20 apps I keep on my iPhone solely to impress people - Macenstein

20 apps I keep on my iPhone solely to impress people

When I announced last month that the iPhone could hold “only” 148 applications, many people wondered why I would possibly need that many applications on my iPhone. To be honest, I don’t. However, one of the greatest thrills an iPhone owner can experience is showing a friend or family member some cool feature or iPhone-specific application that makes them feel inadequate. Yes, making others feel bad about their cell phone and themselves in general is truly the iPhone’s greatest selling point, and Apple should really make a commercial based on it.

Now, the problem with using the iPhone to impress people is that each person you meet will have varied interests, so (like a good Boy Scout) you must always be prepared. I currently also have about 20 or so apps on my iPhone that I have more or less never used since the day I first installed them, and I keep them there solely to be able to make people jealous. Most of these applications are “eye candy” apps designed to impress people quickly, meaning, I launch the application, show them what it looks like/what it does, and then close it before they realize “Wow, that was was cool, but I would be bored after 30 seconds” (which, of course, is exactly how I feel about the apps as well, and which is why I never use them myself outside of attempting to impress people).

So, if you are like me, and are a smug, iPhone carrying prick who is not happy unless your iPhone-less friend is sad, then read on for my top 20 apps I keep on my iPhone solely to impress people (in no particular order).

#20 Mach Dice: ($0.99) Mach Dice is a virtual dice rolling simulator, whose big hook is you can type in the number of sides for the dice, and roll any combination of differently sided dice you’d like. So, if you want to roll two regular 6-sided dice, and one 4-sided dice, and three 89-sided dice, you could do that. Why would you want to? Well, you wouldn’t, unless you are into roll playing, and with that particular audience Mach Dice is the equivalent of a free porn machine. I haven’t played Dungeons and Dragons since I was 13, and neither have most of my friends, however show this to any current or former D&D player, and they’ll think it is cool. Mach Dice also has a nice simulated 3D light source that changes the shadows of the dice as you tilt the screen, and you can roll the dice by shaking the iPhone, thus showing off two more of the cool interactive features of the iPhone. For the most part it is NOT a good idea to show Mach Dice to women you are trying to impress. While you can leave Mach Dice set to show 6-sided die, and pretend you were using it to play Yahtzee or Pictionary or something, if you start plugging in 12-sided die, you will lose all your charisma points.
Who this impresses: Geeks, nerds, and dweebs. Oh, and kids, they seemed to be impressed by pretty much anything the iPhone can do.

#19 Any level application (free – $0.99) Yes, Dual Level, A Level, Free Level, I’ve tried them all, and I always keep at least one on the iPhone at all times. Is it truly useful? No. I haven’t hung a picture in years, and I am not building a house, but you would be surprised how many people find these apps to be impressive. They’re actually a great way to explain to the non-tech savvy person that the iPhone can sense its orientation, and if you hand your iPhone to a person who has never held an iPhone before while running a level app, they are always impressed by how sensitive the iPhone’s tilt sensors are.
Who this impresses: Non-tech savvy people like a moms, dads, and grandparents. Also a lot of women also find this cool for some reason.

#18 Pocket Guitar ($0.99) The iPhone as a virtual instrument is a really cool idea, but nearly impossible to use in a serious manner. There are actually a couple good virtual instruments to choose from now for the iPhone. I personally use Pocket Guitar, but Pocket Piano is another good choice. The sound reproduction on these apps is really quite good, and I sound just as good strumming my iPhone as I do when strumming a real guitar (which is HORRIBLE). Of course, even if I could play either instrument well, I think it would be extremely difficult to actually play a song using the iPhone. Oh, I’m sure there’s a YouTube video of a geek or two who has spent way too much time mastering these iPhone instruments and feels they can prove that it’s possible to conduct a full concert using them, but for me, it is strictly an app that I use to impress people. Hand the iPhone to a person and let them pluck a few strings, and they will definitely be impressed. PLEASE NOTE: The key to impressing people with a virtual instrument app is to have a secondary impressive application lined up to show them next, as the longer you let them play, the more likely it is they will ask you whether or not you can play any songs on it, and when you say “No”, suddenly the app is revealed for the waste of money that it is, and you run the risk of UNimpressing them with your disregard for money. If this should happen while trying impress someone with this (or any) application, do what I do, and pretend it is a free app you downloaded just to screw around with. Don’t let them know you paid money for an app you never use.
Who this impresses: Children and women, and people who do not know how to play an instrument in general

