Appiphilia: reviews of iPhone applications that make fake calls, inventory your closet, navigate L.A. and record voice*
Updated at 1:58 p.m. with a more detailed explanation of the iTalk application's color system.
Those of us with appiphilia -- an irresistible urge to download iPhone applications -- need some help sorting through what's worthwhile in Apple's App Store. Because iPhone apps seem to multiply with every click, we're starting this new weekly series, Appiphilia, to highlight and review a few that catch our fancy. We'll tell you which are the must-haves or the must-be-kiddings or those that fall somewhere in between.
In this first installment, we're looking at four apps that help with getting dressed, getting around, getting out of a sticky situation and getting it on the record.
SATC Carrie's Closet (free)
What it is: This is one of the few apps pegged to a movie -- in this case a DVD debut. (The Dark Knight app launched when the newest Batman film hit theaters and let you adorn photos in true Joker style.) Carrie's Closet launched shortly after the recent release of the girls' guilty pleasure "Sex and the City" in take-home version.
What sizzles: First of all, the ability to photograph, categorize and catalog what's in your closet. Are you kidding me? That's a dream. It's a bit like what Cher had in "Clueless," except in your hand. I added all of my shoes, purses and glasses. The ability to send that list of potential outfits to friends before a big date makes getting feedback from numerous trusted fashion sources a bit more civilized. Of course, it's wrapped inside a promotion for the movie. But most of us have learned to look beyond product placements.
You do need good lighting to snap photos of the items that are of much use. Remember, you're doing it with your iPhone camera. (My snapshots looked a bit fuzzy and the color was a tad drab.)
What fizzles: I get that this is a marketing tool that happens to do something for users. But really, the theme music that blasted every time I launched the app initially is not cute. (You can turn it off by going into the Settings for your iPhone and finding the app. But that shuts off all music, including the music clips from the movie that come with the app.) Man, was that annoying. Every time I opened the closet, I was outed as tapping something not related to work and specifically something "Sex and the City" related. Again, maybe great in theory for marketing purposes, but, free or not, it could ...
... cause a person to delete the app just to get the music to stop.
Bottom line: Ultimately, was it promotion dressed up in an app, or an app adorned with a bit of promotion? Depends on what mirror you're looking in. For me, it was more the latter. Either way, the designers should consider fashioning it with more flexibility and user control.
ITrans LA Metrolink ($4.99)
What it is: This app gives you details on the Metrolink train schedules throughout Southern California. (For Angelenos, ITrans offers one for the same price for Metro Rail as well. And for our visitors outside of the city limits, there are similar apps for New York City, New Jersey and Chicago.)
Sure, you have an iPhone, so obviously you can access the Metrolink website and get schedules. But have you tried it? It's a bit clumsy. I've never been able to scroll through easily. This app is better.
What sizzles: Using the internal GPS (on the iPhone 3G), the app locates the nearest Metrolink station. Tapping on that station brings up schedules of lines that pass through that station.
And if you fall asleep during your ride home, you can tap the bottom left icon to determine where you are and whether you've missed your stop!
What fizzles: The description says the app will give you "step-by-step directions between any two L.A. Metrolink stations." But that screen displayed above, which I snagged from iTunes, never showed up on my iPhone. Unfortunately, every destination I chose over a couple of days produced no directions and a message: "Unable to route. Try a different destination or try again later." That train has yet to make it into the station.
And I'm a bit skeptical about the advisories. When I tapped the bottom right, Metrolink advisories were supposed to be available. The last update listed was from Sept. 24. It read: "Trains are operating on or close schedule." Lots of people experiencing significant delays on the Orange County line today wish that were the case.
Bottom line: The trip-planning functionality needs to be fixed and the advisories updated to really be more than a train schedule in your hand. And if the developers add the ability to search Amtrak schedules, then you've really got a deal.
Fake Calls (99 cents )
What it is: Get caught on the worst date ever? Or just want to have a reason to duck out of a meeting or end a pointless conversation? This app can help with a bit of a fake out.
You tap the app, triggering "Fakecall mode." Within seconds, the phone's call screen appears, the phone rings and the buttons to accept and decline calls surface. And voila, with an, "I'm sorry, I've got to take this call," you're free.
What sizzles: It's really believable. The look and the sound. You can set the photo screen that pops up to mimic how calls appear on your phone. And yeah, it actually took me a few tries to figure out that no one was really calling me.
What fizzles: There should be an easier trigger. With a touch screen, you really have to look at the screen to make sure you're touching the right virtual button -- especially if you have pages of apps. It's not all that slick to page through to get to it and then have the phone ring REALLY RING, LIKE SOMEONE CALLING YOU. So you'd be best served having your fake out be premeditated.
Bottom line: It's a better idea than faking an allergic reaction during a dinner date gone wrong.
iTalk Recorder (free)
What is it: This app turns your phone into a digital recorder. Mac users, you can transfer the audio from your iPhone to a computer after downloading an additional application for your computer. (Griffin says the Windows XP/Vista version is coming soon.) Audio is saved as an AIFF file. To transfer, both applications must be active, and you need a Wi-Fi connection.
What sizzles: The interface is simple and intuitive. You name the file, decide what quality you want and start recording. You can also add text notes to the recording and adjust the order in which the recordings are listed.
The audio quality is pretty darn good considering the microphone you're using is a phone mic. Also, you can record using your stereo mic on iPhone-friendly headphones.
Another plus: You don't have to worry about violating anyone's privacy -- it won't let you record phone calls in progress.
What fizzles: It won't let you record phone calls in progress.
The color scheme is off. Typically, green means go and red means stop. You'll notice in the screen shot that you press red to start recording. Once rolling, the big circle turns green -- that's what you touch to stop. Yes, the words on the screen guide you, but that's just too confusing. Don't make me read while I'm recording. [UPDATE: I posted this in the comments below, but it's worth repeating: I understand that red is the color for "record" on just about every recording device out there. I know from my years as a multimedia producer that when you record, the lights generally glow red, not green. But my point was that I found it strange that when you're recording with iTalk, a green orb appears on the screen. To me, a red orb would have seemed a more logical way to illustrate that the app is recording.]
Bottom line: Confusing color issues aside, this is one of the best free apps I've downloaded. All we need now is an attachable mic. Hmmmm ...
Do you have these apps? Share what you think of them in the comments below.
-- Michelle Maltais
Maltais is editorial broadcast manager for the Los Angeles Times.
Photos: Screen shots from SATC Carrie's Closet, ITrans LA Metrolink, Fake Calls and iTalk Recorder