50 iPhone Apps with Icons That Don’t Suck
They say “you can’t judge a book by its cover”, but they also say “you never get a second chance to make a first impression”. I’m not a big fan of cliched sayings, but for applications trying desperately to gain attention on the bloated, unorganized mess that IS the iTunes app store, having a well designed icon could help make the difference between making the Top 100 list and being buried under 15,000 speed dialing and fart apps. Given how important having a good icon is, it’s rather surprising that so few applications have well designed ones. While I have not personally used most of these apps and can’t vouch for their quality, the fact that their developers cared enough to put the extra effort into the design of their icon is a good sign that they may have not overlooked the small details that can make an application great.
So what makes a great iPhone icon? Well, in my opinion it needs to hit as many of these three criteria as possible: Look cool, illustrate the purpose of the app / have a clever tie-in to the name of the app, and stand out when on your iPhone, thus making it easy to find when you need it. I didn’t have time to go through all 15,000 apps on the app store, but I would say I went through a good 85% or so over a 4 day period, so if you think I missed one, let me know.
Here they are in no particular order, broken down by categories.
Geocaching has one of the more thought out icons, unless I am reading too much into it. If you are not familiar with the idea of geocaching, basically it’s an outdoor treasure-hunting game in which people use GPS receivers to hide and seek containers (called “geocaches” or “caches”) anywhere in the world. I like this icon because as I interpret it, it is broken up into the four corners of the globe, illustrating the traveling aspect of the hunting game. Similarly, each square is a different color, implying different climates and terrain. All in all it effectively conveys a “searching the world for treasure” vibe.
Jaundice may have scored extra points because its icon made me laugh when i saw it. The icon may be a little on the obvious side, but hey, you have an app designed to diagnose a yellow kid, what else are you going to do? Extra points for the little bunny on the kid’s shirt.
Save Benjis is designed to hopefully save you money by letting you compare the price of any item you find while out shopping with hundreds of online retailers. Ben Franklin was never the handsomest of historical figures, but his chubby, good-natured face conveys a feeling of trust, and he’s become synonymous with BIG money, so he’s a better choice than Washington or some other founding father (plus the app is named Save Benjis, so using George would have just been plain silly).
Pocket Closet is an application designed for the fashion conscious who might like to keep a photo catalog of all the various clothing items they own, as well as keep track of when the last time they wore them was. Being a complete and total slob, Pocket Closet is an app I would never use, but I think the icon, as simple as it is, conveys the idea of carrying around your entire wardrobe in your pocket quite nicely.
Mating Call Male and Mating Call Female are grouped into one design here since it is basically the same concept, but one I feel is well executed. I’m not a fan of speed dial apps in general, as once a number is added to my favorites I can access it pretty quickly, but out of all the hundreds of speed dialing apps clogging the app store, I like the icon design here best. The phone making up the lower/upper half of the universal gender symbol is clever, and the simplicity of these icon means they will read well on the iPhone’s screen.
Healthcare & Fitness
Weightbot is a weight tracking robot designed to help you lose (or gain) weight, and track your progress as well as you BMI and other useful info. For me this icon works because it looks like what I would imagine a Weightbot would â€“Â sort of a cross between and scale and EVE from Wall-E. It also looks like a friendly and non-judgmental robot as opposed to the “take over the world” kind, which is what you want when you are typing in just how fat you are.
Safe Seafood is meant to help you avoid eating the wrong types of fish for your diet or your morals.The rounded triangle of multi-colored fish conveys a vast ecosystem feel, and their little smiles helps put you at ease that with this app, mercury poisoning will (hopefully) be less of an issue.
Tuner Internet Radio is one of the many internet radio apps that allow you to listen to thousands of internet radio streams via Wi-fi, 3G and Edge. I like this icon because the name “Tuner” brings back memories many young iPhone users likely do not have â€“ that of actually tuning a knob on a radio to find a station. The old-time feel to the icon works well, and seems like it would be easy to identify on the iPhone’s screen.
Android FX has one of my favorite iPhone icons. In fact, I really wish I wanted to be able to make robotic sound effects (which is what this app does), because I want this icon on my iPhone. It actually seems pretty cool for what it is, but I guess I just wish it did something else entirely, or was a game of some sort, because that is one cool robot head.
Pocket Guitar puts a virtual guitar on your iPhone, and I actually bought this one â€“ although I soon deleted it after quickly realizing I am just as bad, if not worse, at playing guitar via a touch screen as I am on the real thing. I’m not sure what I was thinking, but I still love the icon.
Next Flight is a kind of cool app for frequent travelers that provides you a list of all flights from any destination to any destination on ALL airline carriers â€“Â perfect for when you miss your flight. This icon is admittedly simple, but the iconic plane, soothing orange tones (I’m a sucker for orange) and the little “page curl” at the bottom, implying you can just pull that up to see the “Next Flight” work for me.
