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Home » Applications, Cell Phones

Bad iPhone Apps

Submitted by on July 29, 2009 – 4:37 pm5 Comments

Oh quit your whining, you will say, they are just a couple bucks each, so no big loss if some iPhone apps turn out to be trash. True, but they are so addictive. My first iPhone store bill was $62.98. This was in just the first week since I bought the damn thing and on top of the hundreds of dollars I already dropped at the Apple store on the phone, the car charger, the extra battery pack, the leather case, the data plan from AT&T and on some other worthless junk I can’t quite remember right now. Here is the simple fact about iPhone apps: the vast majority of them are absolutely, completely, utterly useless.

What exactly do I mean by “useless”? These apps are designed to do things nobody really needs. And if someone actually does need what they do, these apps are full of bugs. Any software has bugs, you will say, so why should iPhone apps be any different? Yes, software without bugs is like a fast food restaurant without cockroaches: impossible. But iPhone apps seem to consist entirely of roaches, I mean bugs. To understand this phenomenon we need to know how most of these apps are created. The goal of software designers, obviously, is to make a profit. Most of iPhone apps are made by individual developers or small teams of programmers. These people lack substantial R&D or marketing budgets. Their only hope of turning a profit is to find a niche in the very limited and highly competitive iPhone market and to fill that niche as quickly as humanly possible.

Let’s say you see demand among iPhone users for mobile banking and personal finance apps. You spend countless sleepless nights developing such an app and push it through the iPhone store as quickly as possible, before someone comes up with something better. The problem is: you don’t know the first thing about personal finance software and so you learn and improvise as you go. The result: without exceptions, everything listed in the iPhone store under the “Finance” category is barely functional and entirely useless junk.

At this point some examples are in order. I was looking for a simple app that would show my cash flow for the next few weeks. I needed an app where I could enter my paycheck, recurring bills, bank balances and the app would show be a simple timeline plot of my bottom line. Let’s say I am at Best Buy looking at big screen TVs. The one I like is two grand and, according to my bank balance, I have more than enough to get it, but will I have enough left to cover all upcoming bills of which I have a great many? A timeline chart of my bank balance would help me to see if dropping two big ones on a TV today would put me in a hole, say, three weeks from now after my mortgage payment posts. From a programming standpoint, this is a relatively simple task: to chart account balance as a function of time based on recurring transactions and you will find this feature in MS Money, Quicken, iBank and a number of other personal finance applications.

I do not want to be standing in the middle of the store using iPhone’s tiny keyboard to balance my checkbook before making a purchasing decision. I just need a simple, visual ballpark estimate of my buying ability. Out of hundreds of personal finance apps available in the iPhone store only one offers such a rudimentary feature as a cash flow chart: iBearMoney. This app is bloated, complicated, buggy and slow. The resulting cash flow chart is useless because the app’s author had the brilliant idea of averaging out all your bills and paychecks over the period of the report. What you get as the result is not the jagged line reflecting scheduled expenses and deposits, but a smooth wavy curve, as if you were getting paid, say, $300 every day as opposed to $4200 once every two weeks.

iBearMoney Cash flow chart

iBearMoney Cash flow chart

In the example above, I added my bi-weekly paychecks and for the expenses I only put in my mortgage payment. As you can see, the app evenly split up my income and expenses into weekly installments, making the resulting chart completely inappropriate for tracking cash flow. This might have been useful if I was paying my mortgage in daily hundred-dollar installments, buying groceries one meal at a time, or putting just enough fuel in my car to get to the next gas station.

How hard would it have been to get this feature right? It took me a grand total of two days to write a Korn shell script and a Web interface to produce the desired result. Doing this with a shell script is like playing a violin wearing oven mitts. The resulting chart (done with GNUPlot) may not be pretty, but it forecasts balance of my checking account with reasonable accuracy. Every time the line goes up – it’s a paycheck. And every time the line drops down – it’s a bill. Looking at the chart below, it is clear that, if I was going to drop two grand on a TV, I should wait at least until the middle of September (provided there were no other unexpected expenses between now and then). Luckily for me, this chart shows my checking account after I bought the TV, he-he…