#17 Koi Pond ($0.99) Koi Pond is a virtual Koi Pond for your iPhone, complete with mixable natural sounds, physics driven water, and realistic 3D Koi Fish. If you are a faithful reader you may think it odd I would list Koi Pond here, as I gave it an 8.5 out of 10 rating a few months back. Well, as I mentioned then, Koi Pond IS indeed extremely beautiful and relaxing, but has almost zero replay value unless you are into staring at the fish. I played with it for a day or two, but since then I have only launched it to impress iPhone-less friends and family. Koi Pond is actually interesting amongst the “for impressing only” apps in that while people very often are impressed by the fish and have fun making ripples in the water with their fingers, I often sense the more intelligent people quickly realize the overall lameness of any type of virtual pet (especially ones such as these that do not have names or emotions). So while I certainly suggest you keep Koi Pond in your bag of tricks, I think it is best for showing to young children, or older women with low intelligence and many cats. They seem to go nuts for it.
Who this impresses: Young children or older women with low intelligence and many cats.

#16 Lighter apps (free-$2.99) Like the level apps above, the iTunes store is flooded with virtual lighters, the idea behind them being you are a non-smoker that goes to so many concerts you feel the need to carry a lighter with you to hold up during slow ballads. Some lighter apps are better than others, offering more choices of lighter skins and more interactive virtual flames vs simply a looping video, but they all do the same thing: impress people for about 5 seconds. It is important to note that none of the lighter apps is able to impress someone on its own, rather these should be used to impress people as part of a larger barrage of “look what the iPhone can do” apps, and should NEVER be your closer. Out of these, I find the most fun one at the moment is iLighter. It has a decent set of skins, a nice implementation of the thumb wheel action to ignite, and the CGI flame responds to touch and tilt vs the movie-based ones. These combine to give you about 10-15 seconds of impress time before you’ll need to move on to a different, more exciting parlor trick. Small children and pyromaniacs may play with it for considerably longer.
Who this impresses: Small children who like shiny things, immature adult males

#15 Magic 8 Ball (free) This one is almost strictly for kids aged 4-13 who are into letting a floating piece of multi-sided plastic decide their destiny. If a kid is young enough, it is quite easy to convince them the Magic 8-Ball is indeed magic, and even kids who are less gullible are still slightly drawn to the idea that paranormal spirits do indeed exist, and are bored enough to manifest themselves via the iPhone simply to screw with kids. (I know when I die that’s what I’ll be doing, anyway).
Who this impresses: Kids mostly, especially girls aged 10-14 who want to embarrass their friends by asking the 8-ball if their friend will marry the boy they like.

#14 YouTube (free – can’t get rid of it if you wanted to) Apple includes YouTube by default, and when I first got my iPhone I admit I used to surf around the app looking for videos for hours. It wasn’t so much that I loved the videos – I just found it cool that I could be anywhere – the movies, the DMV, on a highway negligently driving – and watch YouTube. But inevitably I came to the realization that… I was watching YouTube. I can’t think of any bigger “time burglar” than watching YouTube, and have more or less worn it off aside from when some friend sends me a link to a video with the subject “This is disgusting” or similar. However, despite my falling out of love with the app, it DOES still impress people, and it crosses all walks of life and age demographics. The key here is knowing the person you are hoping to impress well enough to pick the right video. For example, if you know a die-hard Democrat, it is fun to be able to show them the latest Tina Fey/Sarah Palin SNL sketch while at dinner, or show a kid a Muppet or Sesame Street sketch to keep them quiet. (Be careful with kid shows on YouTube though, as there are very often “adult-themed” parodies that come up as “similar videos” to the actual kid shows).
Who this impresses: Pretty much everyone, so long as you tailor the content to fit the audience.

