movie? Movies lets you skim through reviews from Rotten Tomatoes as well as comments by fellow users. You can also browse upcoming movies and DVD releases and Facebook users can connect with their accounts to keep track of their favorite movies. Movies is a great example of how a single application can collect information on a subject from disparate sources around the Internet and mold it together into a single, easy-to-use format (Free; Flixster).
Cute though Apple’s gum-stick-like hardware remote control is, it’s a limiting way to command an iTunes library or Apple TV because it requires that you repeatedly mash buttons to work your way through your media’s hierarchy. With Apple’s free Remote app you can bid that hardware remote a dry-eyed goodbye. Not only does it let you navigate an iTunes library or Apple TV with ease, but it displays the contents of each on the iPhone or iPod touch’s screen—thus letting you move to just the music or video you want without a lot of tiresome button presses. And because it works via Wi-Fi rather than infrared, you can exert control over your media from just about anywhere in your home. Remote control of your computer and media devices is a powerful thing, and Apple led the way with this app (Free; Apple).
A lot of games arrive on the iPhone after making their name on other platforms. There’s nothing wrong with that, certainly, but games created specifically for the iPhone and iPod touch hold a special place in our heart. After all, the best of these iPhone originals are created with the idea of taking advantage of the platform’s unique features. Ngmoco has quickly established itself as one of the top iPhone game makers with a stable of unique and creative apps.
Should you ever need to convince Mr. Van Winkle that the iPhone he’s recently heard so much about truly is a miracle worker, take him down to the local drinkery, wait for a song to start playing, fire up Shazam, tap Tag Now, point the iPhone’s mic at the music’s source, and observe the shock on his face when, scant seconds later, the name of the song appears on the iPhone’s screen along with links for watching associated YouTube videos, browsing reviews, viewing the artist’s biography and discography, and, in some cases, displaying the song’s lyrics. Shazam gets far more than it misses and is an amazing demonstration of the power of the iPhone coupled with a remarkable audio analysis algorithm (Free; Shazam Entertainment).
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Macworld’s Christopher Breen, Dan Frakes, Dan Moren, and Philip Michaels contributed to this report.
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