Choose Extra Applications for your iPhone
Massively enhance the value and use of
This shows the first of
six screens of apps (programs) on my iPhone 3GS.
addition to four default programs at the bottom, you can
have up to 176 additional apps on your phone, spread over up
to 11 screens.
Part of a series on the Apple iPhone - please
also visit the other articles listed on the right.
If you're only using your
iPhone as a phone, then you're massively limiting its potential.
And if you're only considering the purchase of an iPhone based
on its ability to make and receive phone calls, you're again
overlooking a huge range of additional functions it can offer
and a similar huge number of reasons to choose an iPhone
preferentially over other 'Smart phones'.
There are currently (Dec 09)
over 105,000 programs that can be run on the iPhone to vastly
extend its abilities into all sorts of amazing extra types of
Note that many/most of these
applications work with the iPod Touch as well, although the iPod
Touch has neither a built in microphone nor a built in GPS.
What Makes the iPhone So Useful
The iPhone has several
features that provide a foundation on which to build a huge
range of extra capabilities.
Obviously, it has a
reasonably large, clear, high resolution color touch screen. This is an
essential part of the interface for accepting user inputs and
displaying data outputs for just about every program.
It also has, and again
obviously, a microphone and small speaker. These can be
used not only for phone conversations, but for many other
applications as well, ranging from a sound pressure meter (using
the microphone) to an audio test tone generator (using the
speakers) and a guitar tuning aid (using both microphone and
It has a virtual keyboard
which makes it easier to type into the phone, whether for short
text messages, for entering notes and web addresses and
completing forms, or for sending lengthier emails.
It has a GPS unit inside.
The newest 3GS units also have a digital compass. This
means the phone knows where it is, and also where it is
pointing. This can be used to create some amazing 'augmented
reality' type capabilities - point the iPhone in a particular
direction, and it can tell you what you are seeing in the
distance. This is great for restaurant reviews - just
point the phone at a restaurant and it pulls up a review - and
also for tourism guides - point the phone at an interesting
sight and get an immediate explanation about what you're seeing
on the phone.
It has a camera for both
still pictures and video. In addition to the obvious uses
of this, it can also be used for innovative things such as
scanning barcodes on products and then using that information to
check the internet for comparative pricing information, and
connecting that to location information from the GPS to advise
of other nearby local stores that might have the product at
It has an accelerometer.
This can be used in conjunction with the GPS and compass to
better understand the orientation of the iPhone. It can
also be used to report on acceleration and deceleration rates,
and it can be used to sense the orientation of the phone, so it
knows whether to display something on the screen in portrait or
It also has substantial data
storage capacity - up to 32GB on the latest iPhone 3GS units.
This allows it to store lots of programs, lots of data, lots of
music and even lots of video. Its storage capacity means
you can store an entire country or continent worth of GPS map
data, so you can use your phone as a GPS unit, and without
needing to be in range of cell phone service and without having
to use data downloading (this is very beneficial when traveling
internationally where data roaming can be exorbitantly
It has Bluetooth
connectivity which can enable it to send audio streams to other
devices - not just a voice connection for a phone call, but also
a high quality stereo audio stream for music purposes. All
manner of other Bluetooth connectivity capabilities are also
available allowing for data as well as audio transfer, at least in theory, but may require extra software to be
It has high speed internet
connectivity, both by way of the cell phone wireless service and
also through Wi-Fi, making it practical to stream broad data streams
to or from the phone. Whether this is used to watch Youtube videos on the phone, or to browse the web, or for any
other purpose, the phone can be almost as functional as a laptop or
other internet connected computer device.
Add up all these
capabilities, and you end up with a location aware internet
connected device that can be used for an extraordinary range of
different things. To call this merely a smartphone is a
bit like calling Bill Gates merely well off. Indeed, I use the
phone function on the device less than most of its other
Lots of Programs but Few 'Must
Unsurprisingly, the 105,000
or more apps available for the iPhone comprise a lot of programs
that no-one is likely to ever want or use, and a huge number of
duplicate programs from multiple sources.
If you're looking for a
popular type of program such as a Twitter application, you'll
find you have dozens to choose from.