#13 Urbanspoon (free) Here’s how Urbanspoon describes itself: “Can’t decide where to eat? Urbanspoon can help. Shake your iPhone and the Urbanspoon slot machine will pick a good restaurant for you to try. Keep shaking until you find a restaurant you’re happy with“. Now, I fully admit to being an uncultured slob, but I pretty much know what type of food is available in my area, and I also know that when I want to go out an eat, I inevitably end up at either Friendly’s or Chimney Rock eating a cheeseburger, chicken fingers, or a steak. Still, I DO hang out with more adventurous people who like to try new foods and who frequent all sorts of various ethnic restaurants. For those people, I have found Urbanspoon is fascinating to them. For some reason, they think the idea of letting fate decide where they will eat that night is “fun”. Personally, I just keep shaking the damn thing until it says Friendly’s, but I actually had one person tell me they would buy an iPhone specifically for this app.
Who this impresses: People who love to eat and have a very diversified palette, people who eat out multiple times a week.

#12 More Cowbell (free) This is a very simple app that plays to a very narrow segment of the population, but sort of like the Mach Dice, for that target audience, it is a hit. Based on the infamous “More Cowbell” skit from Saturday Night Live featuring Christopher Walken, this app presents you with a picture of a cowbell, followed by Walken’s voice imploring you, “I gotta have more cowbell!“. You then tap on the cowbell (which plays a convincing cowbell sound) until you decide to stop, at which point Walken’s voice reappears and asks for more. This continues forever. Stupid? Yes. But for fans of the SNL skit, it pretty much always gets a laugh. Of course, like the virtual lighters, More Cowbell should be shown only as part of a larger effort to impress.
Who this impresses: Adult fans of the SNL skit and children who have never heard about the SNL skit

#11 Ruler (free) Anyone need to measure something approximately 3-inches tall? No? Hmm… Kind of like the level app, here’s another app that implies you can build a house using only your iPhone. There are actually a couple ruler apps for the iPhone, but I like Ruler because it actually has some simple interactivty thrown in. You can use Ruler to measure small objects by pulling in lines from the top and side, just like with Photoshop’s guide lines. This app is indeed almost totally useless, as it is really designed to measure items smaller than 2-inches by 3-inches, but it can impress kids and tweens. At dinner one night I had two 11-year-olds measuring everything on the restaurant table, such as sugar packets and salt shakers. It’s kind of fun to move the guides with your fingers and measure things, even though that knowledge means nothing at the end of the day (or 2 minutes later, for that matter).
Who this impresses: Children under 9 or so, bored children older than that at a restaurant

#10 Seismometer ($0.99) Seismometer is one of my new favorite impressive apps, mainly because it is such a bizarre idea for an application that no one expects you to pull it out of your bag of tricks. As you may expect from its name, Seismometer puts a virtual seismometer needle on an endless piece of scrolling paper on your iPhone. Lay your iPhone flat, and begin tapping on the table to see Seismometer pick up even the subtlest vibrations – even a heartbeat, if you can remain still enough with your iPhone on your chest (although it is very hard to see the screen while doing so). This app is totally useless, as even if you wanted to collect seismic information using your iPhone (as some are attempting to do with their MacBooks) there is no way to save or report on the information Seismometer is responding to. Basically any “thump” you cause Seismometer to register moves off the page within 2 seconds, never to return. Aside from geologists/vulcanologists, this application is not tailored to impress a specific group, so this app is again one of those “short burst” impressive apps. I use it to spice up a “low point” in my iPhone presentations because it does sort of shock people into paying attention (although I think some of them think at first it is a polygraph of some sort). Once again, kids seem to love it and will spend good half an hour jumping and thumping around your iPhone (which come to think of it, may not be a good thing).
Who this impresses: Geologists/vulcanologists, and children. People who mistake it for a polygraph.

#9 Lightsaber Unleashed/Phonesaber (free) Lightsaber Unleashed and its (better) non-licensed predecessor Phonesaber turn your iPhone into a lightsaber, complete with music and battling sound effects from the Star Wars movies. This app works to impress virtually every male on the planet, ages 3 to 76 (and yes, I tried it on a non-impressed 77 year-old.) The app allows you to do battle with another iPhone owner, or better yet, strike down a defenseless (and Lightsaber-less) Nokia or Motorola user.
Who this impresses: Pretty much any male on the planet.

