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Review: iPhone Apps Store

The best part of iPhone firmware 2.0 is its ability to access the iPhone Apps Store. You want apps? It's got apps. The store is sheer, addictive fun. Here is an in-depth review of how it all works.
On the PC

Using the Apps Store on your computer is almost identical to using the iTunes Music Store. It offers all the same information about applications that is available in the phone version of the store, but it takes advantage of the expanded real estate that PCs enjoy.

When your iPhone is plugged into your PC, you can see an icon in your library for applications. Clicking on it brings you to a list of all the applications you have already downloaded and installed. Here, you can choose to read about those apps further, or you can check for updates, or continue on to the home page of the Apps Store.

The home page provides easy navigation for finding applications. The search bar is always at the top, so you can jump quickly to an application that you know you want to learn more about.

There is also the same set of rotating featured applications being given special treatment near the top of the storefront. Under that, you'll see a list of new applications, more featured applications, a list of "What's Hot" applications, and "Staff Favorites." These fill up the center of the screen.

To the sides are columns that list all the categories (on the left side), and lists of the top paid applications and top free applications (on the right). All the information provided on the PC version of the Apps Store is identical to the phone version. It's just easier to see and read. There are additional links, however, that enrich the PC version a little bit.

On the Google application page, for example, are links to Google's Web site, Google's mobile application support page, and a link to all of the applications that are available from Google.

Lastly, there are links that show you what other applications users of the Google application have also downloaded.

Downloading applications onto your PC takes mere seconds. The apps are then stored in iTunes, awaiting the next time you sync your iPhone to your computer. There is a controller within iTunes that allows you to choose which applications you sync to the iPhone. Any apps you've downloaded directly to the iPhone are synced back to your PC.

Gift cards can be used to purchase applications.

Flukes

The store may be extremely well done, but there are a few flukes with respect to how the Apps Store and applications work with the iPhone itself.

The iPhone can hold 16 application icons on its screen (not counting the four permanent icons at the bottom). As you add applications or Safari bookmarks, you can create a nearly unlimited number of pages to hold your bookmarks and applications. As I downloaded, I took care to arrange the applications in a specific way so I know where everything is. That didn't last for long.

The application updating process screws up everything. Let's say you've downloaded an application and placed it on the iPhone's home screen. Sooner or later, an update is made available. You can ignore updates, download one at a time, or download them in bulk if more than one update is available at a time.

If you choose to download, be prepared for a nasty surprise. The icon you so lovingly placed on your iPhone's main screen is deleted. *Poof!* The iPhone then jumps to the last page you have created for shortcuts and re-installs the application there. This could be three or four screens away from its original location. Moving it back across multiple screens is an experience that borders on a nightmare.

I seriously hope that Apple fixes this problem, or provides a PC-based tool that allows easy manipulation of icon placement on the iPhone. Having applications constantly jump all over the place makes for a schizophrenic experience, to say the least.

Easy, Breezy, Beautiful

In all, searching for and finding applications could not be any easier. It is extremely helpful that the iPhone has a software QWERTY keyboard to make typing in application names a little bit faster. Also, the iPhone's generous 3.5-inch screen means there is plenty of real estate to spread the store onto, and Apple has taken very good care to use it properly. The store has clearly been well thought out, and it helps a great deal that developers have gone wild and packed the store with more 800 applications (so far, anyway).

Apple was smart to use the existing framework of its iTunes Music Store as the backdrop for the iPhone Apps Store, because it is a market-proven success. Despite a few hiccups, the iPhone Apps Store is by far the easiest way to find, download, and install third-party applications for any phone I've ever encountered.