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Appiphilia: Review of iPhone apps for shopping, whistling, flute-playing and hamster-rolling

December 2, 2008 | 10:00 am

Trees

If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it still make a sound?  How about if you let out an ear-splitting wolf whistle and no ears are around to split? What if a deal lands in cyberspace and no one knows -- is it still a deal?

Several iPhone apps help us to avoid such brain teasers.

Fresh Deals app for iPhone Fresh Deals (99 cents)

What it is: This app culls the latest offerings from 15 sites that in turn cull deals from across the Web. So you can get a heads up about the 10K two-tone gold circle pendant and earrings set from Zales, games for your Wii or that Kmart blue-light special on fabric softener, just minutes after they are posted online. ...

What sizzles: Getting a jump on what's reduced and on sale is an online shopper's dreamScreen shot of FreshDeals app for the iPhone on Cyber Monday. The app is trolling several sites that focus on posting coupons and price cuts. It saves you from going to all 15 sites, such as Ben's Bargains and Slick Deals, to find out the same information.

What fizzles: The only way I could get an updated view was to exit the app and relaunch it. Hmmm, that's not so fresh. On Cyber Monday, the same deal on a computer speaker that was posted on DealCatcher showed up for at least an hour as the "freshest."

While some of us dig serendipity in our shopping, others of us are interested in specific items. The app doesn't have a way to categorize its finds. Nor does it offer a way to act on the deals immediately. (And come on, if you're looking at breaking deals on your iPhone, you're very into instant gratification.) But you can e-mail yourself the details, and a link to the deal appears in the body of the message.

Bottom line: Imported produce that doesn't automatically restock, but it's still mostly fresh. Saves you from trolling the aisles of these sites yourself.

IWhistle IWhistle (99 cents)

What it is: Ever wish you could produce one of those ear-splitting whistles that command attention? Or do it without having to go all unsanitary by sticking fingers in your mouth? This app is a catcall in your hand.

What sizzles: Different whistles mean different things. This app covers the basics with four whistles: Wolf (the sound of attraction/approval), Oi (the "Hey, you"), Dog (the "Here, boy") and Tune (a musical interlude). They are loud and attention-commanding.

What fizzles: It's a 99-cent whistle. Plus, by the time you've fished your iPhone out of your pocket or bag, the perfect moment for a whistle may have passed.

Bottom line: Frivolous fun that could totally confuse your pooch or possibly start a conversation at a bar, even if using a slightly dated and mildly unattractive form of introduction.

Ocarina Ocarina (99 cents)

What it is: The answer, my friend, is blowing in your phone. This app is basically a handset flute. You blow into the mic and place your fingers on virtual keys on the screen. Think Zamfir meets Zelda.

You can find sheet music offered by other users (some of the notes can be more approximations than accuracies). Or if you're feeling particularly creative, you can create your own score. Someone has even created an app to teach you how to use this app.

What sizzles: When I first saw this app, I had flashbacks to childhood and playing the flute with a mouthful of braces. (That's no simple task, I tell you.) But once I got past that, I found it a rather ingenious and addictive app that requires effort and skill as well as creativity.

What fizzles: That's your phone mic you're blowing into. You had better hope your breath carries no, well, precipitation. I remember cleaning out the mouthpiece of my flute after playing. Let's just say the cloth was necessary.

The Smule website offers this admonition: Be careful not to spit or blow too hard into your microphone.

And speaking of the mic, this app works only with the iPhone; the iPod Touch is not equipped with a microphone.

I prefer listening to these eerie, haunting offerings from around the world than squawking out my own pathetic attempts. But I'm guessing -- hoping -- that with more practice, my efforts will sound less like an agitated dolphin in a turf war and more like Greensleeves.

Bottom line: Impress family and friends at your holiday parties with an iPhonic rendition of just about any timely tune. Just remember to play it; don't spray it.

Rhinoball RhinoBall (free)

What it is: So many movies -- even some albums -- have iPhone app tie-ins. Walt Disney's "Bolt" is no different. RhinoBall lets you be that amped up, awe-struck, ball-bound hamster Rhino, rolling through the New York City streets in search of his canine hero, Bolt.

The game uses the iPhone's accelerometer, so you tilt and turn your way to his missing pal. Along the way, your competitive side kicks in and guides you to collect bonus points by rolling through a curving line of lightning bolts.

Movie clips are interspersed throughout the game. It also offers the movie trailer and the TV ad, if you wish to trigger active promotion yourself.

What sizzles: How can you lose with a hyper hamster frantically scurrying in his ball? There is some complexity to the game in that you cannot go under every car -- some are lower-profile than the SUVs. It incorporates a lovely "thunk" when you bounce into the sidewalk or tire. And the game gives you the option to replay the level you just completed or move on to the next one.

Also, it's slightly adorable to see this little guy waddling around.

What fizzles: It's like Super Monkey Ball, but super lite. OK, the game is likely intended for a younger audience, so having the cars in a parked position is probably kinder. But come on, the only reason cars are still in NYC is gridlock.

There are only three levels, and all of them are pretty much the same. Parked cars, sidewalks, lightning bolts, ramps.

With all of the character and scene possibilities, they have the hamster rolling down a static street? That's it? What about a game based on the show Bolt is the star of? Let users battle Dr. Calico and his fiendish felines. Give users the super dog's arsenal -- the laser look, zoom zoom and super bark.

Instead, the game is just rolling down the same ol' street, to what end? To a billboard promoting the movie's opening. I get that it's primarily a promotional vehicle to them. But come on, Disney, we expect more from you.

Bottom line: In a pinch, it will keep your kids entertained -- for about three minutes. It kept me only until I reached the dog.

-- Michelle Maltais

Photo: File photo of trees at the Wilkerson Christmas Tree Farm in Griffithsville, W.Va. Credit: Associated Press

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