Navigating the iPhone App Store

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Browsing through the iTunes App store is a very simple and intuitive process thanks to Apple’s unparalleled taste in simplicity and aesthetics. It is the latest spin-off of the wildly popular music store that also boasts movies, music videos and iPod games. Compared to other clunky online music-purchasing services, the iTunes Store was quickly the natural choice in browsing and purchasing music and it now is the #1 music retailer in the USA over the likes of bricks-and-mortar competitors Wal-Mart and Best Buy. It is easy to assume that the one-month-old App Store has no rival in its ease of use and a seemingly impressive collection of new mobile apps to choose from. Whereas a customer could already be familiar with the choice of music or video they were purchasing from Apple, picking apps to pair with your iPhone or iPod Touch can be an exercise in frustration, joy and exasperation (sometimes all at once).

There are many factors that involve the decision to download an app. Can you afford to roll the dice and purchase something without truly knowing if it will be worth it? The price point of most programs is between five and ten dollars. Other programs, such as a music beat creator program called Beatmaker, can still be quite a steal at twenty dollars due to their value compared to similar PC programs. Other apps such as Netter’s Anatomy Flash Cards may cost forty dollars but are of great value to medical students who normally would have to purchase the more expensive and bulkier actual flash cards of the same name. But who is thrilled about paying ten dollars for rehashed classic games such as Tetris, Pac-man or Frogger? The money from these games has long ago been a cash cow for their respective publishers so pricing them at bargain rates would have been nice for first-time App Store customers who have to put up with glitches, bugs and overall poor performance in the initial versions of these games.

There are other questions. Will the app suffer performance issues that will cause the program or game to be hindered or, even worse, cause the iPhone to freeze or crash? One would assume this problem would mostly affect new programmers or companies but any app can have major problems that can adversely affect its performance. Of the several apps installed in this writer’s iPhone 3G, by far the worst apps that are prone to crashing are AOL’s AIM chat program, Facebook, and Myspace Mobile-all of which are from the biggest online companies. Can these faceless programmers, some from well-known companies such as eBay and others new to the game, really be trusted with your time and money even after passing Apple’s totalitarian system in order to post their apps on the store? There have been reports of some apps gaining access to personal information such as your contacts. Others, such as the NY Times, can annoy the user with ads that distract from an otherwise promising app. At worst these apps can actually cause your iPhone or iPod Touch to completely crash, effectively killing any other tasks the device was performing and then showing the silver Apple logo while taking minutes to fully start up.

In the first of a continuous series guiding you through the App Store maze of programs, games and utilities I’ll present you a collection of the silliest and most useless apps to have the hit the fledgling store yet. Although the stakes are low in this series as these apps are cheap or free, you might want to pass on these and try to uncover other apps worth your time and money.

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