A look at some of today's best and most popular smartphone apps on the market
Words with Friends
Words With Friends, the social mobile adaptation of Scrabble is everywhere. Blazers are playing under their desks during math. Large rivalries spawn at Silver Spring bus stops. If you are Alec Baldwin you play as you get kicked off a plane for refusing to stop. Everyone from celebrities to newlyweds is mashing away at their smart phones in an earnest attempt to outwit and outplay friends and strangers alike.
The game plays like Scrabble, with players taking turns creating words from seven randomly selected tiles.
The innovative part of Words With Friends and what sets it apart from board versions of the game lies in the social and mobile aspects. Not only do you have up to 11 days to take your turn, thus eliminating the need to play the entire game in one sitting, you can also invite any of your Facebook friends to play. The game is entirely mobile with an app available for both Android and iOS devices.
Magnet math teacher David Stein has a very different opinion of the wildly popular game. "Words With Friends is an abomination," says Stein, "Words With Friends is like saying, ‘lets play baseball on a pentagon'".
Much of Stein's gripe concerns the way Words With Friends lays out the board. In Scrabble the triple letter score tiles are on the outer reaches of the board and it is a common strategy to build out from the center of the board to reach these tiles.
In Words With Friends the triple letter scores are found much closer in. Stein complains that there is a reason these tiles are placed so far from the center and Words With Friends ignores this, "Scrabble is a carefully thought out system and there is a real point to the board" says Stein.
Instagram, the social based photo app has skyrocketed to 15 million users since its release in October 2010. This led to the announcement from Apple naming Instagram the app of the year for 2011. The instant success is based on the idea that people love easy photo sharing with simple preset filters that transform dull cell phone pictures into inspirational retro art pieces.
When you launch the Instagram app, it opens up your phone camera and provides the user with a simple interface from which to start snapping shots. Having taken a picture the app saves the photo and offers the user a series of filters and effects to apply to the photo.
Like many other trends in the past year, Instagram leans heavily on retro sensibilities. All of the filters are imitations of nostalgic photo-taking styles but don't require a professional-quality camera or fancy photo developing studio.
Many of the filters have suspiciously hipster-like names such as Walden, Inkwell and 1977, and the app has the potential to make all of your photos ten times more artsy. Along with these filters, photos taken in Instagram are constrained to a square shape for that old school photography feel.
Instagram's founders were fascinated by Polaroid cameras as kids and wanted to recreate the magic of "instant" images by combining retro-like photo filters with easy sharing ability. Their dream has been successful. Not only do they have a fast growing membership, but celebrities and politicians have warmed up to Instagram. Even President Barack Obama uses the app.
Instagram has become so popular that London's East Gallery at Brick Lane plans to open an exhibit filled with only Instagram photos.
Tilt to Live
This mobile tilt-based shooter game is not nearly as widely-known as other two apps, but it is a cult classic and has its fair share of devoted fans.
The game has a religious following that will binge-play the game until their eyes cant stay open anymore… but even then they still feel like they are being followed by little red dots.
The game is set up as an inverted view of a green arena in which you tilt an iPhone back and forth to control a small silver cursor. The objective of the game is to destroy as many red dots as possible before the red dots touch you and force an automatic restart. You destroy red dots by moving your cursor into floating powerups. These powerups can have multiple effects, giving you advantages ranging from dot seeking missiles to a shield for your cursor.
Magnet physics teacher James Schafer (High Score: 11 million) explains that part of the appeal and addictive quality of the game lies in the need to improve on one's high score. "Like many of these silly, games you are constantly trying to improve your score. You think you can always do better than the last time," says Schafer.
One of the best parts of the game for Schafer is how the iPhone or iPod Touch's controls are used to completely immerse the player in the game, "One of the neat aspects of the game is it takes advantage of the internal gyroscope. You are actually interacting with the game," he says
Juniors Ian Ozeroff (High Score: 6 million) and Thomas Gaddy (High Score: 19 million) are both avid Tilt to Live fans. But they agree that too much of a good thing can be taxing on their minds and bodies. "After a hard core binge the dots start to follow your irises even when you are not playing the game," says Ozeroff.
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