More Bad iPhone Apps
This is the second part of my review of iPhone apps unworthy of your ninety nine cents. You can read the first part here.
Certain applications are well-written and might have been quite useful, if only they weren’t designed to rip you off. Take Textfree for example. This app is advertised in the iPhone app store as giving you unlimited free text messaging. The app costs just under six bucks – not cheap by iPhone store standards – and allows you to send and receive SMS messages via Textfree’s email service. When people respond to your messages sent from Textfree, their messages also cost you nothing.
This could have been convenient – not to mention economical – if it wasn’t for one little gotcha: apparently there is a hidden yearly fee for using Textfree. While the description for this app in the iPhone store promises unlimited free messages, this offer is in fact limited to one year and after the first year is up, you will be charged extra.
How much extra? Nobody really tells you, so, I guess, it’s supposed to be a special surprise for you. There is more. Textfree promises a text messaging experience free of spam. Yet, if you open this app right after installing it, there is preloaded spam already waiting for you.
As if that was not annoying enough, sometimes when you launch Textfree, it will display pop-up ads for other iPhone apps. So to summarize Textfree: hidden costs, spam, pop-up ads. Otherwise, it is a nice app if you don’t mind having someone’s hand down your pocket.
Private Pics is a characteristic example of a good idea poorly implemented. This app allows you to create password-protected folders for all those snapshots you take with you iPhone. Not a bad idea, considering that certain photos are best kept private. When you run Private Pics for the first time, you choose your password and set up as many different protected folders for your photos as you want. You can have a folder for your receipts, a folder for the classified documents you photographed while digging through the papers on the desk of your commanding officer, and a folder for the photos of you and your ex-KGB friends using a jar with a radioactive isotope to pull a practical joke on a former colleague. Ah, all the fun things we do…
Private Pics will show you all the images in your default iPhone photo folder and you can tap on them to add them to the password-protected folder of your choice. The images are then copied from the default folder to the protected folder. This copy process actually duplicates content on disk and this makes the application sluggish. After you finish copying the photos to the protected folder, you must not forget to go to the default folder and delete the originals. Why couldn’t Private Pics simply moved the photos instead of copying them is beyond me. This would have made the app much faster and more secure.
In my book, any security application that relies on the end user not to forget to do something is absolutely useless. Adding to the overall inconvenience, Private Pics displays images in a one-per-line arrangement, also showing when the image was added to the gallery. While in certain circumstances this information may be useful, this layout means a lot of scrolling. Private Pics provides no options for controlling the layout of galleries, the size of thumbnails, or sorting options.
Another application that could have bee useful, if it’s authors put a little extra thought into it, is Speak It! – a text-to-speech utility for iPhone. The voice quality was surprisingly decent and almost comparable to TTS applications for desktop computers. Regretfully, this app has a couple of annoying problems that completely negate all it’s positive aspects. Imagine that you pasted some text from, say, a Web page into Speak It! You clicked the “Read It!” and it’s not reading it! Your text is too long: a memory limitation Speak It! developers have conveniently forgot to disclose in the product description.
Now, suppose you cut down your long text down to size and Speak It! is now actually reading it back to you. Then your iPhone automatically locks and Speak It! stops reading. This app is not smart enough to tell iPhone not to turn off the sound. Or imagine this: you typed some text into Speak It! text window and then you had to leave the app temporarily to make a call. When you re-open Speak It!, the text you spent five minutes typing in is now gone. The app gives you an option of saving text, but it will not save anything on exit by default. Very annoying.
Poor quality of most iPhone apps is matched by low standards for accuracy of application descriptions in the iPhone store. A promise of free and unlimited usage, for example, in some cases guarantees you either one or the other, but not both at the same time. Promised functionality is delivered only under specific circumstances not disclosed before sale. It would seem Apple is making too much money on iPhone apps to put it’s foot down and enforce some basic requirements to maintain product quality and to squash false advertising. The kind of people who would buy an iPhone in the first place, would not mind spending a little bit of money on half-baked gadgets and software. Still, this is no reason to take advantage of them.