Instant voice mail and online role-playing: iPhone apps of the week

This week's apps are an instant voice mail messenger app and a full-featured MMORPG that closely resembles one of the most popular desktop computer games in the genre.

iPhone (Credit: CNET)

Some interesting Apple news this week from AppleInsider revolves around Apple's acquisition of the iCloud domain name. Apparently, according to sources, Apple paid Sweden-based company Xcerion an estimated $4.5 million for the domain. It is rumored that the cloud service will be announced this summer at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference here in San Francisco.

There have already been plenty of rumors that Apple's cloud service would enable users to stream music to iOS devices, but according to the article, it may also offer a personalized "locker" where you can keep photos and videos as well. It will be exciting to see how this all pans out at WWDC, and whether people will be more inclined to sign up with iCloud than with MobileMe, which received a somewhat lukewarm response from users.

What kind of things would you like to see offered in an Apple-based cloud service? What would be a reasonable price for such a service? Let us know in the comments.

This week's apps are an instant voice mail messenger and a full-featured MMORPG that closely resembles one of the most popular games of all time.

HeyTell

HeyTell lets you send your location by hitting the crosshairs button before recording your message.

(Credit: Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

HeyTell (Free) is a voice mail messaging app that's been out for quite some time, but a friend told me about it recently and I thought more people should check it out. The idea with HeyTell is, instead of calling or sending a text message to a friend, you can send an instant voice mail--as long as your friend has HeyTell installed. Start by touching the green-on-white person-shaped icon to add people from your contact list. You also have the option to connect HeyTell to your Facebook account, but I wonder whether people really want everyone they've ever known sending them voice mails. When selecting friends from your iPhone contact list, HeyTell offers a premade invite you can send via text message to have your friend download the free app.

Using HeyTell is obviously a different way to communicate--replacing text messages with voice mails--and it is definitely fun to hear how people respond to rapid-fire voice messages. The interface plays into the fun: to send a voice mail, you simply press the big orange Hold and Speak button and HeyTell records your message until you let go, kind of like using a walkie-talkie. The app keeps all of your shared replies so you can go back and listen to individual messages. You can even save favorite messages to enjoy later.

Beyond its main functions, HeyTell offers a few for-pay Extras (tab on the bottom right of the interface). For $1.99 each, you can add a Voice Changer to create silly-sounding messages; Emoji support to add fun icons to your name (seems overpriced to me); Message Wipe to have messages expire after a specified amount of time; and (for $2.99) Group Broadcast, which lets you send out voice messages to your designated groups of friends. I only downloaded the Voice Changer add-on, but was honestly not very impressed by the results. Any one of these purchases will turn off the in-app ads, but the ads are pretty easy to tune out when using HeyTell.

Overall, HeyTell is an interesting way to communicate and is definitely more efficient than sending text messages. If you like the idea of quick voice mails to get your point across, you should definitely check out this free app.

Order and Chaos Online

The resemblance to World of Warcraft is obvious, but that doesn't make this game any less fun to play.

(Credit: Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Order and Chaos Online ($6.99) is Gameloft's answer to World of Warcraft on the iPhone, borrowing liberally from what has been called the most popular MMORPG of all time, and however you feel about Gameloft, I think it did a great job. The graphics on the iPhone 4 Retina display are as smooth as can be, and the touch-screen interface will be familiar to anyone who's played an FPS (or other 3D RPG) on the iPhone--use the joypad on the left to move and swipe a finger on the right to control direction and to look around.

Along with basic movement, Order and Chaos does an admirable job of making all of your interface elements easy to access. A tap on your character's avatar in the upper left brings up most of your main options, including viewing your inventory, looking at your quest log, checking out your character skills and attributes, sorting through spells, and creating groups. For actions, Order and Chaos does away with the "action bar" found in many desktop RPGs and instead uses a scrollable wheel of buttons in the lower right, which--while handy--is a little hard to navigate when in the heat of combat. You also have a chat window at the bottom and two extra hot bars at the right where you can place things like potions and food for easy access.

You start by choosing from four available races, then pick from four classes: Warrior, Mage, Monk, or Ranger. You also can pick your gender, choose from a few different hairstyles, and alter the features of your character's face with a few different presets. Once you've chosen a name, you'll be dropped into a beginner area of the world and the game does a good job of showing you the ropes for movement, obtaining quests, and engaging in combat.

As you complete quests, you'll gain experience and be able to level up your character with new skills (or spells depending on your class) and unlock items you couldn't use at lower levels. Each character has two skill trees that slowly unlock as you advance in levels, giving you the option to pursue specific skills to specialize your character.

Gameloft borrowed just about everything from Blizzard's hit game: the cartoonlike artistic style, the look of the landscape, the character design, the onscreen text colors, and just about everything else. But Order and Chaos Online lacks the imagination and storyline of World of Warcraft; you end up feeling more like you're working to advance than like you're playing a game. Every quest has the familiar "Kill six of these monsters" or "Gather 10 of these minerals" kind of feel, with little in the way of an interesting storyline to pull you along.

Even with these issues, new skills and spells will probably be enough motivation for most players to continue grinding away. Order and Chaos Online is easily the best MMO available on the iPhone, with a very smooth RPG experience that anyone who plays games from the genre will enjoy. As with any game with this much depth, I have to wonder how much time people are willing to spend playing on the small iPhone screen (if you have an iPad, the larger screen will definitely help), but either way, having a full-fledged MMO in your pocket is a pretty amazing thing.

It's important to note that when you log in you are given a free three-month subscription, but after that you'll need to subscribe for 99 cents per month, $1.99 for three months, or $2.99 for six months. While you might be put off by a subscription, my guess is that most people won't mind paying for a few months and then canceling once the next big game comes along.

What's your favorite iPhone app? Do you agree that HeyTell is a fun way to communicate with friends? What do you think about long and involved games on such a small device? Let me know in the comments!

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