#8 Stanza and eReader (free) I haven’t had time to read a book in about 7 years, and I certainly have no intention of reading Crime and Punishment two paragraphs at a time on the iPhone’s screen, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want people to THINK I want to. By convincing people I want to read literary classics on my iPhone, I have accomplished two things: First, I have implied that I am so cerebral that I need to be able to access Dostoevsky at a moment’s notice, and second, it implies I enjoy reading books on a tiny screen which in turn implies I have fully embraced the digital lifestyle and sworn off the old-school physical books that “less with it” people use.
Who this impresses: People who are insecure about their technological knowledge, and people who have never read these literary classics and think that people who do are smarter than them.

#7 Frotz (free) I grew up playing text-based adventures such as Zork and Planetfall, so a part of me keeps this on the iPhone for nostalgia purposes, but a larger part of me keeps it on my iPhone to impress my two brothers who used to spend hours with me hand drawing maps in our basement of the various chambers and treasures and Grues and such that made up Zork. Unfortunately, much like Jessica Tandy’s breasts, text best games just haven’t held up over time, and I basically fired up Zork once, found the jeweled Egg and quit Frotz, never to relaunch.
Who this impresses: My brothers, and any other nerd who was once into text-based adventure games.

#6 Sportacular (free) I’m not huge sports fan, pretty much the only sport I care about is the NFL, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t times when I need to pretend I am. Any man who has been dragged to a wedding and forced to make small talk with other men who have been similarly dragged there knows the importance of pretending you are into sports. Sportacular gives you immediate access to the latest sports scores, standings and news for pretty much every professional and college sport worth caring about. While not quite enough information to let you bluff your way through a conversation with a TRUE sports fanatic, the fact that you can give them up-to-date scores on the teams they care about will often go a long way towards making you appear manly and worth talking to.
Who this impresses: Sports fanatics who are stuck at social functions away from TV access, men desperate to make small talk

#5 Midomi (free) Midomi is a fun little app that can identify any song (well, any popular song) that you sing into your iPhone’s microphone. I find this app is primarily geared towards impressing drunk girls who think they can sing. The reason this app is so impressive to people is that it’s pretty accurate at identifying most reasonably popular songs, even if the singer butchers them. However, when Midomi successfully identifies a song, more often than not the singer feels it is due more to their amazing talent than it is to some very forgiving software, which makes them feel good about themselves AND you.
Who this impresses: Drunk women and young girls, anyone not inhibited by singing badly in front of people

#4 Shazam (free) Similar to Midomi, Shazam can identify any song it picks up via the iPhone’s microphone, however Shazam works only with the real versions of songs, not your horribly off-key karaoke version, as Midomi does. This app actually impressed ME once when my son was watching a YouTube video of some amateur Tornado footage someone took, and Shazam accurately identified a Buckcherry song playing faintly on the truck’s radio the people were in, despite a huge amount of background noise (and a good deal of room noise on our end as well). While this is a neat parlor trick, I personally have never really used this app outside of that test because all the music listening I do these days comes from either satellite radio, or iPhone radio apps such as Pandora, Last.fm, etc. that tell me the name of the song and artists I am hearing. I suppose if I still listened to “regular” radio in the car and did a lot of channel surfing this might come in handy, but for now I use it strictly to entertain kids who for some reason think it is cool to make the iPhone identify a song they already know and love.
Who this impresses: Mainly kids who get a kick out of Shazam being able to identify their favorite songs

#3 NetShare ($9.99 no longer available) NetShare has achieved near-legendary status among iPhone apps for being one of the first applications to get pulled from the iTunes store. It allows you to share your iPhone’s internet connection with a laptop (known as “tethering)”, basically giving you internet access anywhere you have cell phone reception. AT&T had Apple pull it within a day of its launch, and while I have never used it since August 4th when I verified that it did indeed work, I keep it on my iPhone for three reasons. First, any iPhone user who has heard of the app but didn’t get a chance to download it before it was pulled is jealous of it. Second, many non-iPhone users have cell phones which support tethering, and having NetShare on my iPhone means I can defend any knocks against the iPhone’s built-in lack of tethering support. Finally, in theory it really IS a useful app (although I have not actually had a need to use it) and you really just never know when you might need to use your iPhone as a makeshift Wi-Fi router.
Who this impresses: Any iPhone user who wants tethering but missed the 24-hour period NetShare was available, cell phone geeks.

