Friday, July 11, 2008

iPhone 2.0 App Review

Hmm... this seems to be turning into a review blog.

Anyway, early Thursday morning, as soon as I heard that there was a link where I could sneak a pre-release version of the 2.0 update for my iPhone, I installed it, updated iTunes, and went running to the App Store as fast as I could. Here's a quick rundown of the good, the bad, and the head-shakingly useless:

  • AIM. A Must have, of course. Slightly buggy, but it seems to do the trick so far.

  • Box Office. Very cool. Box Office looks up movie times for you by title, theatre, distance from your current location... supposedly it even supports ticket purchase right from your iPhone, but I haven't tried this one yet. One of my favorite apps already.

  • Clowdy Photo Blogger. Cute. Geotags photos you take and uploads them to share with people "near" you. Not sure I'd use it much, because there seem to be other apps that do the same thing on a bigger scale. (See Exposure.)

  • Ebay Mobile. Looks pretty cool for Ebayers. I have some feedback to leave someone, and couldn't find a way to do that; a minor irritation. Otherwise, nicely done.

  • Epocrates RX. Cool little app for identifying pills. You know, for all those unknown pills you have laying around the house. The last thing you want to do is confuse your happy pills with your husband's sad pills. (Actually, this is a really cool app.)

  • Facebook. Nicely done. Easy to use. Beats the old mobile phone version.

  • Google Mobile App. Kinda disappointing. I can't see that it does anything different than the old iPhone web version did. Don't get me wrong, I love the old version, it works great... I just expected that the new version would be, well... new.

  • Bank of America Mobile Banking. False advertising. Mobile account balance checking? Maybe. Don't expect any actual functionality, though.

  • MixMeister Scratch. Quite possibly one of the most stupid things ever done with technology. Puts a little turntable on your phone that you can "scratch" with. It would be bad enough if it worked well, but it doesn't; making this app both stupid and a failure.

  • MySpace Mobile. Very nicely done. You can even upload photos directly from your iPhone camera to your MySpace photos. Lonely old men, fat chicks pretending to be cheerleaders, and perverts everywhere will love this app.

  • Remote. Looks very cool, but haven't really had a use for it yet. It controls your iTunes library over WiFi.

  • Save Benjis. This might lead to my divorce; I can see this being something that irritates the living hell out of my wife. Save Benjis allows you to punch in a bar code or SKU number while you are shopping somewhere, and it goes out on the intergoo and searches for a better price, even allowing you to purchase right from your phone in some cases. The future kicks ass, doesn't it?

  • Urbanspoon. One of my favorites, and it cracks me up. If you are like me, many times when you get ready to go out to eat with your family or friends, no one can decide where to go. Fire up Urbanspoon, shake your accelerometer a little, and a Vegas slot-style display randomly picks a restaurant somewhere near your location... which, of course, your iPhone already figured out for you. Downside? Dayton hasn't made the list yet... but if you find yourself stuck in Columbus or Cincy... give it a spin.

  • Yelp. The idea is to be able to look up gas stations, bars, restaurants, or whatever that are close to your current location (again, as figured out by your phone.) Kinda neat, but I can't figure out how reviews get added.

  • Alarm Free. This is so stupid that you must download it. The accelerometer will set off an alarm to let you know if you drop your iPhone. (Oh, and the app has to be running in the foreground for it to work.) I don't know about you, but personally ... the clattering sound of broken plastic and battery compartments scooting across the floor lets me know I've dropped something expensive, I don't need an additional alarm sound to piss me off.

  • Evernote. Keep written, photographic, or audio notes for yourself and retrieve them on your iPhone, PC, or laptop. I don't think I'll use it much, but it is kinda neat.

  • Rotary Dialer. Puts and old-school style rotary phone dial on your iphone for dialing. I have fun just confusing all the people at work who are under thirty by handing them the phone and asking them to dial... you'd think they'd wonder why we call it "dialing a phone" instead of "punching a phone" wouldn't you?

  • Exposure. Very cool app for interfacing with your flickr account. I see flickr also has an app available, which they charge $2.99 for. Exposure is free, and while I imagine there might be a little more functionality in the flickr version, Exposure is pretty darned cool. Location-based photo viewing/searching is a lot of fun and works great with this app. The flicker app on the other hand, says "location based search coming real soon." I'll keep my $2.99 for now and stick with the freebie.

  • German. Die toilette funktioniert nicht. There are three or four free language apps in the store. Having had a wee bit experience with German, I thought I'd give this one a peek. Kinda neat, I guess. If nothing else, I know how to say that the toilet is broken.

  • iFob. This, too, looks kind of cool and promising. It's another "social networking" gadget that allows your iPhone to find other iPhones running iFob on the same WiFi connection you are on and then apparently you make friends or something. While the app appears to be very well thought out and seems to run nicely, the creator seems to have vastly overestimated the number of people who a) have iPhones b) have iFob on their iPhones and c) give a damn about making friends. FWIW, I'm going to leave this app installed and running at all times and see if it actually connects to anyone before the end of the year.