Babelingo Travel Phrases is a translation app for travelers that lets you type in any phrase, and have a translated version show up on the screen in large letters so you can show it to the indigenous peoples of wherever you may be without the fear of handing them your iPhone. Given the whole point is to make exchanging phrases easy, I like the whole “dual text balloons as puzzle pieces fitting together” metaphor, implying we are all talking about the same thing despite the language barriers, and the soothing blue has a nice iChat feel to it.
Frommer’s San Francisco is a travel companion for tourists visiting the San Francisco area, and as obvious as this icon may be, given the location, I like it because it is not only a recognizable icon of the Golden Gate Bridge, but the point of view, that of looking up at the landmark, is the same of that of a tourist looking up. If they had gone with a side view or aerial view, it would have lost the impact.
Toginfo shows live train departure times and status for Danish trains, and although this little woodcut train might just be the Danish train symbol for all I know, it still is a cool icon. The design has a very Danish feel to it, or at least what I think a Danish feel would be… not sure how I would know, now that I think about it. I guess I picture the Danish people kind of like Santa’s elves, still making wooden toys and such.
Rocket Taxi – Cab Finder uses your GPS or WiFi to find the nearest taxi companies around you for quick service. I love all things retro, so the rocket icon on the cab is very cool, and of course it implies speed, which is what the app is all about. Not sure why Google Maps can’t do this for you, but whatever, the icon is way cool.
Countdown is an app that lets you countdown to any date, giving you to-the-second stats. I actually own this and find it reasonably cool, for what it is. But it is the icon that first caught my attention. With a very Hitchcock look to it, the whole “count down” thing is depicted beautifully with the numbers of a clock spiraling down into the endless abyss of infinity.
Seismometer was the original seismic activity app for the iPhone, and I feel its icon (perhaps combined with it being launched relatively early on in the iTunes store history) contributed to its success.
Peeps is an app that lets you visually organize all your contacts as an animated slideshow. The icon is awesome first and foremost because it is a beautifully illustrated owl with arresting eyes that makes you stop and take notice as you scroll through the app store. But it also works as a play on the word “peeps”, meaning “people”, which can apply to your contacts, obviously, but also to the giant eyed owl peeping back at you.
GottaGo is one of those apps designed to fake a text message or phone call so you can get out of a meeting or conversation you are stuck in. Odds are I am drawn to this icon in part because it is somewhat reminiscent of the good old Mac OS face, but the bright blue face giving you a knowing wink works to convey the feeling that you and this app are working together to fool people.
Babyphone is a baby monitor app that will call yo on your home phone (or any phone) when your baby wakes up. The icon is awesome because… well, just look at it! How cute is that baby? But seriously, it’s got a little broadcasting antennae sticking up, letting you know your baby is transmitting, and the smiling face makes you forget that odds are your baby will wake up screaming.
Say Who Dialer & Maps let’s you talk to your iPhone to dial contacts and ask Google maps for directions. Sometimes the obvious choice for an icon is the right one, and a cartoon speech bubble saying the word “Who” is perfect for an app like this, and is easily identifiable on the iPhone’s screen.
I thought SnoCountry‘s icon (top) was a little cooler before I saw We Ski – Ski Reporter‘s icon used the same stock mountain image, but whatever, I still think both work to well to iconically convey you are looking for ski/mountain weather conditions.
Handshake Premium and the free Handshake let you share your contact info with others wirelessly via EDGE, WiFi and 3G networks. I sort of like the techy feel of the Handshake Premium better, but it’s a graphically cool way to represent a handshake, much better than showing the traditional “corporate” handshake you find in stock photo libraries.
BlogPress is a blogging app for the iPhone which works with most blogging platforms. I like the irony of this icon, as nothing could be further from the digital age of blogging as an old-fashioned pen tip (although I guess a quill might have been an option). Plus I am a sucker for Orange.
Recorder is an voice recorder for the iPhone, and another retro-looking icon that I love. The old fashioned mic is also a good choice, because it lets people subtly know that the recordings an iPhone’s mic can make aren’t going to sound like they were made in the past 5 decades or so.
seeker is an app that finds residential and business listings. This icon has “stock art” icon written all over it, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an effective metaphor for a giant searching entity able to narrowly focus in on search results.
HANDiBIBLE is an iPhone bible app, and the giant, heavenly hand can be interpreted to be either the hand of God, or just having a praising good time in your pocket.
Mint.com is the iPhone portal to Mint.com, an app that lets you sync and keep track of all your online financial accounts. I love the minty freshness and double meaning of this icon. “Mint” can mean a place to store money or course, or it could mean the mint plant. Here they’ve combined it all, putting a dollar sign on the mint leaves, and they did it in a cool way.
Bloomberg is a freevstockmarket analyzing tool for the iPhone, and the obvious choice for such an app is a stock chart icon, which is exactly what they went with. But it looks s nice as a stock chart can, and again, maybe it is just that I am a sucker for orange, but this app looks nice on my iPhone.
