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Why the iPad is a waste of time

Tonight in San Francisco Apple announces its latest software for iPad, iPhone and Mac computers. The Independent will be there, but today David Phelan reports on the latest apps and has an early look at some that haven’t been released yet…

I don’t really want to be writing this. I want to get back to SpellTower, a lethally obsessive app recently released on the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch.

It’s just a word creation game. That’s all, as I keep telling myself. But it’s cunningly constructed so you go back for more over and again. Create words in any direction – up, down, diagonally or any combination of directions are possible so you can manage a word in the shape of a bow tie if you’re lucky. The letters fall out of the grid when you’ve made a word. Three letters minimum, big scores for five letters and above.

You can play against friends on different iDevices, or face the treacherous and life-consuming Rush mode where an extra row of letters is added every minute or so. You can’t use a word more than once, there are all too many words it just won’t recognise and extra restrictions appear as you play. But it’s a perfect example of how to use a touchscreen for gaming (iPad’s extra space is the best) in a simple but compelling way. It costs £1.49.

Apps developers are nothing if not inventive. Whoever thought the App Store would just be a place for international clothing size charts and currency converters? Actually, I did. But now there are more than 600,000 apps all screaming to monopolise your spare time. Of course, games are a big part, and the latest iPad’s Retina Display offers such detail that game developers are releasing new titles to take advantage of this.

I had an early look at Infinity Blade Dungeons, out soon. It is the latest episode of a sophisticated sword and sorcery caper which tests out the graphic capabilities spectacularly from subtle shadow patterns to leaves that catch the light as they flutter to the ground. Another visual highlight this summer will be the multiplayer option called Party Play in Sky Gamblers: Air Supremacy (£2.99), which makes aerial dogfights between players on iPhone, iPad and iPod touch an intense affair. The version I played had some jerkiness but this will be eliminated before release. You can also use Apple’s AirPlay feature so multiple players to throw the game onto a compatible big-screen TV, and everyone can see how badly they’re doing.

But if games aren’t for you, Apple has other ways to make you time-poorer. Barefoot World Atlas (£5.49) is an educational tool to teach kids, actually all of us, about countries and more. It’s an involving and fact-loaded app which takes its information live from Wolfram Alpha and describes populations, native fauna and more in hundreds of countries. It’s available now for iPad and has an iPhone version on its way.

There are lots of educational apps presented in dramatic ways, like Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomy (£9.99, iPad). This uses previously lost Da Vinci drawings to show parts of the body, switching at a touch from skeleton to blood vessels to a skin-clad body. The level of detail is intense, down to Da Vinci’s written notes which you see as his original backward-style script and in translated form. You can even enhance faded parts of drawings by turning on an ultra violet light effect.

If you like reading but prefer, you know, books, there are at least some striking apps which do things books can’t. Like the clever animations in the upcoming Star Academy, which looks glorious and will captivate children’s attention effortlessly. There’s no price yet but this looks great. It’s from Monster Costume, the company behind the charming Bartlebys’ Book of Buttons (£1.99).

Finally, there are even ways to waste time and keep fit. The new Nike+ Training app, free but not out until the end of the month, aims to be your own personal trainer. It comes with an electronic puck which slips into certain Nike shoes (not free, obviously). This measures your steps, speed and – get this – how high you jump. This is useful, and enormously fun to test.

Other app stores mostly lack the numbers of Apple’s. Android is the exception with hundreds of thousands of apps on the Google Play Store. But even so, it doesn’t compete in terms of range or quality. Though admittedly that means Android users may not waste as much time.