Official NASA app and a hovercraft racing game: iPhone apps of the week

This week's apps include a free app to explore the latest NASA info and a game where you race at high speeds on a cushion of air.


Is the iPhone finally coming to Verizon? According to an article over at Apple Insider, sources in the Taiwan handset supply chain say Apple has contracted to produce a UMTS/CDMA hybrid iPhone, making it compatible with more networks worldwide. The sources say the move indicates that Apple is specifically targeting Verizon and that we may see Verizon iPhones by the end of next year.

Whenever I talk to anyone about the iPhone, they always say the same thing; they love the device, but wish that AT&T had better coverage. I happen to agree, because even where I work in San Francisco (a supposedly "hot" AT&T zone), I get really bad coverage at my desk and often need to walk to another part of the building to get decent reception. I even have to walk over to a window to send text messages! Maybe these new Verizon rumors will light a fire under AT&T to improve its coverage, because you can bet a lot of people will be jumping ship if Verizon gets the iPhone next year (including me!).

This week's apps include a free app to explore the latest NASA info and a game where you race at high speeds on a cushion of air.

View tons of images from several NASA missions including classic Space Shuttle shots (Credit: Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

The NASA app (free) gives you all the latest news, images, and video of current space missions from NASA. Get up-to-the minute updates of current missions with this official NASA app and follow the path of your favorite spacecraft. The interface is extremely easy to navigate, with buttons across the bottom for current missions, images, videos, and news updates. The missions screen lets you sort by your particular interest with info and multimedia about the International Space Station; NASA's recently unveiled ship, the Constellation; the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter; and several others.

The NASA app is perfect for those interested in science and space exploration with plenty of images and video to get a window into projects NASA is currently working on. The ability to follow current and future missions is particularly interesting because if you hear about a launch, you'll be able to track a ship's progress and follow along with the latest news from the mission. Anyone with an interest in science, space exploration, and current NASA missions should definitely grab this free app. When the next mission comes, you'll have a free tool on your iPhone to follow along as astronauts trace their path across the sky.

Use the pedal on the right to boost when the outer (yellow) meter is filled up (Credit: Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Ground Effect ($3.99) is a hovercraft racing game with beautiful 3D graphics and challenging gameplay. Tilt your iPhone or iPod Touch to steer your hover craft and use onscreen controls to accelerate and break. The game is set up with tracks laid out across a ring of islands in a tropical setting. Choose from 10 different styles of hovercraft and race through check points around 14 different tracks you will unlock as you progress. You can race to unlock new tracks or choose Ghost Race to try to go for your best time against a ghost of your previous best lap.

Ground Effect has excellent 3D graphics and a control system that's easy to pick up and play, but difficult to master. Your hovercraft automatically accelerates to it's cruising speed, but you'll need to use the gas pedal to get a momentary boost to push you past opponents. Once the boost meter goes down, you'll need to wait some time before you can initiate another burst. As the game progresses and you race on harder tracks, you'll need to use the brakes at just the right time to quickly navigate sharper turns. Anyone who likes racing games and wants something a little different than the usual auto-racing type of game should check out Ground Effect. Unfortunately, there is no multiplayer option at this time, but a solid Wi-Fi multiplayer might be the thing to make this game truly great.

What's your favorite iPhone app? Are you excited that the iPhone may soon become available on Verizon? What other good science apps have you tried? What do you think of Ground Effect? 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.