Close Call, Flashlight, Alarm Clock Free and More

I had a long running instant message conversation with a friend of mine to, we were talking about the relative merits, or lack thereof, of the Nexus One versus the iPhone.

Mike, my friend, is a deep geek in every sense of the word. He gets a kick out of dissecting technology and reassembling it to see what he can make it do. He’s the kind of guy who will buy a relatively cheap movie camera then try to attach SLR lenses to it just to see if he can, and what can be produced if he does.

I use to want to do stuff like that, and I’m still fascinated by the internal goings on in tech, but I just don’t have the time to tinker. I want my gadgets to work. End of story. When they don’t work, I want them fixed. I can and have tinkered to fix my stuff and things belonging to other people, and I do enjoy tinkering, but I’d rather write and take pictures than tinker. And I went I do write or process the pix I’ve taken I want my computer to do what I want, when I want it, and pronto. I don’t want to be flagged every time my computer hiccups. I don’t want to see a pop-up whenever I sneeze. I just need it to let me write or play with my photos. The same is true for all my gadgets. They just need to work.

You can imagine the conversation Mike and I had. Mike was excited about the Nexus One. He pooh-poohed the stories that spoke of problems with Google’s new Android based smartphone. He was more interested in the openness of the device and underlying OS and development environment and railed against Apple’s supposed Orwellian ideology that surrounds its iPhone.

I, on the other hand, was happy to see the Nexus One offer a measure of competition for the iPhone, and while I would prefer that Apple not be so cryptic about how it approves apps, and I would like to see more user-adjustable features, I’m pretty happy with my iPhone and how Apple is handling it. The iPhone’s closed ecosystem doesn’t bother me because it tend to be more secure and I know what to expect from my phone.

Also, while the Nexus One is a giant step forward for other device makers, it’s not more advanced than the iPhone. It has some hardware and interface improvements, but those will likely disappear when the next hardware version of the iPhone comes out sometime later this year.

I pointed out to Mike that getting service for a malfunctioning Nexus One was nigh impossible, at least according to the reports I’ve read. If you have a problem then you need to contact Google if it’s software related or contact HTC if it’s hardware related. And Google only offers email support! Since Apple builds the whole widget, hardware and software, problems can be solved by calling one number, at least in theory.

Mike says he’s not concerned about service. He’s use to dealing with forums to find fixes, and he prefers that the open community works whatever issues come up instead of waiting for some entity hiding behind some citadel to grant the fixes or provide features that should have been present in the first place. He points to when the iPhone lacked cut-n-paste and it’s current lack of true multitasking as examples, both of which, he adds, were available to jailbroken iPhones early on and are initially available on the Nexus One.

We went back and forth, pointing out pros and cons for each device, but in the end we agreed that the Nexus One, like the first iPhone, was not a device for everyone and that Apple has had time to mature its phone. Google/HTC will presumably improve the Nexus One as well over time.

Of course, one thing the Nexus One can’t offer that the iPhone can is 100,000 apps, many of which are absolutely free. Among those apps are a whole host of capabilities that make the iPhone better than it is straight out of the box.

For instance, iPhones should let you put a selection of emergency information in a special place so that when the phone is locked anyone needing that info can get to it. Ideally the phone should dial emergency contact numbers without displaying them for security reasons. It should also let you put life saving info, your allergies for example, someplace easily accessible when the phone is locked.

Close Call, from Polka (odd name), is a simple app. It lets you create a wallpaper for your iPhone that contains an emergency phone number and a brief text message. You then use that wallpaper as your default screen when the phone is locked. You can use any picture in your phone’s library as the backdrop and the app puts a red banner in the lower portion of the screen containing your info. Once the banner is created you can toss the app.

A very simple solution. Get Close Call and use it. It takes maybe 5 minutes to set up and it could be a life saver.

Another possible life saver, or at least a toe saver is Flashlight. This is another very simple, but very useful app. Start the app and the screen turns white.

That’s it.

As the name implies, the white screen can be used as a flashlight. We are not talking about room filling illumination here, the iPhone’s screen gives a nice, soft, diffused light that works best in places where there is no light or in close quarters. It’s also great for signaling. In fact, it’s handy for a lot of things.

What’s also nice about Flashlight is that there are a lot of configuration options: strobe or flicker the light in a variety of ways, change the color (useful if you want to maintain night-sight sensitivity), and have multiple saved settings. Very simple and useful.

I’d easily pay 99 cents for this app, but lucky for us, it’s free. Flashlight is another must-have iPhone app.

The final app that no iPhone should be without is Alarm Clock Free. I’ve talked about free alarm clocks before, and mentioned that you should get this one. Well, I’m saying it again because of all the freebie alarm clocks available, this one does the trick simply.

Just set it and there ya go. What could be simpler? It even alarms when the screen is locked or the phone is in silent mode.

You can get the paid version if you want bell and whistles. Wait, you get bells and whistles on the free version. The paid app lets you wake to music and gives other niceties, but if you can live without them, Alarm Clock Free is for you.

OK, that’s a wrap for this installment of Free on iTunes. Come back next week for more. If you can’t wait then you’ll find more free stuff from the iTunes Store below with direct links.