Saturday, November 29, 2008

Top Ten Best iPhone Apps (updated)

When I wrote my original list of top ten best iPhone Apps back in July, the Apps Store was only three days old and boasted under 700 apps. Fast forward four months and there are now over 8,000 apps available for download.

So, which of the 8,000 are most worthy of your attention? Well, I can't claim to have tried them all, but of those I have, these are the ten which I find most valuable.

(NB. I've only considered apps which can be downloaded from the Apps Store eligible, hence no Hahlo or BBC iPlayer - see also: Round-up of best made-for-iPhone web sites/apps).


The web's best music app in your pocket with an interface Apple would be proud off; what's not to like? Offering access to the main profile elements (Top Artists, Albums, Tracks, Recently Played, Events and Friends) and streamed radio stations based on your library, recommendations or an artist of your choice. The Information button, including tour dates overlayed on an Apple-esque calendar, are particularly invaluable and give it the edge over other iPhone music apps such as finetune.

Best for: Music geeks

2.) Google Earth

Not an app I use on a daily basis but Google Earth earns it's spot in the top ten by virtue of being so fricking cool. Fire it up and you're greeted with a distant view of our blue planet. Tap the geo-locate button and the globe starts to spin and in you zoom, until you're looking at a birds-eye view of the roof of your house. Factor in the app's use of the touch screen to zoom in and out / rotate the view and the accelerometer to tilt towards the horizon and you've got one of the most sophisticated and intuitive users of the iPhone's many virtues to date.

Best for: Globetrotters

3.) NetShare

Sadly no longer available for download from the App Store after a couple of brief periods of availability, NetShare let's you share your iPhone's 3G/Edge connection with your laptop - super useful when you're without Wi-Fi coverage but need the software and/or bigger screen that your laptop affords.

Best for: Mactards

4.) midomi

Whilst Shazam remains the app of choice for algorithmically identifying recorded music, midomi has an additional feature which makes me more likely to load it up at a party; the ability (at least in theory) to identify songs when sung or hummed. The fact that it's very rarely on the money (which, come to think of it, may be more of a comment on my friends' singing) simply adds to the fun as you wait to see what your butchered version of Dancing Queen will be identified as and, on the rare occasions when it does correctly identify a warbled tune, its extra satisfying.

Best for: Parties

5.) Stanza

Whilst clearly not the ideal device for reading an eBook on (screen size and contrast obviously compare unfavourably with dedicated eBook readers), the iPhone is the first mobile phone where it's not a wholly unbearable experience. Stanza brings an impressive 40,000 books and periodicals to the party and enough customisation options for the users to find a configuration that works for them.

Best for: Literary travellers

6.) Tube Status

Simple, single-function apps are great and they don't come much simpler than TubeStatus which provides an at-a-glance view of the current status of the various London Underground lines. Will be even more useful once there's ubiquitous Wi-Fi or mobile phone coverage on the tube.

Best for: London commuters

7.) Wikipanion

A simple but effective reversioning of the main Wikipedia site in an iPhone friendly format. Perfect for settling arguments / cheating in pub quizzes.

Best for: Pedants

8.) eBay

Like the Nintendo Wii, the eBay iPhone app is a textbook lesson in less-is-more design. The home screen has a search box and eight boxes telling you the status of the items you are watching/buying/selling.

Best for: My Dad

9.) Facebook

Whilst the genius of Twitter, the removal of Scrabulous and one too many crap applications have all conspired to keep me away from Facebook, I still log-in occasionally and when I do, it's usually on the iPhone where the clutter-free implementation (and absence of Werewolves/Zombies/Funwalls) makes it not such a painful experience.

Best for: Nosy-parkers

10.) PhotoSwop

Brilliant and scary in equal measure, PhotoSwap does exactly what it says on the tin; you take a photo using the iPhone's integrated camera and then swap it, randomly, with another PhotoSwap user's photo taken at roughly the same moment, with limited accompanying metadata (including geo-location data if they've opted to share it). Most of the time you get back a blurry image of the corner of a room or someone's thumb (at least, you hope it's their thumb...); nevertheless, the instantaneous global serendipity of it all is curiously compelling. Once sent, there is no way of recovering your photo, although you do have the option of responding to a photo with another photo of your own.

Best for: Stalkers

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Top 12 best ever songs used as samples

I had my first ever up-close-and-personal experience of karaoke on Friday night at K-Box off Leicester Square. And which song did I lose my karaoke virginity to, I hear you ask? Why, it was 'Islands in the Stream' by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton of course (although I really hit my stride with 'Suspicious Minds'...) Anyway, as a song whose melody I knew primarily from Pras Michel's 1998 hit single 'Ghetto Supastar (That Is What You Are)', it got me thinking about the best songs which have been sampled for contemporary hits. Thanks to the wonder that is YouTube, my top twelve are embedded below (NB. it's the quality of the original hook that I'm ranking here, not the track which makes use of it - hence two entries by the decidedly uncool Coolio...) Let me know what I've missed using the comments form below or over on Twitter.

1. 'Stand By Me' - Ben E. King (1961) sampled by 'Beautiful Girls' - Sean Kingston (2007)

2. 'Islands in the Stream' - Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton (1983) sampled by 'Ghetto Superstar (That Is What You Are)' - Pras Michel featuring Mýa & Ol' Dirty Bastard (1998)

3. 'The Way It Is' - Bruce Hornby and the Range (1986) sampled by 'Changes' - 2Pac (1998)

4. 'Every Breath You Take' - The Police (1983) sampled by 'I'll Be Missing You' - Puff Daddy and Faith Evans (1997)

5. 'Walk on The Wild Side' - Lou Reed (1972) sampled by 'Can I Kick It?' - A Tribe Called Quest (1991)

6. 'Under Pressure' - Queen (1981) sampled by 'Ice Ice Baby' - Vanilla Ice (1990)

7. 'Are 'Friends' Electric?' - Gary Numan/Tubeway Army (1979) sampled by 'Freak Like Me' - Sugababes (2002)

8. 'Parce Que Tu Crois' - Charles Aznavour (1966) sampled by 'Breathe' - Blu Cantrell ft. Sean Paul (2003)

9. 'Super Freak' - Rick James (1981) sampled by 'U Can't Touch This' - MC Hammer (1990)

10. 'The Last Time' - The Andrew Oldham Orchestra (1966) sampled by 'Bitter Sweet Symphony' - The Verve (1997)

11. 'Pastime Paradise' - Stevie Wonder (1976) sampled by 'Gangsta's Paradise' - Coolio (1995)

12. 'Canon in D major' - Pachelbel (1680) sampled by 'C U When U Get There' - Coolio (1997)

Thursday, November 06, 2008

US Election punditry: 47 out of 50 ain't bad

Whilst I waited nervously for the US election results to start coming in on Tuesday night I decided to have a crack at predicting the state-by-state outcome using the CNN Electoral Map Calculator. Once completed, I took a screengrab, uploaded it to TwitPic and then tweeted a link to it (timestamp: 11:53 PM). Fast-forward a few hours (although it has to be said, they didn't go particularly fast) and 47 of the 50 states had gone the way I'd predicted (I got Montana and Indiana wrong whilst Missouri was too close to call). Does a glittering career in US political punditry await or was it, despite all the noise, actually quite an easy election to call? Either way, my faith in the American electorate has been restored, Barack Obama is on his way to the White House and, praise be, they had to update this website rather than this one.