I'd try to wow you with the fact that Apple is on the verge of its billionth iPhone application download. But I'm way too late. A billion downloads of application programs, or "apps," took place months ago.
Don't know what I am talking about? Listen up. Apple's iPhone is a huge technological and cultural phenom. So are many of its thousands of apps. They are specific software applications that allow the iPhone to act like a handheld computer. Apps are extremely popular and, for software developers, a way to make money — a lot of money if you're good and lucky.
The trick is: What turns iPhone users on? What makes them willing to buy one 99-cent (and up) app over another? Many apps are very useful. Many more are pure whimsy or sophomoric. Tons of iPhone users already have apps that turn their pricey smart phones into virtual fishing rods, sheets of Bubble Wrap and makers of strange bodily noises.
Which brings us to Tampa's Inner Four Inc., a company that has about 150 apps for sale at Apple's App Store. I'd never even heard of Inner Four until it got some attention Monday in Digits, a Wall Street Journal blog.
What caught Digits' eye was not a fancy app, but one that took about an hour to create.
It's called Mirror Free, a joke app so lame that it's offered for free. One app reviewer slammed it as the worst application program ever created for the iPhone.
No matter — and here's a quirky lesson about apps. Mirror Free's a hit. It dominated the App Store's free app rankings for much of last week, despite the product's own description: "Honestly, don't download this. It is just a blank screen with a frame."
Indeed, Mirror Free provides a user with a blank iPhone "mirror" that's simply your reflection when looking into the iPhone screen. The screen is surrounded by a golden frame. Tap the screen for different frames.
Now Inner Four, based just north of the Tampa Bay Downs racetrack, is no slouch. Its 150-plus apps for sale for iPhone users offer a diverse range of choices:
• iReceipt: Lets a business traveler record expenses, take a photo of any paper receipt, e-mail a text-generated expense report and download receipt images to a PC.
• Death Clock: Calculates your approximate death date down to the second, using body mass index, birth date, medical history and habits.
• 101 Burps: "Relive the memories a hundred times," this app description says.
I left a phone message Monday at Inner Four's automated phone service to try to reach John Swartz, one of the company's founders. There was no callback before deadline.
One app that Inner Four thought would be a laugh backfired. The name — Teen Torture — did not help. It used the iPhone speaker to broadcast high-pitched frequencies inaudible to most adults but unbearable to people under 20. Europe was most critical.
Inner Four in January issued a statement citing public confusion over the name. Teen Torture was "originally chosen merely to get people's attention, not to in any way condone or suggest actual torture of anyone." Still, it pulled the app off the market.
Not to worry, pranksters. Inner Four still sells an app called Mosquito Sounds that generates similar high-pitched sounds.
Robert Trigaux can be reached at [email protected]