Spring finds us writing again, wandering the streets of 19th century London, finger painting with a difference, rosining up our electronic violin bow, curling on thin ice and watching as dawn’s rosy fingers creep across the plains of Troy. So there!
This month we’re in something of a cleft stick. We’re big fans of Hogbay Software’s free PlainText app, but at the same time we wish it had one or two more bells and whistles – different backgrounds and fonts, for example. Perfectly aware that this kind of misses the point, we’re nevertheless drawn towards programs that combine the clean writing experience (blank screen, just text) with some degree of personalisation. After all, iPad apps should have a little whizz-bang to go along with their elegance.
Enter Writings (£2.99) which has the killer combination off-pat: clean text editing with word, character and line counts, the ability to change the font and background colour, spell checking, a simple filing system that lets you display documents as a PlainText-style list or as sheets of paper on a wooden desk – along with DropBox support. You can change the page width to make the most of the iPad’s screen and even change the size of your text with a bit of open-and-close finger pinching before emailing your finished documents as plain text or attachments. DropBox synching is manual, which may or may not suit some people – but it works really well. We’re quite smitten.
Time Travel eXplorer HD London
Here’s a city guide with a difference. Time Travel eXplorer HD London (£6.99) is an interactive map of London as it was in 1862, 1830, 1799, 1746 and – so you can place these historical maps in context – today. Thus, you can wander round modern-day London and with a tap of the screen, flip the map to show one of the historical versions and find out what lies beneath – sometimes literally – the streets you’re walking along.
Where that nice little wine bar is, in Bleeding Heart Lane? The street is said to be named after Lady Elizabeth Hatton who was found murdered there in 1626, heart still pumping. The sound of the trains going through Farringdon tunnel? Could be the ‘screaming spectre’ of Anne Naylor, a 13-year-old trainee hat maker who was murdered there. That attractive corner building near Clerkenwell Green? Yup, that’s the workhouse. If nothing else, the excellent maps, informative text, narrative voice-overs and searchable points of interest will make you see how lucky you are to be in the 2011 version of this great city.
Most photo editing programs are all about pixel-perfect accuracy, but what we like about Photo Delight (£1.19) is that it’s so tactile. (Oh, alright… it’s like finger painting.) This colourising app for the iPad takes a full colour photo, turns it into black-and-white, and then lets you reveal the original colours by ‘painting’ over the top with your finger. You can change the size of the brush, set the edge to soft or hard, zoom in to handle tricky bits and then save the results back to your Photo Album.
Alternatively, you can share finished pictures on Facebook, Twitter or Flickr, copy them to the clipboard or email them to friends. Although we like the hit-and-miss nature of actually dragging fingers around pictures, Photo Delight adds a couple of other features to make life easier. The Smart Touch tool registers the first colour you reveal, and thereafter as you paint elsewhere on the photo, will only reveal that colour until you reset it, while the Mask tool overlays a semi-transparent red layer over the picture so you can spot areas that have been colourised when they shouldn’t have been.
Having always been jealous of those people who can get a tune out of anything with strings, we’ve always thought it would be possible to transfer our skills on the bass and acoustic guitar to something vaguely similar – the mandolin perhaps, or how about the violin?
Early real-world experiments convinced us that while the former was a possibility, the latter would be a terrible, cacophonous mistake. And then along came Magic Fiddle (£1.79) an electronic, three-stringed violin with built-in teacher and accompanist which allows beginners to practice and make their mistakes in private while their neighbours continue to enjoy their peace and quiet.
A slow starter (there’s lots of lesson stuff about holding the iPad correctly and standing with a straight back), this quickly blossoms into real fun – there’s no formal music tuition; instead you follow coloured lights as they hit the fretboard to play the notes with your left hand while your right ‘bows’ the fiddle by touching the wheel at the bottom.
You can listen to other Magic Fiddle users round the world live as they practice (and no, you’re not as bad as that bloke in Nova Scotia…) and play along to any of the 30-odd tunes in the songbook (hilariously these include the ridiculously fast Russian Dance from the Nutcracker). The iPad’s speaker is loud enough to play along with other people too, so as your confidence grows, there’s no need to be shy.
One wouldn’t necessarly place Curling at the sexier end of the pantheon of Olympic sports – but that’s mainly because the real thing wasn’t designed by the people behind Curlington HD (£0.59p). For a start, the scene is a secret Curling Base somewhere out on the edge of beyond that looks more like a James Bond airstrip than anything else.
Unfamiliar with curling? Don’t worry, it’s here that you can acquire the skills required to slide your weighted stone along the ice and get it as close to the centre of the target as possible. This is hard enough when you’re practicing, harder still when playing against an opponent (who can knock your stones out of the way with theirs) and off-the-chart-hard when your opponent employs any of the ‘gadget’ stones which can explode, hover, become miniaturised or immoveable, attract other stones…you get the idea.
You propel stones along the ice with your finger, introduce a curled path by moving your fingers left or right and speed them up by brushing with an electronic broom in front of them. The gameplay is great – some people call curling chess on ice – simple enough to get started but absorbing enough to keep you coming back for more.
Imaging The Iliad
Cultured? Us? Well, occasionally we are, thanks very much – and so we love Imaging The Iliad (FREE). Not only is this an English translation of Homer’s epic narrative poem about the end of the Trojan War, but it’s also a meticulously scanned library of pages from the so-called Venetus A manuscript, the best known surviving text which normally resides in Marciana Library in Venice.
Pages are presented with the original on the left and the translation on the right, and even if you don’t understand Ancient Greek, it gives you an oddly satisfying visual context in which to read the poem. And if you’d really like to see more, you can click the page curl icon to open a scanned, zoomable image of the actual manuscript page. Add to that all the usual eBook stuff – animated page turns, bookmarks, and so on, and you’ve got a marvellous – almost heroic – literary experience.
Company: Apple via the iTunes Store
Various, as above.
All apps available via the iTunes Store.