That's all my apps for now... right now I'm so thrilled with this update I could pee. (Speaking of which... I think there's an app in the App Store somewhere that will list public restrooms that are close by.)

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Music Review... sort of

Something I don't do often here... but I've been so amazed by this CD that I can't help myself. Anyway, this is more of a useless musing on my part than any sort of authentic review, since most of you will likely never hear these tracks.

I managed to come across a bootleg CD of U2's called The Working Tapes. I'm generally very conscious of intellectual property issues... I don't steal music off the Internet. I pay for what I listen to; it's only fair. I think I have one other bootleg tape (yes, tape) somewhere in my collection, but I haven't seen it in years. This one was just too rare and too tempting for a hardcore U2 fan to skip.

From what I've been able to gather from a little Googling, The Working Tapes is a CD made off of a bunch of tracks that were stolen from the studio during the early Achtung Baby recording sessions. Achtung was released in late 1991, so it's a good guess that these tapes were made sometime in late 1990 or early 1991.

What I find myself listening to over and over is exactly what the title says: working tapes. Working versions of music as it's being written and put together, and I get to listen as if I'm sitting in the corner at Windmill Lane, un-noticed. One other person lucky enough to have heard this gem said, "Eavesdropping has never been this fun."

Getting a small, rough (very rough) glimpse of what an incredible band like U2 goes through when creating a song is pretty interesting. A run down on the tracks:

  • Turn Around. I didn't first recognize the melody or most of the words as anything that ever made it into a release, except for when Bono starts in with "don't turn around" then declares, "This is the verse, yeah." Sounds like the beginnings of Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses. Ghostly, almost rambling lyrics by Bono almost sound like he's making it up on the fly. Subtle, but nice bass riff in the back.
  • Where did you go. Starts with the "Lady with a Spinning Head" riff. Sounds like Bono is feeling out melodies more than lyrics. Lots of humming, ad libbing, and the signature Bono moan/groan sound. It's obvious that at least a little studio work had been done on this one, as some background vocal tracks are mixed in there, too.
  • She's Gonna Take You Down. Starts out with strong instrumentation, with drums and bass in particular sounding like they know where they are going. Perhaps the most developed of the songs so far, which is funny, because I don't think I recognize any of the lyrics or music as anything that was ever released. There's a familiar cadence to the lyrics, that it took me a while to place but that I finally identified as the rhythm from the verses in "Lady with a Spinning Head."
  • Here Comes Changes. Wow. This doesn't open sounding like anything U2 has ever produced, or anything I would expect them to. The music sounds like something from an 8th grade slow dance at my first boy/girl party. It grows on you by the end... but again, I don't think the melody or lyrics ever saw the light of day.
  • Nothing Feels Like This. This almost sounds just like a free-for-all jam session. You can hear Bono giving the other members instructions as they go along, trying different things out. "Give me better vocal sound there!" "OK, Adam... come in... just play around maybe." "Adam, go 'round there so you can hear the drums... You know the chords by now! Same thing!" There's a persistent riff that Edge keeps going back to, and I recognize it but can't for the life of me place what song it eventually ended up in.
  • Wake up Dead Man. (1) This one, that ended up on Pop, makes an appearance here... although it's with completely different music and the only similar lyric is "Wake up, wake up dead man." There's another version of Wake up Dead Man later on this CD, too.
  • Sick for Love Disk. Nice melody, lyrics kind of ramble, but it's enjoyable. The only thing I recognize are the words, "walk on" that are repeated quite a bit.
  • Seize the Day Disk. Sounds very much like the rough beginnings of "Acrobat." Music is pretty well developed, but Bono's obviously still feeling out the lyrics. Where the finished version has, "Don't let the bastards grind you down" Bono has something else in the place of "bastard" ... it sounds like he throwing different words in there, but I can't clearly make out any of them.
  • Even Better Then The Real Thing. Yes, the track listing says "then" instead of "than." Sounds nothing like the final version. Some of the melody off of what was eventually their cover of Cole Porter's Night and Day.
  • Acrobat Different Take. The beginnings are there... you can hear Acrobat coming through, along with a hodge-podge of other riffs that made it into another song or two eventually. All musical, no lyrics.
  • Wake up Dead Man. (2) The second installment with this title on the CD. Music is almost the final version of Ultra Violet, perhaps mixed in with Lady with the Spinning Head, (which I've always thought was very similar musically to Acrobat, anyway) although lyrics are different ... same melody, different words, except for in a few spots where the words are almost the same.
  • With the Spinning Head. Musical, no lyrics. Nice tune, but nothing I think I've heard before.

All in all, this is an incredible piece to own, and I'm going to guard it as closely as I guard the T-shirt Bono signed for me in 1987. I read in a few places that the band was really pissed over the theft and release of these tracks when it happened; and I can understand why: the listener is getting to hear unpolished U2 building songs from the ground up.

Sorry, lads... I just had to have it. And no, I won't burn you a copy.