Thursday, September 03, 2009

Review: RustyBrick Jewish iPhone and iPod Touch Apps

A guest Post By E. Fink

This post has been partially sponsored by RustyBrick. E. Fink received some free apps and DovBear received other considerations with no advance promises as to the content of this review.

Being the Technophile that I am, the latest gadgets and gizmos are always of interest to me. Nearly four years ago I watched a live blog of the presentation introducing the iPhone to the world as it happened. I was very excited to get my hands on an iPhone. Unfortunately, when they were first sold, the price was prohibitive and the device's capabilities was pretty limited. In June 2008, the iPhone 3G was released and it brought the cost down significantly and opened the Operating System to developers to create their own apps. The combination of these two factors make the iPhone such an incredible device for accessing nearly unlimited information at one's fingertips.

One of the first apps I ever purchased was the Siddur app (clicking these links will open the iTunes App Store) developed by RustyBrick. The Siddur app has really grown up since its release in July 2008 and is now complemented by a host of other RB Jewish-centric apps.

I think it is important for us to support their efforts in providing these apps for the Jewish community, provided their purpose and performance is meritorious. I wish to provide a basic overview and review of some of their more useful apps.

The RB flagship app is the Siddur, and it is amazing. You know you have always wanted a Siddur that made the daily adjustments for you. In other words, on Mondays and Thursdays include Torah Reading and on Rosh Chodesh include Hallel etc. IPhone Siddur uses its calendar to provide the precise prayers for each day. The four major Nuschaos are supported including Ashkenaz, Sefard, Ari and Edot Mizrach. The entire text of the printed Siddur are included with bookmarks making it easy to move from place to place if you want to skip around. You also get all the usual blessings, so you'll never need that tattered wallet bencher again. It could not be simpler or more effective. But the Siddur includes much more. There is a section with all the Zemanim including the basic explanation of what each zman is used for. How does the app know the zemanim for your location? It uses the built in iPhone GPS to determine your location. It also using this location to provide the nearest minyanim to your exact location using the GoDaven database. An included Luach gives you the hebrew date as well as the Daf Yomi and weekly parsha. You can choose any secular or Hebrew date and find the corresponding date with a few touches of the finger. Finally, there are some really interesting extras included with the Siddur. First, you can add your own Luach Events to the Luach. Second, you can see everyone else who is using the Siddur at the same time as you. Pretty cool. The best extra feature is the Misheberach list. You can add a name to the global list and then you can access that global list. So, people who would like to pray for your added name can do so with ease.

The Siddur is convenient, easy to use, takes moments to master and is a very affordable $10. Every frum iPhone / iPod Touch owner should have one.

This app just takes all the information and puts in your pocket. You can sort by rating, location, price or by name and you get all the info you need to plan your next meal. Of course, tapping the phone numbers will call the restaurant and tapping the location will take you to Google Maps to help get you there. A nice touch is the Kosher Symbols section so that you can look up national and international Kosher Symbols on the go. Finally, you get all the major food blessings divided by food category. So if you are a relatively new Bracha Maker you can use Kosher as your guide to right Blessing. Kosher is $5 in the iTunes App Store.

This is perhaps RB's the most creative use of the iPhone OS. Mikvah is password protected so no one can see your information. It helps you find local Mikvaos, keep track of of one's schedule and includes Rabbi Yitzchok Jaeger's guide to Family Purity in the app. You also get a Mikvah checklist and a section to add contact information for Mikvah related people like your Rabbi or local Mikvah attendant. At $8 it is yet another RB bargain.

Having easy access to important Jewish texts is great. With these 2 apps you get the entire Tanach and you can also get a separate Tehillim app for sayers of Tehillim. The Tanach is $15 and is very useful, while the Tehillim is just $2. These apps make Judaism even more portable.

Mini Apps

Menorah helps you keep track of Chanukah and you get a nice sing-a-long version of the blessings done by my friend Mo Kiss.

Megillah brings you the text of the Megillah. It includes cute gags like Graggers for Haman's name and an air horn as well.

Sefiras HaOmer makes saying the Omer easy with the blessings and automatic tracking of the days.

These apps are all free.

RustyBrick has a few more apps that I have not tested or used. But I am sure that they are of at least equal if not better quality than the apps I do use on a constant basis. RustyBrick does not limit themselves to Jewish apps. They are expert iPhone developers and make beautiful, simple and useful apps for all types of people. They are always looking for new and better ideas. They are open to suggestions and love hearing from their fans. You can email them by clicking here.

If you own an iPhone or iPod Touch and are a practicing Jew these apps make it easier and more fun to be a Jew.

These are reasons enough to get yourself an iPhone. The device is amazing.

Unfortunately, Barry from RB told me that there a ton of "pirated" versions of the Siddur floating around the internet. He said he is flattered that people like the Siddur enough to get it without paying for it (steal it). I say, there is no excuse for stealing. Further, these guys deserve a medal for all the great Jewish apps they provide our community. Please do support them and don't steal.

Great job guys.

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