Weekly App Store Picks: October 23, 2009

The long-awaited weekend has finally arrived and with it comes the opportunity to consider purchasing some shiny new Apple hardware. If you’re looking for a distraction from those wallet-emptying new Apple toys, I suggest you check out my picks from the App Store.

This week’s picks are all about distractions, I’ve selected four apps to take your mind off everything else. My top pick is NFB Films, the National Film Board of Canada’s official iPhone app. Plus I’ve also been looking at Jamie Oliver’s 20 Minute Meals, Rebtel and Mr. Bounce.

NFB Films (Free)

appicon_nfb_filmsKnowing little about the National Film Board of Canada, I was admittedly drawn to the app for other reasons. You see, I’m a long-time fan of Boards of Canada, a Scottish duo who make crackling, whistful electronic music. The pair are known for borrowing samples — and even their name — from Canada’s NFB.

The app itself has absolutely nothing to do with the musicians. It’s actually a meticulously archived selection of videos plucked from the National Film Board of Canada’s brimming library. There’s both classic and current content, organized into categories such as Classics, Documentaries, Animated Films and Social Issues. It’s worth noting that these aren’t clips — the videos are feature-length presentations.

For such a vast quantity of content, it’s encouraging that the app is focused on usability. Browsing content feels just like Apple’s own iPod app, you can mark videos to be watched later, or send to a friend too. There’s even a button to find out what other nearby users are watching. And all this for free, too. It’s really quite brilliant. It’s a truly wonderful app and the NFB should be commended for allowing us all access to such a fantastic collection.

Jamie Oliver’s 20 Minute Meals ($7.99)

appicon_jamie_olivers_20mmCooking might not be everyone’s idea of fun but, for the non-believers, I can assure you that once you get started it’s a joy. There’s nothing quite like creating a gorgeous looking plate of food and then, in the process of devouring it, discovering that it’s actually quite tasty too.

The turning point for me came after I attempted Jamie Oliver’s recipe for pan-fried tuna steak with fresh asparagus wrapped in pancetta. Before that, the extent of my cooking ability was scrambled egg. Or omelette if I happened to get distracted and forgot to do the scrambling. For me, Jamie made cooking easy and accessible. A pleasure instead of a complex chore.

The iPhone app is essentially a Jamie Oliver cookbook infused with a dollop of multimedia goodness. There are 50 recipes included, all of which can be thrown together in 20 minutes. Each recipe features mouth-watering step-by-step photos and audio clips from Jamie too. There’s even a range of videos presented by Jamie to help you learn essential kitchen skills. A proper pukka package, as the man himself might say.

Rebtel (Free)

rebtelNews broke a couple of weeks back that AT&T is finally ready to allow Internet voice calls over its wireless network. What this means for iPhone users in the U.S. is that soon you’ll be able to make calls using the Skype app over 3G.

We’re still waiting for the news to manifest itself in an actual Skype app update, furthermore it’s unclear whether carriers across Europe will follow suit with AT&T. This is where VOIP service Rebtel comes in. The company claim that their new app allows super-cheap VOIP calls on the iPhone today.

Except the app doesn’t quite do that. What it actually does is uses a smart workaround to create a clever compromise. When you call a contact using Rebtel, the app automatically generates a local number which your call is routed through. It’s essentially an automated version of the Skype To Go service.

Mr Bounce (99 cents)

appicon_mr_bounceThe last of my devastatingly distracting picks this week comes in the form of a game. Mr Bounce gives Atari’s oft-cloned Breakout an intriguing physics-based twist. Rather than just controlling the bat, you also control the ball’s altitude.

Initially it feels complicated. Like a physicists re-imagining of a classic game. Changing the altitude effectively changes the bounciness of the ball. There’s also trajectory projection, so you can see the path that the ball will follow. The game is even rendered with an RGB aesthetic and glowing vector geometry.

Once you’ve traversed the first few levels though, the game clicks and you’ll be guided through 25 excellent levels by the catchy blippy bloppy soundtrack. Great fun and great value too as Mr Bounce is currently only 99 cents.

That’s all the picks for this week. I’ll be back in seven days with a fresh selection of App Store recommendations.

In the meantime, what apps have you been using this week?

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