Multiservice chat and 3D racing: iPhone apps of the week

This week's apps include a new (to iPhone) multiservice chat client and a stunt racing game with beautiful 3D graphics.


With more than 100,000 apps in the iTunes App Store and huge success around the world with the iPhone, it would appear Apple has done just about everything right with the launch of its first mobile handset. But as any iPhone app developers will tell you, the app approval process is less than ideal, with some developers waiting well beyond Apple's 14-day waiting period and sometimes longer to get their apps approved. Though Apple has stated it is working on the app approval process, there has been little in the way of progress if you ask iPhone app developers.

Recently, Apple added an automated system for weeding out developers who use Apple's private APIs, a process that may be part of a larger plan to cut down on some of the wait time. Unfortunately, developers are still struggling to get their apps to the iTunes store, finding out at the end of the 14-day waiting period that it was the automated system that turned them down. Hopefully, as more time passes, Apple will be able to figure out a way to make the process more efficient while still being able to provide high-quality and secure apps for everyone. Happy iPhone app developers mean more and better apps, so it's in all of our best interests for Apple to make the process better.

This week's apps include a new (to iPhone) multiservice chat client and a stunt-racing game with beautiful 3D graphics.

Trillian for iPhone
Use the tabs at the top to switch conversations (Credit: Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Trillian ($4.99) is a popular multiservice chat client on Windows machines that you can now use on your iPhone. Multiservice chat clients are ideal for those who have accounts across several services like Yahoo, Google, ICQ/AIM, and MSN, and want to use just one client to access them all. The interface is fairly intuitive, letting you add your user names and passwords for each service, and then letting you log on to all or specific services with only a few taps on your touch screen. Trillian does not support landscape mode for typing yet, but the developers say it is coming soon.

Once you're logged in, the Trillian interface looks a lot like it does in the Windows client, complete with your buddies' avatars, contact categories (friends, coworkers, etc.), and color-coded icons to indicate which service your friends are using. The way Trillian handles multiple chat sessions on the iPhone client is excellent, with a touch-scrollable tabbed interface, making it easy to switch conversations quickly. Also especially useful (and clever) is the push notification system, that sends you the first message of a chain so you know someone is trying to reach you, but doesn't send a huge list of messages when you don't want them. At this time, you can only stay logged-in (with the app suspended) for a maximum of 24 hours, but the folks at Trillian say it will be lengthened to seven days in future updates. Though the price is a little steep in my opinion, Trillian is a high-quality chat client that will appeal to those who use multiple services.

Jet Car Stunts
The screenshot doesn't do it justice, but this game looks and plays great (Credit: Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Jet Car Stunts is a stunt-racing game that runs surprisingly smoothly on first gen iPhones on up to the 3GS. Beyond the beautiful graphics, the driving control system is excellent, using the accelerometer for steering and onscreen controls for gas and brakes. What makes the game unique from other racing games are the controls for your rocket boost to complete big jumps, and the braking system that works both on the ground and in the air.

You can choose from two different game types including Time Trial and Platforming. In Time Trial, you race five laps around a track with corkscrew twists, tight turns, and huge jumps, to qualify for bronze-, silver-, or gold-medal times. Platforming has no time limit, but instead records the number of tries it takes you to complete difficult tracks--and they get very difficult in both game types. Time Trial has three skill levels, with four tracks to complete in each to move on the next skill level. Platforming has five difficulty levels, with five tracks in each to pass before moving on. Overall, Jet Car Stunts is one of the more unique racing games and features excellent graphics, extremely smooth controls, and plenty of replay value, with increasingly challenging tracks. I've had the game for a week and I still can't get over both how good it looks and how smooth it plays.

What's your favorite iPhone app? Were you waiting for a big-name multiservice chat client like Trillian before spending your money? Is Jet Car Stunts hard or am I just not good enough? Let me know in the comments!

About Jason Parker

Jason Parker has been at CNET for more than 13 years. He is the Senior Editor in charge iOS software and has become an expert reviewer of the software that runs on each new Apple device. He now spends most of his time covering Apple iOS releases and third-party apps.