Cash flow chart: how it should be done

Cash flow chart: how it should be done

iBearMoney was not my first attempt to find a usable personal finance app for iPhone. There were also iBank Mobile, Banking, and a few others that I have since uninstalled and now can’t remember their names. iBank Mobile is useless unless you have a Mac running iBank software. This app is designed to synchronize with iBank, otherwise there is not much you can do with it. The Banking app supposedly can pull your account balances from your bank. It claims to support many different banks, including Wachovia. I needed that. Unfortunately, Wachovia no longer accepts new sign ups for mobile baking service and plans to discontinue it altogether. Bummer…

My baking apps

My baking apps

iBank Mobile

iBank Mobile

iPhone "Banking" app

iPhone "Banking" app

Let’s see what other useless iPhone app junk I bought… Well, there is one app called the CalenGoo: an app that syncs up your gmail calendar with your iPhone. Other than it being very slow and not actually syncing gmail calendar to iPhone calendar (instead CalenGoo keeps its own calendar, which is a bit redundant), initially I had no major problems with this app and it almost seemed useful until the day I had an important telecon…

CalenGoo helps you miss important telecons

CalenGoo helps you miss important telecons

You see, CalenGoo does not recognize phone numbers in your scheduled events and so there is no way to dial a number directly from this app. You can copy the phone number, but there is no way to paste it into the keypad screen of your iPhone. And so the only alternative is to have a piece of paper and a pen handy to write down the number and the access code for the phone conference and then manually dial it in. Unfortunately, I had no paper or pens and my memory is not what it used to be: I can no longer memorize a seventeen-digit number on the fly. To make things worse, CalenGoo’s screen layout is very cramped with eency weency fonts and the app does not support landscape format.

Zagat tells me I will have to go hungry tonight

Zagat tells me I will have to go hungry tonight

I firmly believe that one should not do anything on an empty stomach, but finding a good restaurant in an unfamiliar place may be difficult. Zagat to Go ’09 is one of the more expensive iPhone apps at $10 and is supposed to be packed with tens of thousands of expert reviews of restaurants and hotels. During my recent trip to Dewey Beach in Delaware I tried to use Zagat to find an appropriate place to eat. Everywhere I looked there was a restaurant or a burger joint of some kind and so I was a bit surprised when Zagat informed me that the only place to eat within a 2-mile radius was an Outback Steakhouse. I was not in the mood for a greasy, burned steak and so I uninstalled Zagat and walked into the sea food restaurant across the street from where I was standing. The food was great. Zagat claims to have 40,000 reviews in their database. Perhaps they need to expand it a bit. I think a better alternative to Zagat app is the UrbanSpoon, which was free and gave me nothing to complain about.

I will try to continue with iPhone reviews in the near future. Perhaps, I will even find some that don’t suck. Right now, however, all this talk about food made me hungry…

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  • http://www.navigon.com Sharon Garland

    I bought Navigon, a navigational App, cost: a whopping $119.00! I bought the one for Europe and it didn’t work anywhere in France or England. A message would appear on the screen that there wasn’t enough power anyplace I tried to use it. However, Google maps, which comes preloaded in the Iphone 3 worked just fine (thank God or I would still be somewhere in Northern France). Do I have any recourse?

  • Pingback: KrazyWorks » Useful iPhone Apps()

  • josh12rox

    A lot of application are out there which are basically called price comparison applications. What I am loking here is a feature in those applications that enables me to compare the products browsed by them. So if I want to compare the products Galaxy s3 and iphone 5, i am given filters like :”Compare based on price”, “Compare based on specification”,etc. Is there any such mobile application out there?

  • veemodz

    I’ve bought lots of apps and installed in iphone4. But now i want to restore it. Now i want to know what would happen to the apps after restoring before i really do it. Would them still stay in iphone or they would be gone?
    If they would be gone, what should i do to get them back, should i buy them again in itunes? That would be a huge loss for me.

  • Jairo

    Basically I need money to get me out of Florida and out of a bad situation.
    I have an Iphone 3gs in great condition (no service and updated to 4) and a bunch of pre-bought Apps such as
    Final Fantasy 1&2 and LadiDa and a few more
    about 14.28 GB which will be even more once I delete my pictures and music.
    …any more ideas?

  • Motordom

    I hate sprint but I’m suck with it for another year with a really bad phone. I want to get the iPhone 4 because of itunes and crap, how much would it cost?