CultofMac's 23 Essential iPhone Apps Series Begins Today With #1: Bing | Cult of Mac

CultofMac’s 23 Essential iPhone Apps Series Begins Today With #1: Bing

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bing

So you’ve just bought a shiny new iPhone, and now you’re itching to plaster apps all over that pretty wallpaper. Well, we’ve come up with a few suggestions; in fact, we’ve come up with 23 of them.

Through the rest of this month or so, we’ll be listing apps we think no iPhone user should be without — apps that almost anyone should find useful — which will fortify your iPhone with just over an extra screen’s worth of valuable apps. And since most of these are free — with a few costing no more than three bucks — there’s really no reason not to own all of them. And this series isn’t just for noobs; we’re willing to wager there’ll be at least one app on our list that’ll surprise even the old-schoolers.

So fire up the App Store and prepare your iPhone for incoming apps as we launch the series with our first essential: the Bing app, in the running for the best Microsoft product I’ve ever used.

At it’s most basic, Bing is a search-engine web app with text-to-speech capability; the old standard for odd bits of web information is, of course, the Google app. But that app’s now been relegated to a distant second as Microsoft’s Bing app has pulled off a coup, with a slew of new features that pack several heavily used apps found elsewhere into one app.

The coolest of these new features is arguably the camera function — point the iPhone’s camera at an album cover, book cover or barcode, and the app will recognize (in the case of barcodes, automatically with no tapping on the screen requires) what’s on the screen and search for the item on the web. The feature’s only moderately useful, but it’s very impressive, and works pretty slickly.

Less whiz-bang but super-useful are the weather and movie functions; a single touch displays current and forecasted weather at the current location or movies and showtimes at nearby theaters. There’s also a social function that brings in Twitter and Facebook updates.

Bing’s map and directions functions, while similar to that of the iPhone’s native Maps app, are a bit of a mixed bag. The maps seem to load faster than in the native app, and addresses are speakable, just like queries in the app’s core search engine — but Bing lacks the cool little extras like the directional mode that shows you what’s in your field of view and the ability to calculate directions via public transit; and of course, there’s no Street View. And separating the two functions seems a step in the wrong direction.

But the map feature is really just icing on the Bing cake; add it to the new functions and Bing’s gorgeous splash page featuring goergeous, periodically refreshed photos and the result is an absolutely must-have app.

Alternatives:

Google has been suddenly left far behind by Bing’s new features like barcode recognition, weather and more; retains a slight edge in voice-recognition reliability.

Update: As a few of our readers have already noted, a Microsoft spokesperson I contacted told me that “the Bing iPhone app is currently available in the U.S. only,” but also added “we’ll announce additional locations as they become available,” which, I suppose, doesn’t rule out the possibility of the app eventually landing on less oil-soaked shores.