What are the best iPhone apps for killing time?
Some people use their iPhones for conducting business or keeping in touch with friends and family. Still others, it has been reported this week, use iPhones as a hacking tool, lugging the benign looking device into sensitive areas so they can break the law covertly.
Personally, I prefer using the iPhone as a time killer. Any app that I can add to my phone that will distract me from my everyday routine will do just fine. Luckily the iPhone offers a seemingly infinite number of solutions for boredom. Here are my seven favorite apps — the ones that will distract me from work (or play) every time.
Simple explanation here — almost 1,000 police, fire, EMS, and other emergency service frequencies to listen in on. This may be a geek holdover from my childhood, but I love listening in on an armed robbery or a good old fashioned hostage situation. On the serious side, you can probably find an emergency service in your area, and in a storm or other natural disaster this app could actually help keep you safe. I got this app for my parents because they live in an area affected by both Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Ike — if they can keep their phone charged by generator, they can keep an ear on the situation locally.
This app retails for 99 cents at the iTunes app store, and is usually pretty high on the app popularity list. That means a lot of you knew about this way before I did. Even so, I find myself going back to this app every day for my EMS fix. The app has cool features that your police scanner probably doesn’t have — you can save channels you want to come back to with a simple “bookmark” system, and the screen shows a list of common emergency codes while you listen.
This music app is nothing new. In fact, one of the first “app commercials” I saw showed Shazam in action. The basic idea behind Shazam is to sell you music, but you don’t have to be in the market for new tunes to enjoy Shazam’s unique skills. Hold the iPhone up to a source of music (be it speakers, an instrument, or even the human body) and Shazam will find the artist, the track, the album, where to find that artist’s videos on YouTube, and all kinds of other information, including (of course) the offer of purchasing the music. There’s a feature on Shazam that I don’t think most people really use — you can “tag” a song that you’ve found and send it to your friends. Okay, so it’s kind of a hipster way to share music, but it is really easy and one of a kind.
An updated version of Shazam is now available for free from the Apple app store. Have fun.
At just 99 cents, this addicting mini game takes one of George W. Bush’s infamous Spoonerisms and turns it into a turn based strategy game of world domination. This is not the prettiest game. You won’t be wowed by realistic soldiers firebombing their neighbor states. In fact, the game interface is a simple but attractive collection of wildly colored hexagons. Doesn’t sound fun, does it? Slide the Strategery app in between your Settings and Voice Menu and you’ll be hooked in no time.
The gameplay is similar to popular world domination game Risk, or the game Dice Wars if you’re familiar. It is easy to learn but definitely not easy to beat. What may sound like a toss off title (come on — are we still making fun of Bush for talking like an idiot?) is the most commonly used app on my iPhone right now. Yes, the game is that addictive.
Look for Strategery at iDrinkApp.com
Ever since Amazon.com acquired this “reader” app it has been popular. I’ve been enjoying Stanza since early last summer when it first appeared. Stanza is much too cool for a decent review in this article. Let me just say this — if you don’t have this *free* book reader on your iPhone you are wasting your iPhone’s capabilities. Stanza lets you read eBooks, digital newspapers, and other digitally formatted text files.
Unlike the Amazon Kindle, you can change the font, colors, and other features of the text you’re reading. Basically, you can keep your own private library on your iPhone or iPod touch. You can even share export these books and other files to other digital devices, like the Kindle or other eReader.
I have too many issues with the Kindle to get into here. It’s a sensitive area. The Stanza app, which is free (though with an eye toward selling books) has changed the way I read.
Download Stanza at lexcycle.com
“Paint” applications have been around since before PCs were in every home, and they all had one thing in common — they sucked.
Brushes, available through the iTunes app store for $5, allows you to make works of art on your iPhone that look like they were painted on a canvas. The texture of the brushes is perfect, the colors are vivid (and limitless), and the user features that come with the program only make the experience more valuable. Understand that the picture quality is top notch — The New Yorker magazine ran a front page painting done exclusively on an iPhone using the Brushes app
If you’re sick of trying to use MS Paint (succeeding only in scribbling) or are looking for a new kind of distraction for your iPhone, Brushes is one of my favorite apps ever designed.
Enter your favorite band, genre, or decade, and the (absolutely free) Last.fm app will create a personalized playlist for you on the go. For free. No subscription required. The Last.fm library is over 5 million songs strong, so you can expect a generous helping of tunes from across the musical spectrum.
Users can easily “teach” their radio station about their tastes using the “Love” or “Ban” option — hate a song or an artist that pops up? Ban it forever.
There are tons of band and artist bios, as well as tracklistings for certain tunes — even more interesting for me is the option to check if a band is touring and to view a list of tour dates. Don’t worry about losing your station for the most part. The app will stream music even if you aren’t near a wireless connection, as long as that area is 3G capable.
There are some downsides. It would be nice to be able to look for artist bios or tracklists without having them appear in your station — that’s impossible with this app. Also, sometimes the app is a little sketchy and doesn’t quickly deliver results for a new user initiated station. Still, I take my Last.fm app lumps and all. What more could you ask for from a free radio app?
Don’t waste your time paying for the ‘full version’ of the game — all it does is remove the ads which are totally bearable.
Touch Hockey is, like the name says, a game of “air hockey” for your fingers. The perfect way to kill time when you’ve got a friend to help, Touch Hockey is also an addictive game, probably because of the simple game play.
Users can alter the “game board” itself — customize your goal size and the score needed for a player to win. The developers of this game, FlipSide5, have made a ton of games based around flipping the iPhone on its side and “touching” to interact — no doubt you’ve seen or played Tic-Tac-Touch, Touch4 and Touch Tennis.
This seemingly simple app is a great icebreaker and time waster all in one.