October 5, 2008

iPod Touch Apps: Worth Their Hype?

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I asserted a year ago that I would return to writing about my iPod Touch (1G) to give my extended impressions of the device after more usage. The new Touch is already out, but the differences between it and mine are purely in hardware and are moot in this article. Over the past year, Apple opened their App Store, gave Touch owners the suite of apps that was initially missing and added new features and fixes to the Touch. All of that became accessible through a $10 update, which holds much more value than the $20 previously asked for just the app suite. I’m now running software v.2.1. Mail works beautifully, and the Chinese handwriting recognition keyboard is very well-implemented. What still bugs me though, is the
inability to switch off the word auto-suggest feature while typing. Every time I go to type my last name somewhere, my Touch will substitute in the word “By” unless I explicitly go up and click the tiny little ‘x’. This is just one example of many words that have been repeatedly incorrectly guessed (I’ll assume this thing has no learning algorithm). Also, as mentioned in my first review last year, I still can’t rotate the keyboard while on the keyboard screen, which is a nuisance.

I’ve spent (wasted) a fair bit of money on apps. But here’s a review of what I have on my Touch now:

Texas Hold-Em: It’s made by Apple, so it’s held up to a high quality standard. Out of all the launch games, this one delivered just as much content as the other hyped-up games for half the cost. It’s also the only game I have with multiplayer capability.

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Diner Dash: This is a complete port from the PC version. It’s quite fun to play and has a very intuitive control scheme. The one little thing that bothered me was the inability to see while rearranging customers in their seats because your finger’s blocking the screen. Besides that, this is a good buy.

Enigmo: Pangaea ported this game from the Mac. It’s a puzzle game similar to The Incredible Machine (except not quite as complex) with the ability to download user-created levels directly from within the app. That automatically adds tons of value to this app. The controls work well, the stock levels are fun and challenging, and with Pangaea’s sale on all their apps (75% off), this is an incredible buy.

Bugdom 2: This is another port from Pangaea, but I don’t like this one as much. The controls, especially the camera, are a little awkward, and the levels are way too long between saves. The frame rate is poor in some parts of the game. I also ran into a stupid situation where my save was when I had no health and no lives left, so I had to complete each level without being touched, but I suppose that’s my fault. Still, I don’t think the Touch is well-suited for this kind of game.

Dizzy Bee: For only a few bucks, this is a cool game to get. It’s a tilt-accelerometer puzzle game, where you have to rescue fruits without touching the wild assortment of baddies. The graphics are quite juvenile, and may not be for everyone. The second half of the game is very difficult. I was redoing levels in great frustration, but when a game is this simple, I guess that’s part of the fun. There’s a free demo available called Dizzy Bee Lite.

Super Monkey Ball: This is the most hyped-up game at launch, and SEGA really botched it. The controls are terrible. They cannot be recalibrated or tuned, and the way your monkeyball moves is entirely stupid: he can only move forward and turn, which also turns the screen. The combination of fickle controls and extremely difficult levels makes this game unplayable. Add in the fact that there’s no replay value (but who needs it when you can’t even beat the stock levels) and you have one disappointing (and that’s an understatement) launch game. Believe me, this game had me spewing expletives for hours.

Koi Pond: The only reason I bought this $1 app was that it remained the top paid app for almost a month. It’s pretty much just a tech demo. The graphics are pretty and you can have limited interaction with the koi. That’s about it, though.

Facebook: This is the essential app for Facebook users, and it works very well. It’s also free, so just get it.

AIM: It’s the official AIM app, and it works as expected. It puts all active conversations into a separate tab, but I think I like the way Meebo handled it better. Anyway, this is free and is expected to support push once that framework is available. Until then, this pretty much goes unused here.

As you can see, the hype can be very deceptive around certain apps. You really should be able to demo an app before you buy it. Either that, or you should simply wait for the reviews to come in (it wasn’t long before people discovered the horrors of Monkey Ball). The thing that everyone’s still waiting on is the push framework. Push IMs and email (without using MobileMe) would be a huge step up for the pure utility of the Touch.