#2 Mocha VNC Lite (free) I realize there are some people on the planet that need to be able to remotely log in to their computer from their iPhone, but I am not one of them. However, that doesn’t stop me from occasionally pretending I am one of those folks. If you are anything like me, you know way more about computers than most of your family or friends, but still know nothing compared to a TRUE computer nerd. I find when I run into know-it-all IT guys, having the ability to show off my VNC capabilities is somewhat similar to showing off Sportacular to sports nut. It may not be enough to bluff your way through a high tech UNIX gabfest, but it goes a long way towards proving your geek street cred.
Who this impresses: People who know more about computers that you do.

#1 AirSharing ($6.99) AirSharing is an app that turns your iPhone into a wireless external flash drive. Given how excited I was when AirSharing first appeared on iTunes at its “limited time only introductory price” of free, you may think it odd that I’m now listing it here. But yes, despite my excitement, and despite the app working exactly as advertised, I have never used it for its intended purpose. Why? Well, I have a laptop, and about 5 “real” thumb drives of various shapes and sizes. As easy as AirSharing is, it is still not easier and faster than sticking a 4GB USB 2 flash drive into my computer and transferring files onto it. Also, you can get a 4GB flash drive for about the price of AirSharing (Woot had a deal last week for a pair of 4GB flash drives for $16.00 or so). Still, AirSharing is impressive to cell phone buffs for the same reason NetShare is – it adds functionality to the iPhone that should have been there by default, and that couple other other mobile devices have. If you’re going to make fun of other people’s phones, you gotta make sure they can’t blindside you with something like being able to move files on and off the iPhone.
Who this impresses: Cell phone geeks who are trying to poke holes in your “My iPhone is awesome” argument.


So what have we learned ? Well, basically we learned that I am a very insecure person who seeks validation from others via instilling jealousy in them over my choice of technology. But more importantly, hopefully you’ve learned that there are a bunch of great applications out there, many of them free, that you can use to impress your friends and enemies alike. I suppose I should mention before I get a ton of comments that my go to app of choice for impressing people is of course Maps which can impress just about anyone in a hundred different ways. However, I actually use Maps on an almost daily basis, so I couldn’t list it here. Feel free to list any applications YOU might have on your iPhone that you never use, if for no other reason than to make me feel better about my insecurities.

25 Responses to “20 apps I keep on my iPhone solely to impress people”
  1. Nate says:

    Great article! I think i have all of them!!

    The only ones I’d add are:
    Any flashlight app
    iBowl/iGolf (Portable Wii)
    X-Plane (I play it once in a while but it demos the iPhones graphics capability)


  2. Nate says:

    What? No copy of “I Am Rich?” (bootleg, of course)

    I am NOT impressed.

  3. dizzy says:

    Good list, here is a few apps I have that would probably not make this list if I was writing it…

    Shazam – I find this app slightly more useful than a gimmick. I’ve used in bars to get a song that’s playing when there is no jukebox or I’m too lazy to get up and walk over to jukebox. Shopping in at a store in the mall and here a “tune” that you like. So although I don’t use it everyday, it has come in handy as I am a big fan of music in general.

    NetShare – I was able to get this one on its second appearance. Like yourself I don’t use it that often, but I have used it at least a couple times when I wasn’t near an internet connection.

    Mocha VNC Lite – Well I use this all the time, but I guess I fall into that computer nerd category as an IT and Web Dev. One thing this comes in handy for is being able to IM people from my computer. So I don’t have to sign out of MSN when I connect to meebo for example.

  4. Euclides says:

    Thanks, Dr. I had to break up laughing at almost every paragraph. Funniest column in a long time on any technology website! Well written and good observer of human behavior. Useful too… and I don’t even have an iPhone!

  5. Greenldr says:

    The #1 app I have found that impresses non-iPhone users is Labyrinth (although I actually do use this at times…). I think this is much better than the “level” apps at showing how accurate the accelerometer is.