Evernote is the iPhone part of the Evernote service which helps you remember anything that happens in your life, from text to photos to audio recordings. The icon here is really just Evernote’s logo, so I guess I am basically saying Evernote has a cool “an elephant never forgets” logo, but whatever. It makes for a nice icon too.
Flipbook is a… yes, flipbook application for the iPhone, and if you couldn’t guess that from the name, then the icon would surely clue you in. The bent pages showing differently animated states in a walk cycle quickly let you know what this app is all about.
iChalky is an app that lets you torment a poor little chalkboard figure by stretching him or tilting your iPhone, and the icon is great. First of all, it looks like a chalkboard, and Chalky looks pretty much exactly like he does in the app. The uphill angle conveys the whole “tilt to screw with Chalky” feel to the app, and also that Chalky is facing a constant uphill battle in life. Poor Chalky.
Elephantmen Issue 1 is an iPhone graphic novel about genetically engineered elephant super weapons, and while I have not read it, the icon and illustrations in the book are awesome, and are seriously tempting me to plunk down the big 99Â¢ on the app.
OK, well games are tough for a couple reasons. In general most games just put the main character or vehicle from their game on their icon, so if they have cool graphics, then they have a chance at a cool icon. We can be a bit more forgiving with games if the icon doesn’t give away much about the actual gameplay as other app icons need to. Also, sometimes your attachment to a game might make you think the icon is better than it might really be. for instance, I love Fieldrunners, and I think the icon is pretty sweet, but I may be blinded. So that all being said, here are some game icons that I feel work well.
SCRABBLE. Using scrabble titles for Scrabble’s icon may not be genius, but Using the “S” tile is! OK, seriously, one look at this icon and you know it is Scrabble, so I say it works.
Rolando is a very interesting game with fairly unique graphics and gameplay, and this icon really captures the graphical feel of the game.
Brothers In Arms: Hour of Heroes is one of those rare iPhone titles that feels like a real first person console shooter, and this icon to me really looks like the box to a PS3 or XBox 360 war game.
Topple is a really cool balancing game for the iPhone featuring stackable, cartoon blocks with attitude. Topple’s icon is one of those that seems to mock you from your iPhone, daring you to tap it.
Retro Defense is a tower defense game with a retro, late 70’s graphical style, and the icon here beautifully conveys the look of the game.
Beetle Lines is a line-em-up puzzle game featuring little lady bugs of various colors, and I just think this icon is beautiful. The diagonal line running up the back of the bug is a nod to the lining up strategy of the game.
Collapse Chaos is one of those apps where you need to clear rising levels of bricks by clicking on groups of colors, and the icon here conveys the explosive nature of the game play, as well as a sense of “Chaos”, which I actually don’t get from playing the game, but whatever, I like this icon.
Asphalt 4: Elite racing is one of the better 3D racing simulators out for the iPhone, and the icon of a Bugatti Veyron is pretty cool. But then, it’s hard to make a veyron look un-cool.
Lucky 7 Slots. OK, maybe not groundbreaking, but do you know pretty much everything about this game simply by looking at the icon? Yes, you do.
Pass The Pigs is a unique dice rolling game, er, PIG rolling game, and this icon of a rich-looking pig is really well done. Sort of like a swine version of the Monopoly guy.
Fieldrunners is the best game ever (although let’s get some new levels already!) so I can’t be sure this icon is cool, but every time I see it I feel forced to press it, so maybe I have a Pavlovian dog thing going…
The Creeps! has a cute little ghost from the game shown bursting from a child’s closet at an off-kilter angle, and again, I love this game, so I could be biased, but I think you can’t see this icon on the app store without clicking it to see what it’s all about.
Armado is a 3D platformer featuring an armadillo as the hero, and this might be the most beautifully illustrated icon on the app store right now.
In MazeFinger you try to quickly trace through mazes with your finger while avoiding obstacles, and this fingerprint made out of a maze is a cool icon.
I Love Katamari. Hmm.. you kind of need to play this game to understand it, and even then… But I like this icon. It has a look that stands out from the crowd, and illustrates the whole “roll a big ball of something”-ness aspect of the game.
Dizzy Bee is one of the first (and still one of the best) tilt games for the iPhone. This jolly fat bee is just so cute and fills the icon frame so nicely, it’s hard for anyone to see this in the app store and not click to check it out.
Adventure. Anyone who grew up in the Atari 2600 era will likely get a severe flashback just from seeing this key. It symbolized the game in a way only Gertie the dragon ever could, and for sheer nostalgia’s sake, it functions as both an icon and a time machine.
So there you have it. Oddly, given that there are now over 15,000 applications on iTunes, I actually had a hard time coming up with 50 good icons here. This is perhaps a good indicator of the amount of poorly designed apps on there are on iTunes right now.