This is illustrated in
statistics about the popularity of the apps available.
While the most popular app or two can be found on many people's iPhones, by the time you reach the fifth most popular app, only
half of users have downloaded it.
By the time you reach the
1000th most popular app, a mere 1.76% of users have ever
downloaded the program, and by the time you've reached the
2000th program, almost no-one has downloaded it at all.
This can be interpreted in
different ways. One thing is for sure - it is difficult to
find the compelling 'must have' apps which tend to be submerged
in with the 100,000+ apps that will be of no interest to you
If you spent just two minutes looking at the
details of each app, and if you did this 40 hours a week, it
would take 87.5 weeks to work through them all - and by the time
you had finished, there would be another 100,000 new
apps waiting for your review. This truly could be a
How apps are counted and
To an extent, Apple has been
guilty of encouraging and playing a 'numbers game' with its apps
- app developers will slice and dice a single program into a
dozen separate apps, so as to get greater exposure in more
categories, and more opportunities to sell more products.
For example, what could
conceivably be a single dictionary/translator program with five
or seven or however many different languages can instead be sold
as many different separate translators. An English/French
dictionary. An English/German dictionary. A
French/German dictionary. And so on. This gets the
developer more exposure and more product listings, and also
enables the developer to sell more products.
Instead of buying one
combined translation/dictionary program for, perhaps $10, you
might now find yourself having to buy multiple programs, each
for $5 - it seems better when you start off buying only the one
language you need for $5, but when you've bought several more,
you've ended up paying more than you'd first anticipated.
Even more ridiculously,
individual books seem to be counted as applications too.
Someone publishes their book in electronic format and sells it
through Apple's app store and it is counted as an app.
So while Apple boasts a huge
number of applications, the actual number of bona fide real programs that you might want to install on your phone reduces
100 great, 1000 good, and
100,000 useless programs?
Most of us can probably end
up with somewhere between 50 and 100 useful applications that
appeal to us that we choose to add to our iPhone. These
are apps that will help us in some way or another better organize
and control our lives.
And it is probably fair to
say that in addition to these 50 - 100 applications that we
might wish to install, there are a range of alternative programs
similar to the ones we choose, and other apps of lesser interest
that we choose not to use. Let's say there might be 1000
programs of some possible interest worthy of consideration in total.
Which leaves over 100,000
programs of no interest to most of us at all. Even Apple is
now starting to realize that it is no longer a good thing to
boast of all the apps available, because in truth the useless
apps are obscuring the good apps, while not adding any value at
Hopefully the balance of the
information in this article series will help you to more efficiently
track down the apps you're likely to be interested in.
Where to Buy
Almost without exception,
the only place to buy applications (and/or to download the free
applications at no cost) is either via the App Store program on
your iPhone or via the iTunes program that was probably
installed on your computer when you bought your iPhone (both
take you to the same place).
Unofficial sources of
Apple is very protective of
what it allows to be sold as an official and by implication
Apple-endorsed iPhone application. This is both good and
bad - the need to go through Apple's official review and
approval process slows down the pace of program development, and
slows down the rate at which developers can release updates and
upgrades and bug fixes, too.
On the other hand, Apple
does exercise a very small modicum of quality control, and you
can be slightly reassured by this - there is less of a chance
that a 'rogue' application will turn out to be a 'trojan'
program that takes over your phone, sends all your personal data
to someone else, and generally does bad things.
Apple is very conservative
as to what applications it approves, and some developers with
edgier sorts of products that Apple will not approve, and/or
some developers impatient with the constraints and controls of
Apple's approval process have chosen to release unapproved
applications for the iPhone.
These naturally can't be
found in the official Apple iTunes store. Instead, there
are some other
sources of unofficial programs that can only be used if your
iPhone has been 'jail broken' (the first part of the unlocking
process). We provide
unlocking services ourselves, as do many other places on the
You can find out more about
these unofficial applications
here. Approach them with caution.
This article is continued in
the next article in this series,
Adding Applications to your iPhone.
Part of a series on the Apple iPhone - please
also visit the other articles listed at the
top on the right
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4 Dec 2009, last update
28 May 2011
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.