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Matt Henkes



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Planet of the apps: Touching the void


Technology correspondent Jon Wilcox examines the touch screen technology of the BlackBerry Storm and highlights some of its best apps.

Research in Motion’s (RIM) attempts to take on the iPhone in the touch market emerged at the end of 2008 with the BlackBerry Storm.  A year on, and with details of a ‘Storm 2’ already hitting the web, we assess the proliferation of touch technology during its first incarnation.

Smartphones are continuing to migrate into the mainstream consciousness, thanks to the efforts of Apple.  However, the devices remain most prevalent in the business community, where RIM’s BlackBerry range, Nokia, and Windows Mobile-powered smartphones continue to face competition from the iPhone.

The use of touch functionality within smartphones is also proving popular, with the major manufacturers offering devices that take advantage of the technology.  So what touch-enabled apps are currently available for the business environment?  Perhaps it’s somewhat inevitable, but many don’t fall under the category of productivity…

One of the primary issues with the first incarnation of the Storm is its lack of multi-touch functionality.  The feature has become almost synonymous with the iPhone, and is implemented to great effect in many apps for Apple’s trendy Smartphone. Multi-touch is also a feature in the Palm Pre, another Storm rival, which has already launched across the Atlantic.  Instead, the Storm implements a cross between touch-functionality and RIM’s proprietary SurePress technology, where the screen has a physical, haptic feedback click.

Navigating through the unwieldy BlackBerry Apps World tool, it’s actually pretty difficult to find any app that truly offers a touch-screen exclusive app for practical business use.  Shifting away from the hub app, there’s only a meagre offering – including a Storm-enabled version of Google Maps.  So what can a Storm-carrying businessperson do with their touch-screen-wielding, accelerometer-enabled Smartphone?  Well, here are five premium apps you may find useful outside of office instead – don’t forget that trials are available in many cases:

Guitar Tuner
It’s no secret that many people, including Sift Media’s own technology editor John Stokdyk, spend their time strumming guitars, parping trumpets, or tinkering on the ivories of a piano.  So in that spirit is ‘Guitar Tuner’, which allows users to correctly tune their Stratocaster, Les Paul, or Gibson.

No, not an app that turns users into David Bowie; Labyrinth the app is a virtual version of the wooden labyrinth games of yesteryear.  Taking advantage of the Storm’s in-built accelerometers, players have to guide a ball around the course, avoiding the holes as they go. 

Air Traffic Control
A rival version of Air Traffic Control has already taken the iPhone by storm, but developer Mobigloo have released version 2.0 of this classic.  A game that puts users into the hectic life of an air traffic controller, the aim is to plot landing courses for multiple aircraft without causing mid-air collisions.  Challenging and addictive, ATC is available for $4.99 directly from Mobigloo and other BlackBerry websites.

GreenFinder Golf GPS
Aaah yes, golf.  The businessperson’s game of choice.  The stereotypical activity where deals are done, and business decisions are mulled over.  Regardless of your handicap, this little app (which costs a rather weighty $39.99) turns the Storm into a rangefinder. Including details of over 10,000 courses, the app can provide the distance to hazards, the distance of shots, and speaks the distance to the centre of the green.

Storm Level Pro
The virtual level has already won praise on Apple’s Smartphone, but BlackBerry Storm users won’t feel left out.  Another Mobigloo product, this ruler/level combo turns the Smartphone into a handy DIY/photography tool.  We’re not sure of the business applications, but at least you can see if your desk is level or not!

So there you have it – five interesting apps to get to grips with on the move or away from the office.  Let us know what your favourite apps are on your Smartphone of choice.


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Matt Henkes


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