The release this month of Apple's iPhone 3G, the sleeker, faster, cheaper version of the original iPhone, was met with cheers and long lines across the country. But the star that stole the show was the introduction at the same time of the App Store, which features hundreds of downloadable programs—some free, some not—for both the new and old iPhones as well as the iPod Touch.
While video game apps like Texas Hold 'Em and Super Monkey Ball are leading the pack in downloads, the App Store features a number of useful health, nutrition, and fitness programs. U.S.News & World Report tested more than a few of the currently available applications and picked out our five favorites (and a least favorite, too).
Absolute Fitness. By far the most impressive health app we tested, Absolute Fitness is also one of the more expensive at $14.99. But for those wanting a comprehensive, easy-to-use way to keep a food and exercise diary, set target nutrition and weight goals, and track and graph vital health data including cholesterol and intake of calories, saturated fat, and sodium, this app is a bargain. (Food diaries have been proven to be effective tools for weight loss.) Before you get started, the program asks you a series of questions to establish your gender, date of birth, activity level, and whether your goal is to gain or lose weight. The powerful diary section has a wide-ranging database of nutritional information on foods in nearly every category (dairy, meats, snacks, and seafood, just to name a few), and even nutritional facts on specific brand-name products. By entering what you eat at each meal and which exercises you do, you can get the program to calculate calories in minus calories burned, letting you know if you're on the right track to meeting your health and fitness goals.
Quitter. For former smokers who have kicked the habit or are trying to, Quitter offers an extra boost of motivation. The free program is as simple as they come: Just enter the last date on which you smoked, how many cigarettes you used to smoke on average per day, and the cost of a pack. The app will calculate how much moolah you've saved. Thereafter, whenever you open the program, an outsized "Congratulations" appears on the screen, along with a statement about how long you've been smoke free and a meter showing your savings so far. As the months pass, the dollar amount can add up to hundreds or thousands. Congratulations, indeed.
ICE. While it may not be much more useful than a paper card in your wallet, the concept behind ICE, which stands for In Case of Emergency, shows a lot of promise. There are other emergency contact programs at the App Store, but ICE seemed the most comprehensive and the best performer. And for only 99 cents, it's the best value, too. The app lets you enter any allergies you may have to medications, food, or "other" (latex, stinging insects), and comes stocked with a long list of meds to choose from when entering what you take. There's also a section for recording any medical conditions you may have. Emergency contact names and numbers can be added easily from your iPhone's contact list. What's missing? Info on blood type, organ donation, and a way for emergency personnel to override your phone's security PIN, if it has one. Another problem? Since electronic and portable emergency contact programs are so new, emergency personnel—who would need the data if they found you unconscious—may not yet even think to check your iPhone.
Kenkou. The name of this simple, $4.99 program app means "health" in Japanese, and the aptly named app lets users keep track of some important personal health and wellness data. It's particularly useful for people with diabetes. The user can enter her blood sugar levels, blood pressure, cholesterol, and weight—and date-stamp each entry, enabling her to track trends over time. The program also lets users track how many minutes they exercised, record what foods they ate, and note other relevant details.
iScale. This is another food diary app, but with significantly fewer features than Absolute Fitness. Its simplicity, colorful user interface, and price tag (only $4.99), however, make it worthy of consideration. Each day, the user enters the foods eaten at each meal as well as nutritional and calorie information for each item. The program features an FDA food database with nutritional facts on a wide variety of foods, which is particularly useful for fresh fruits and vegetables and other nonpackaged foods. The program will calculate the total calories you consumed at a particular meal, and it will even keep a shopping list of foods you need to restock. A graphing feature will be added to a soon-to-be available updated version, but it's unclear whether that will cost extra.
Not every program in Apple's new software store is a winner. Our least favorite application in the healthcare and fitness category was Steps. This pedometer program uses the iPhone's built-in accelerometer to measure the number of steps a user takes. Unfortunately, it simply isn't accurate. In testing, it seemed to register only one of every two or three steps we took. It's a worthy idea that could be useful if its accuracy were improved, but at $1.99, save your money for Super Monkey Ball ($9.99).