Musical magic and flying discs: iPhone apps of the week

This week's apps are a piano app that lets you play hit songs and a flying disc game that's both graphically beautiful and challenging.


Most everyone has probably heard about the controversy over the location-tracking behavior on iOS devices since last June. Recently, when a developer made a program to show users' location data on a map, people were understandably concerned that their whereabouts could be tracked through their location logs without their knowledge. Apple promised in an open letter that it would resolve the issue, though the company claims it was not using the information for anything.

On Wednesday, Josh Lowensohn reported that Apple made good on its promise with the release of iOS 4.3.3, reducing the size of the "crowdsourced" location cache, and the device no longer backs up the cache to iTunes.

Even though I downloaded the software and checked out the map to see that my iPhone did indeed track my location, I was never terribly worried about it and took Apple at its word that the location data wasn't being used for anything nefarious. Still, I'm glad to see the company has listened to user concerns. Hopefully this will lay this latest Apple controversy to rest.

What do you think? Were you nervous that your information was being used without your consent or do you even care? Let me know in the comments.

This week's apps are a piano app that lets you play hit songs and a flying disc game that's both graphically beautiful and challenging.

Magic Piano
In World mode you can watch and listen as other people play their renditions of hit songs. (Credit: Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Smule's Magic Piano (Free) for iPhone brings the fun and beginner-friendly piano app to the small screen. Already a popular music-app pick on the iPad, Magic Piano offers up a unique touch-screen music experience, letting you play both classical and pop music hits by following and touching beams of light on the screen. If you don't like following along in Song Book mode, you also have the option to play freestyle in Solo mode, which lets you configure the keyboard into interesting shapes (circular, spiral, and other layouts) to add to the fun as you play.

Part of what makes Smule's music apps great are the social elements that let you hear music being played around the world. Switch to World mode to get a 3D view of the globe and listen as people play live from different locations. You get a couple of controls so you can either skip to the next user or you can give the current performer a little encouragement by touching the heart-shaped button.

Song Book mode is probably where you'll spend the most time, however, playing classics and hits you can buy using Smoola, Smule's in-app currency. While the app itself is free and comes with a couple of songs to experiment with, you'll need to spend a little cash to get hits from artists like Lady Gaga, Train, and Jason Mraz. Tiered Smoola packages let you choose how much you want to spend, but I got the Small Pack of 440 Smoola for $4.99 and was able to download most of the songs I wanted (at about 75 Smoola each). If you're really serious about Magic Piano, you can get the Medium Pack of 920 Smoola for $9.99 or the Pro Pack of 1,920 Smoola for $19.99.

It's important to note that if you don't know a song beforehand it's going to be hard to play it the way it was intended--Magic Piano shows the light beams as the notes should be played, but there is no indication of how you should play the song rhythmically. To be fair, it's even kind of fun struggling through an unknown song to see if you can make it sound good, but it's important to note that Magic Piano doesn't really show you how to play a given song--it just gives you the notes in order.

Another drawback is the small screen size. Though you'll be able to play along comfortably in Song Book mode, trying to accurately hit the keys of the various piano shapes in Freestyle mode is almost impossible. Still, my thought is that you'll spend more time in Song Book mode anyway, so that won't be a big deal to most people.

Overall, Magic Piano is a fun little music app that will appeal to anyone who wants to interact with a simulated piano. Though it costs a bit more to get the songs you want, it's satisfying to hit the screen just at the right moments to make a song you know come to life.

Frisbee Forever
Good-looking environments add to the fun as you guide your Frisbee through the course. (Credit: Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Frisbee Forever (Free) is the fully licensed flying disc app that lets you guide a Frisbee disc through colorful obstacle courses. Against a cartoonlike 3D backdrop, you start by flicking your Frisbee onscreen, then guiding the disc through rings and around obstacles, all the while gathering stars as you go. You have the option to use onscreen control arrows, but I found the tilt controls to be much more fun. If you gather all the stars and make it through all the gates to the finish line, you'll be awarded a gold medal along with experience points and Star Coins. As you level up, you'll be able to win new Frisbee designs in bonus levels, or you can use your Star Coins to buy new designs in the in-app store.

Frisbee Forever is a lot of fun both for the cartoonlike graphics and themed worlds, and for the smooth control system that makes it satisfying to complete levels. Something about hitting the turns perfectly and gathering all available stars has its own draw--I found myself trying later levels again and again to try to get a perfect score. The themed worlds give your surroundings plenty of variation, and all the in-game 3D models are well detailed, letting you know that the developers made sure there was plenty to look at--even if you're locked in concentration on the obstacles at hand. All told, there are nine themed areas with 10 courses each and one bonus world with 10 courses you'll unlock as you play.

If you're not the patient type, you can buy Star Coins via the in-app store to get fancy Frisbee designs immediately, but it's not very hard to earn coins by playing to unlock the designs you want.

Overall, Frisbee Forever is a fun and quirky flying game with great-looking graphics, a solid control system, and plenty of courses to master, giving it a lot of replay value. Anyone who likes arcade flying games should check out this app.

What's your favorite iPhone app? Is Magic Piano worth the trouble on the smaller iPhone screen? What do you think of Frisbee forever? 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.