Phones

17 Free iPhone Apps You Need Right Now

iPhone apps
Everybody who knows about the new iPhone applications knows about Super Monkey Ball and MLB At Bat. But after dropping all kinds of dough on a new iPhone and a 3G service plan, you can save some cash and get these great free programs ASAP.

Note: We tested all of these apps on a first-generation iPhone with the 2.0 software installed, so data uploaded and downloaded at EDGE speeds. You'll also notice that this list is short on location-based apps such as Loopt and Whrrl. That doesn't mean they're bad--it's just that the reviewer values privacy and finds them a little creepy.

If you're comfortable with having everyone know where you are at all times, go ahead and try those apps out, too. Here, though, are my first favorites.

Also be sure to see our complete collection of stories, videos, and blogs about the Apple iPhone 3G.

AirMe and Exposure

One of a few Flickr front-ends for the iPhone, AirMe outdoes Exposure (another free iPhone app for Flickr) by allowing you to upload pics directly from your iPhone to your Flickr account. Results are instantaneous: You snap a pic with your iPhone camera, AirMe geotags it (if you want it to), and it's on your Flickr page within a minute. On the other side of the fence, Exposure lets you browse your Flickr photosets, see photos that have been taken close to your current location (again, if you want it to), and basically presents a iPhone-friendly front end to Flickr. It did crash a few times during testing, however.

AOL Instant Messenger (AIM)

Finally, a chat app built for the iPhone. The iPhone AIM client worked like a charm right off the bat, but has been crashing a lot ever since. When it works, it gives you access to your AOL Instant Messenger buddy lists, letting you "OMG," "LOL," and "BRB" your commute time away. Is an iPhone-friendly version of Yahoo Messenger--or, better yet, multiprotocol access to all your accounts via Trillian and Meebo--hot on the trail of this mobile IM app? Let's hope so.

AOL Radio

Stuck in Houston, but your favorite sports radio station is in Detroit? Want to hear what songs are hot in Hartford when your flight is delayed in Denver? AOL Radio scratches that itch, to the tune of more than 350 radio stations from across America. It's yet another audio-streaming app that works staggeringly well at EDGE speeds; during testing I didn't encounter any streaming interruptions at all. Don't think of it as the "death of radio," think of it as a new distribution platform for radio stations everywhere.

Baseball

MLB's play-by-play scoreboard app that is featured on iTunes costs just $5, but I'd recommend that sports lovers opt for the free SportsTap app instead, since it gives you instant access to all live sports, not just baseball. But the Baseball iPhone app lets you tap into the statistical database of baseball history. Need to know how many doubles Marty Barrett hit in 1986? It's a few taps away. Want to know Urban Shocker's career ERA? That's there, too. It's like having the entire Baseball Encyclopedia right there on your iPhone. We only wish it had team-based stats and year-by-year standings, not just individual stats. Still, this is a must-have app for any baseball aficionado.

Eventful

Configuring your alerts is a bit of a chore (the Eventful developers may want to consider making the categories "opt-in" by default instead of "opt-out"), but once this app is up and running, Eventful will let you know who's coming to town and what's going on in your neck of the woods. Concerts, book signings, live sports, theater, public speakers, you name it.

Evernote

Need a centralized location for all the notes, photos, and voice recordings created on your iPhone? Evernote lets you save documents and media files on a Web storage platform that you can access anywhere. If you're planning on using your iPhone for taking a lot of notes or snapping a bunch of pictures while you're out and about, this is a must-have app for saving everything to a centralized location that you can reach from any Web-connected device.

Facebook

This one is actually somewhat disappointing, except for the Facebook chat integration. Frequent Facebookers may want to download this app purely for the easy-to-scan alphabetical list of friends and the integrated chat program, but simply using the full Web version of Facebook on Safari for the iPhone actually has quite a few advantages. The iPhone Facebook app gives you only a watered-down version of your friends' profile pages, which are available in their full form on mobile Safari. On the other hand, this app's key benefits are its clear organization and the ability to converse with friends over the Facebook chat program, which isn't possible in the mobile Safari version.

Google Mobile App

Think of Google Mobile as Firefox 3's "Awesome Bar" for the iPhone. Not only does this search-bar-on-steroids suggest popular query matches for you once you type in a few letters, but it'll also search your phone for any contact names that start with the same few letters. Tapping a search result launches it in a browser window, and tapping a contact name lets you message or call them. For some reason, this app asks you to use your current location, presumably to match your search query with nearby businesses or listings, but in my testing it didn't really associate my searches to local points of interest.

iPint

Okay, this game is completely useless, but you'll probably want to try it at least once. Using the iPhone's accelerometers, you tilt the handset to guide a pint of beer across an obstacle-ridden bartop into a customer's hands. But that's only half the fun. Once your virtual pint is safe in their hands, you get a surprise ending involving a virtual glass of Carling, some nifty accelerometer tricks, and faux chugging. I don't want to ruin it for you, so just give it a go. (Search for iPint in your iTunes software.)

