Retina Display: The apps that don’t use it

The iPhone 4 brought a myriad of improvements to the product on its release in the summer of 2010. It had a better camera, a better processor, a vastly improved chassis — but I think one of the most obvious and most pronounced features was the Retina Display. This was a technology that increased the resolution of the iPhone’s screen from 480×320 to 940×640 (thus doubling the pixel resolution from 163 ppi to 326 ppi). This was matched by a problem: Every app was now blurry and it took time for developers to react to the new technology.

I didn’t upgrade to the iPhone 4, instead waiting for the iPhone 4S, and so by the time I was using a Retina Display, most apps had been updated to use sharper graphics and textures. When I did upgrade, some of my apps still hadn’t been updated to the higher resolution, and so I faced a choice between deleting them or keeping using them. In most cases, I found other apps that had been updated to work with the new technology, but a handful of apps remained despite their blurry graphics.

iStat by Bjango

A screenshot from the Bonjour feature of iStat showing my iMac's statistics.
My iMac, through iStat

Bjango is one of my favourite developers in the Apple community. iStat is an iOS version of their unparalleled Mac app with the same name, and it’s a well-designed app indeed. Opening the app gives you a choice of devices; either the iOS device you’re using or any number of devices found via Bonjour. Getting a device to show up via Bonjour is simple: just install iStat Server from the app’s webpage and you’re ready to monitor statistics.

Select the iOS device, and you get a screen showing you various statistics. Firstly (and least usefully) is a battery readout. This gives you a percentage of the remaining battery; given that this information is already available at the top of the screen, it isn’t terribly useful. Alongside the readout are estimates of how much usage that will permit, which may be useful if you aren’t used to your device’s battery life yet. Another stat is the remaining hard drive space, which is similarly already available through the operating system.

Elsewhere within the statistics, one can see a variety of things that aren’t already in Settings.app. Your device’s IP addresses — both the network’s IP and the IP on any Wi-Fi network — are available, as are the Wi-Fi MAC address and your iPhone’s UDID1. iStat can also give you the uptime and load of your device, which are interesting, if not useful on a regular basis. A pie chart shows the amount of RAM being used and how much is free — if your device is acting up, checking the remaining RAM might give a clue to the problem. This is in addition to a list of your iPhone’s currently running processes, so you will be able to see which apps are doing things in the background.

What are the minus points with iStat? It doesn’t remember where you were if you switch to a different app and then back, which really annoyed me whilst I was writing this review but may be much less aggravating in general use. Also, when I first got the app, it contained a way to free up the iPhone’s RAM, which was removed in an update that got skewered by the App Store’s reviewers — given that this feature is now available in other apps, it’d be nice to see it return to iStat.

Find iStat on the App Store here (£0.69/$0.99).

Detexify

A picture I drew of the Greek letter rho in Detexify.
Trying to find rho.

I use LaTeX2, and so this app is very useful from my perspective. If you don’t use LaTeX, then this very possibly won’t be useful for you!

The list of results for my drawing of rho from Detexify.
Results for rho!

What Detexify does is simple. It allows the user to sketch a character on the screen. It then takes that squiggle and finds a list of symbols available that match it, alongside the name of the package they are in and how to use them in a document. It’s terrifically handy if you’re trying to write a scientific paper. It’s also fairly handy for looking up what Greek characters are called, even if you’re not using LaTeX.

Detexify is available from the App Store in a free or a paid version; the paid version lets you contribute a little to the developer as a ‘thank you’, but otherwise there is no difference between the two. An alternative way to donate is to visit the Detexify website and donate through the provided links (this will mean Apple doesn’t get a cut of your donation).

Find Detexify on the App Store here (free).
Alternatively, buy the Supporter Version (£0.69/$0.99).

iSeismometer by ObjectGraph

A screenshot of iSeismometer, showing motion in all axes.
Earthquake!

This app from ObjectGraph is pretty much self-explanatory: it allows your iPhone to act as a seismometer, with measurements of the movement in the x-, y- and z-axis. Rest it on a table, and tap/shake/tilt the surface to see what it can do. This is an amazing app for demonstrating some of the capabilities present in the iPhone’s hardware, as well as being an excellent way to demonstrate the science of seismology to people who aren’t very knowledgable about it3, and so it stays on my phone despite the fact that the icon and buttons are somewhat pixellated.

Whilst researching this application, I’ve noticed that there are other seismometer apps available in the App Store, but that this is definitely the best free app available despite the non-Retina graphics. However, given a couple of the others are only 69p, I may well try a different one to see whether it converts me!

Find iSeismometer on the App Store here (free).

Galaxy Zoo by Zooniverse

If you haven’t heard of Galaxy Zoo, this may not appeal to you as much as it otherwise would; however, it’s a nice little app. It doesn’t let you do much other than look at images of galaxies and analyse them using the limited set of multiple-choice questions that’s familiar to any Galaxy Zoo user. However, that still means you can make useful contributions to physics whilst standing in the queue at the bank, so it’s definitely worth a look.

Find Galaxy Zoo on the App Store here (free).

SUBCARD® by Subway

SUBCARD® is Subway’s loyalty card app in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland4. One can either have a physical card, or download the app, which has a barcode used to load points onto your account. As well as this, the locations of nearby branches of the chain can be ascertained. If you go to Subway often5, it’s probably worth a look, but if not, there really isn’t anything else to it.

Find SUBCARD® on the App Store here (free).

Arriva m-Ticket

A screenshot from the Arriva app on the ticket selection screen.
Which ticket?

Somewhat strangely, the Arriva m-Ticket app actually got released — with non-Retina graphics — after the iPhone 4 came out. It allows the user to buy tickets for Arriva buses on their mobile phone; since Arriva operate buses near me, I have the app on my phone. It allows for the purchase of tickets on a variety of timescales in areas that Arriva works in (but a ticket in one area presumably won’t transfer to others). Choose a day ticket, opt for a week’s worth of travel or get the whole year in one go.

Having said all that, my experience has taught me that Arriva’s buses have something in common with this app: they were outdated when they were new and they’re never on time. As such I still haven’t actually used the app to travel anywhere and may need to review it again when I’ve actually had a chance to analyse it in use.

Find Arriva m-Ticket on the App Store here (free).


  1. Now that UDID is being deprecated by Apple, this may change in the near future. 
  2. Specifically, MacTeX, which I rather like. 
  3. To be fair, that could very well describe me. 
  4. I don’t know if similar apps exist outside of these two territories, so I apologise to anyone for whom this is unhelpful. 
  5. According to this app, the last time I visited was in 2010: I hadn’t realised it had been that long!