Sunday, September 19, 2010

iPhone Application of the Millennium

It is no secret to those close to me that I love the Apple iPhone. Not in a 'fanboy' way, but in the way of a serious business customer that has been sorely disappointed by just about every cell phone and mobile device he's owned (or been issued) before the iPhone came along.

The iPhone is the first device that offered virtually no compromises when it comes to mobile functionality. It is a serious business tool that brings the internet, phone, email and dedicated apps to the user's pocket with an extraordinary level of integration and remarkably few compromises.

The key to the iPhone's success is Apple's operating system for the iPhone (at this writing OS 4.1) and the company's extremely tight (some would say anal) control of third party application approval and distribution via iTunes. Yet it is this tight control that has helped make the iPhone what it is - an extremely stable and rich development environment that allows developers to produce some stunning applications.

The application I'm going to talk about today is produced by a the two-man team that make up Emerald Sequoia LLC. Emerald Sequoia makes several time and astronomy-related apps for the iPhone and iPad, but by far their pièce de résistance is their Emerald Chronometer application.

Emerald Chronometer is really several applications in one.  The first application is a NTP (network time protocol) synchronization tool that connects to one of several NTP servers, grabs the atomic time signal and synchronizes the application to this highly accurate signal.  It turns brings atomic clock accuracy to the iPhone*

Next, Emerald Chronometer opens a series of exquisitely executed virtual time pieces and synchronizes them with the time signal.  The application offers fifteen beautifully rendered 'mechanical' watches with amazing complications.  A watch complication is a feature built into a watch that offers something more than the display of hours, minutes and seconds, it is something that adds complexity to a watch; a day-date display is a common and simple example of a complication

Each virtual mechanical watch offers its own set of unique complications tied to the theme of the watch.  Everything from a simple stopwatch with a split timer to a watch that tracks the position of all the inner planets in a heliocentric view.  You can spend hours playing with these complications and uncovering all the unique and fanciful options they offer.  Some are truly useful (stopwatch and moon phase), some just fun (zodiac phases).

iPhone Screenshot 2
The Geneva

iPhone Screenshot 1
The Terra

A quality mechanical watch with these functions would run into the thousands of dollars or more, often way more.  A top-of-the-line Patek Philippe Sky Moon Tourbillon sold at auction back in 2007 for $1,240,400 (that's one million, two hundred and forty thousand and four hundred dollars).  I can get the same functionality running on my iPhone for a whopping $4.99. 

Sure, I'd love the Patek, but I'll happily settle for the Emerald Sequoia and not worry about scratching the watch face while schlepping around work.

In closing - if you have an iPhone and you love watches and time keeping I strongly recommend you get this app.  Just how good is it?  If Emerald Sequoia announced today that future versions of Emerald Chronometer won't run on the iPhone 3G (my current phone) I'll be standing at the AT&T Wireless sales desk this afternoon, plunking down the money for a new iPhone 4.  It's that good.


(*The iPhone's internal clock is notoriously sloppy for such a modern device, and to make matters worse the OS won't allow applications like Emerald Chronometer to update the system clock.  This means that the atomic quality time keeping this (and other) applications bring to the iPhone is only available as long as the application is open and running.  Shame on you, Steve Jobs.)

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