- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 26, 2009

A year after Apple launched its popular online App Store, iPhone users are finding that no matter how strange their desire, there really is “an App for that.”

Many offbeat applications, such as a toast-buttering race game, a finger treadmill and a sonic mosquito repeller, cost less than a dollar but have raked in thousands for their developers.

“The App Store [is] a state fair kind of thing,” said Erica Sadun, a writer for the Unofficial Apple Weblog. “A combination of access and misguided passion gives rise to some of the weirder apps.”

Developers and App reviewers say many people download these Apps just to share them with their friends.

Perhaps that is why thousands of people have downloaded Magno Urbano’s iJog Finger Treadmill — “The perfect ‘exercise’ companion for the geek, lazy or busy one! Burn calories with your fingertips!” as the App Store Web site blares.

John Herrman, contributing editor for Gizmodo, a technology-review site, said the treadmill had several problems. If he moved his finger too quickly, for example, his iPhone registered that as a double tap and brought him back to the main menu.

“It’s fun to show to people. That’s really the extent of it, and it sort of works,” Mr. Herrman said. “Obviously, you’re not going to actually use it to exercise your fingers.”

Its developer, Mr. Urbano, agreed that the application was definitely not intended for exercise.

“I think that people have fun with the App,” he said. “The main point is to have fun, always.”

Another fun application is Billy Zelsnack’s iButterToast, a racing game where players compete with friends to see who can “virtually” butter toast the fastest.

“I had an App release party at my apartment. People were sitting there competing. And the game is completely stupid, but it’s fun to play in a group. It’s fun, like, ‘We’re going to go and butter toast,’ and ‘I’m going to be the champion of buttering toast.’ And it’s just ridiculous,” he said, laughing.

He said that anyone who downloads the App and thinks it is a waste of time is missing the point: It is supposed to be a waste of time.

“The first review [on the App Store] is, ‘This is terrible, blah, blah, blah,’” he said. “But the other reviews are in on the joke, [saying], ‘Ha-ha, check out my high score, you can’t beat me.’”

Joke or not, Mr. Zelsnack said he has sold “several hundred dollars worth” of downloads.

“If you have an App that pulls in a couple sales a day over a couple years, that’s real money,” he said. “These Apps took me a day to make.”

Ms. Sadun said that no matter how strange or simple some of these 99-cent Apps can be, developers are not trying to con their customers.

“I seriously believe these people have created something they have pride in,” she said. “Some of them are very good, some of them are very weird, but I don’t think anybody is looking to treat the App buyer as a sucker.”

In fact, some developers take their strange, low-price Apps seriously. David Hahn, chief innovation officer of South Korean software developer Vanilla Breeze, said he is proud of the firm’s Anti Mosquito Pro application.

Mr. Hahn said he and his team got the idea to make the App last Christmas.

“One of our developers said we should make a mosquito repeller App, while grabbing anti-mosquito spray,” he said. “At the very moment, making an anti-mosquito App in winter didn’t seem to sound right, but we decided to give it a shot.”

Vanilla Breeze consulted entomological research and “audio experts” to find out which sound frequencies repelled mosquitoes and sought out the pests to test their product. It has been downloaded tens of thousands of times worldwide since it launched in February.

Although these Apps have raked in a substantial amount of cash for their developers, it is not always about the money. Customers can explore some of the App Store’s strangest Apps for free.

The superstitious might enjoy Champion Gameware’s free Knock on Wood App, which features “a genuine picture of wood, not a computer imitation” that will give users “a chance to avoid tempting fate, or to bring good luck.”

“It’s kind of a one-liner in an application,” Mr. Herrman said. “When I would say, ‘Knock on wood,’ I’ll take it out and knock on it. But in reality, you would never do it because it would be embarrassing — or maybe you do it once and realize how embarrassing it was.”

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