Last.fm

A must-have for anyone who already has a Last.fm account and uses the service to keep track of what they and their friends have been listening to, the Last.fm iPhone app also streams recommended tracks directly to your iPhone. The Last.fm streamer didn't work as well over EDGE speeds as Pandora's excellent service did. That said, it's a great way to keep your listened-to list fresh on Last.fm while you're listening to your iPod Touch or iPhone. The app keeps track of what you've heard and syncs the list with your Last.fm account as soon as you connect your iPhone to your computer.

MixMeister Scratch

This app is one of the best uses for the iPhone touch screen I've seen yet. MixMeister Scratch is a simulated turntable that lets you "scratch" audio samples, like the iPhone version of the late Jam Master Jay. You can even launch the program while your iPod is playing and scratch over your favorite songs. Sure, it isn't the most useful or mass-appeal-worthy app, but it is good fun. It may even prompt you to buy two iPhones (or to borrow a friend's) to do some beat juggling.

Pandora

Thanks to the iPhone version of Pandora's free music Web site, you may never need to use the iTunes Music Store again...just as long as you like your music to play randomly. Just enter an artist's name, press the Create button, and listen as your selected artist and similar-sounding acts play in no particular order. If you already have a Pandora account, the Pandora iPhone app lets you access your preexisting stations and even sends your listening data to your Facebook profile automatically. One fun use for this app: Put your iPhone on your bedside table and have it play your custom stations through the phone's on-board speakers--it sounds like a clock radio playing all your favorite acts. Surprisingly, this music-streaming app works without a hitch even at EDGE speeds.

Remote

Maybe this is why Apple didn't include a remote with the latest MacBooks--the company wants you to buy a new iPhone instead. The free Remote app lets you control your iTunes library or on-screen Apple TV action directly with your iPhone via a Wi-Fi connection. Once your iPhone establishes a Wi-Fi connection, you simply select your iPhone from iTunes' 'Devices' list, enter the four-digit passcode on your iPhone's screen, and use it as a touch-screen clicker. It worked seamlessly in my tests with iTunes.

SportsTap

If you need MLB, NFL, NBA, international soccer, NHL, car racing, NCAA, PGA, tennis, and other sports results fast, SportsTap covers them all--it's a nice free app that will put them at your fingertips. The interface is clean and intuitive, and the scores load fast, even on EDGE. SportsTap doesn't allow you to select a favorite team or teams to keep an eye on, but even so, the score you're looking for is always a couple of taps away.

Twitterrific

If you're a heavy-duty Twitter user or you want a better way to sort and manage all of your friends' tweets, you'll want to download this app pronto. Designed beautifully, it's a very useful front end for the popular messaging application that auto-refreshes your incoming tweet feed, allows you to reply to tweets with one touch, and lets you consolidate all your Twitter accounts on one page. There's no "Fail Whale" in sight, either, though the app has crashed a few times in my testing.

Urbanspoon

This innovative app puts a new spin--literally--on restaurant recommendations. You can elect to have the iPhone use your current location or you can input a city manually, and then the fun begins. Either physically shake the phone or tap the 'Shake' button on the touch screen, and the slot-machine-like interface spins wheels bearing the names of neighborhoods, food types, and price ranges. When the wheels stop spinning, Urbanspoon's app recommends restaurants based on the variables that come up ('Mission / Seafood / $$', for example). If random results aren't your thing, you can "lock" neighborhoods, cuisine types, and price ranges to get recommendations based on your defined parameters.

Cool App Ideas That Need Work

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iFob

This could be the ultimate iPhone app for anyone who is shy and has trouble approaching strangers on the singles scene. After you enter your profile information--including a short greeting you'd want any interesting person to see--the iPhone's location-based services bring up people in the vicinity who also use the service. Those people can also see your profile and even rate how interesting it is. With this app's help, it might be easier to approach a stranger across the room, or at least prescreen them by looking at how interesting their profile is. The profile-creating portion of the app is buggy, however--a few times it didn't save results, and other times it flat-out crashed. If the bugs are eliminated, iFob could be a great social-networking tool for introverts. You do need a Wi-Fi connection to make it work as advertised.

Midomi

What if you could sing or whistle a song into your iPhone and have it name that tune? Such a program might be the tool you're looking for if you're the kind of person who knows how a certain song goes but doesn't know the name of it. This is what the free Midomi app claims to do, but it simply doesn't work well. You sing or whistle directly into your iPhone, hold the handset up to a speaker playing a song, or type in some lyrics to have the app find what you're listening to. In tests the text searches brought up only matching song titles (not lyrics matches), and singing, whistling, or holding the phone up to a speaker didn't bring up the song I was looking for after multiple tries--and that even includes whistling-intensive songs such as the Scorpions' "Winds of Change" and Otis Redding's "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay." Midomi gets an A+ for ideas but an F for follow-through.

(Also see Macworld's roundup of free iPhone apps, or, if you're a news junkie, a roundup of news apps for the iPhone.)

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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