  6. lantzn says:

    Some nice apps.

    myLite (free) – very useful flashlight. I use it often when fumbling in the dar.

    Recorder (free) – Handy for recording talks/notes and ability to email the audio files or transfer them to my computer over WiFi.

    eBay (free) – Very handy to have my eBay account page one click away.

    Sol Free (free) – What’s a computer without Solitaire?

    Face Melter – Great for many laughs. Take a picture of the boring speaker, melt his face and bring laughter to the audience. MUCH appreciated by all within viewing range.

  7. Jamfris says:

    I’m astonished no one said iPint!
    It’s my official “impress everybody” app.

    I previously played the lame game to be on the final step… suddenly, I made some noise like “phew, it’s hot in here… I’d like to have a fresh beer…” and then let iPint take care of the rest of the show… and it always makes the trick!

  8. Imagine Engine says:

    I want NetShare and would actually find it useful if it could be made available through the App Store. There’s been times when I’m on the road no where near a WIFI connection wanting to tether the data plan on my iPhone 3G to my MacBook Pro. Here in Canada both Rogers and Fido allow the iPhone data plan to be used for tethering. Though unfortunately Apple listened to only AT&T who are in the USA, not Canada when they blocked Nullriver from posting their NetShare app.

  9. iFreak says:

    Great list! Ive got them all ( except NetShare:S!!)

    I would only add Kroll with his brillant graphics. To impress gamers!


  10. NewWaveDave says:

    On quick note, to lantzn.

    Recorder is .99 not free.

    Nice list, I have most of them.

  11. Julian says:

    No Photoboard?!
    Come on doc, that’s the ultimate app to impress anyone!

  12. HelloKit says:

    I actually do find Air Sharing easier than physically digging out, plugging and unplugging my thumb drive. And I use it all the time. I guess maybe they should market it towards those of us with disabilities affecting manual dexterity.

  13. SoCal says:

    iChalky….gotta have iChalky as a iPhone “show and tell” app. Its great!!! And only $.99

  14. Deeda says:

    My Love “Pocket Guitar”, this one takes the cake for all show off, and yeah some lighter apps too

  15. gWallet says:

    Heh…thanks for the list. Some I have, others night. Friday afternoon now sorted. 🙂 Thanks!

  16. MightySandwich says:

    Aqua Forest, Super Monkey Ball, and De Blob.

  17. Steven says:

    chimney rock? you live in jersey?

  18. atashi jain says:


    This is super sweetly written. I have most of the Apps too and have had hardly gotten time to go through all of them. Till date I have not purchased any one.
    My favorite past time is “BubbleWraps”. It is a fun game.


  19. ryan says:

    Chimney Rock? Friendlys? Macenstine, are you in the lovely mountains of NC? I’m in Charlotte area and love taking my iphone for a spin up in the mountains

  20. Big Dreams says:

    I hope to get an iPhone soon, so this is useful for me.

  21. Seth says:

    I will second the nomination of iPint. Some of my iPhone-owning friends were showing off their toys, and I have to admit, the virtual beer is what I remember most.

  22. Walter says:

    A dicerolling app is not in the least impressive. Rolling physical dice is part of the game.

  23. lame says:

    but….when you run into someone like me and your trying to bluff your way into looking cool i immediately think your a poser cuz your phone isnt jailbroken….

  24. McCall says:

    Very well written, but the fact that you use Pandora or anything other than Slacker is just plain silly. Slacker.com – sweet iPhone app – all work together seamlessly. You can even get an iPod-esque Slacker player that refreshes content whenever it detects a Wi-Fi signal. Research it a bit… you’ll also preach it’s worth to the masses.

    Can you believe ANYONE actually pays for XM Radio or Serias or whatever?!?!

  25. McCall says:

    Very well written, but the fact that you use Pandora or anything other than Slacker is just plain silly. Slacker.com – sweet iPhone app – all work together seamlessly. You can even get an iPod-esque Slacker player that refreshes content whenever it detects a Wi-Fi signal. Research it a bit… you’ll also preach its worth to the masses.

    Can you believe ANYONE actually pays for XM Radio or Serias or whatever?!?!

Leave A Comment


Click here to inquire about making a fortune by advertising your game, gadget, or site on Macenstein.