According to investment firm Piper Jaffray, the iTunes App Store could grow into a $1 billion business by next year. After seeing how many apps were downloaded in the App Store's first fefw weeks, it's not too difficult to believe that lofty prediction. The combination of an easy-to-use infterface, over-the-air purchasing direct to the device, and low prices encourages impulse buying. But even at $5 to $10 a piece, the cost of adding ffapplications to your iPhone or iPod touch can add up quickly.f
Fortunately, almost a fifth of the apps initially available at the iTunes App Store are free—and fmany of these are excellent applications. Here are some of our favorites.
The service is simple to set up and use, and works as expected. Unfortunately, Apple's decision to exclude third-party apps from running in the background significantly limits its functionality. This will likely change sometime in the fall, when Apple introduces a way for "closed apps" to send new message notifications and/or data to the device even when the app is not running.
reQall and Jott
Transcribe voice messages into e-mail or text quickly and easily
Access to these services previously required a phone call or a desktop computer. Now, however, you can simply speak into the device to record the message, as you would with a dfictaphone. Once the recording is completed, both services transcribe your message automatically. This new version also makes it easier to access the voice recording function and previously-recorded notes.
reQall recordings are limited to a maximum of 30 seconds. The app can also serve as a fully-functioning task and memo application. Unfortunately, notes and tasks created by reQall are not editable, but a future version may include this capability.
Jott's recordings are limited to a maximum of 15 seconds. Its sole purpose is to create and organize memos, which are both device resident and fully editable. Jott integrates with a variety of other services, including Google Calendar and Evernote.
Mobile access to the New York Times, with or without a data connection
Extends the paper's excellent Web app by downloading articles to the iPhone for offline reading. While the features are limited, the app puts shortcuts to favorite sections of the paper on the main screen.The search function works quickly and efficiently. The biggest downside is that it takes a lot of time to sync with the Times' server.
Creates and streams custom radio stations directly to your device
Once you create your radio stations, music is streamed to your device over an active data connection, through a simple Web interface. You can only skip six songs per hour per station. Fortunately, Pandora is so adept at selecting appropriate music, you won't want to skip songs very often.
Turns the iPod touch or iPhone into a remote control for iTunes and Apple TV
The remote control created by this app is far more powerful than the one included by Apple (with desktop Macs only—laptops require a separate accessory purchase for $19). Remote controls all iTunes media such as the music player's selection of songs, artists, albums, and playlists; you can even search your iTunes library. Functions include all those found on Apple's standard remote control, with the addition of song tracking and an album art view.
Electronic notebook saves and organizes Web clippings, Web pages and e-mails
Offered both as a Web app and a "native" (user-installed) app for the iPhone, Evernote is a superb electronic notebook that is ideal for storing Web pages, Web clippings, and e-mails. Once an account is created, you can send data to it with the press of a button. Evernote keeps track of everything sent to it, allowing you to quickly search Evernote for the desired content. The native app allows the user to easily create new text, snapshots, and audio or photo notes.
Searches for data through the Internet
Through this app, Google's mobile search capability is even more powerful than ever. The Web version makes quick work of basic searches. The native version lets you search contacts, Web sites, and previous searches.
View and read eBooks on your iPhone
This app lets you take your favorite books (in eReader format) with you wherever you go. While somewhat limited compared to versions of the program available for other platforms, eReader for the iPhone gets the basic job done. The developer promises that additional functionality will be added to upcoming releases.
Mocha VNC Lite
This is a "you have to see it to believe it" application. Mocha VNC quite literally turns the iPhone into a Mac running a 2.8 GHZ dual-core processor. Amazing!
Finds movie times and locates movie theaters (and their phone numbers) within a specific location
This app quickly presents a list of movies and/or movie theaters within a certain distance of your current location—anywhere from 5 to 50 miles. It can establish your current location through either manual input of a zip code or use of the iPhone/iPod touch's location feature.
Mac users swear by this app for quick input and safe storage of sensitive personal data. The initial release of the iPhone version of the program only allows you to store passwords, but the ability to store other personal information and electronic data will be added to a future release of the program. Note that the developer may charge for future versions.
A basic but terrific game
Navigate your ship through a field of randomly-placed cubes. Touch a cube and your ship explodes. Avoid them and you gain points. The game accesses the iPhone or iPod touch's built-in accelerometer, allowing you to steer your ship by tilting the device in one direction or the other. This is a "proof of concept" app, but still a simple and addictive game in its own right.
Tap Tap Revenge
A fun and captivating game
This one tests your rhythmic skills. As "beat bubbles" slide down one of three strings, keeping time with music that's playing, the player taps them to gain points. Although the selection of music is limited, the developer has promised to expand its library of tunes.
The future: More free apps
In addition to the free apps mentioned in this article, the App Store has a wide variety of nearly-free apps. You'll find quite a few in the $5-$10 range and a very large number of 99 cent games, eBooks, and other apps.
The future of the App Store looks pretty rosy right now. Over 500 apps were available on the App Store the day it opened, and that number has swelled to 1,000 as of late July. Over 20% of those titles are free!
In addition, over 250,000 iPhone software developer kits had been downloaded from Apple's Web site as of June 9 of this year. You can expect to see the number of titles offered on the App Store explode in the coming months.
The great news—plenty of them will be free!