I wanted to take a moment to remark on the fact that there is quite a dearth of skeptical software as iphone apps (and therefore I presume a dearth of android and blackberry apps). I'll go over what is out there that I have found, the good and the bad (or perhaps not as good), and how you can make your own app, even if you dont know any programming at all!
Searching the iTunes store for things like "skeptic", "evolution", "vaccination" and so forth bring me to the following applications.
Skeptic's Bingo: Yeah that one is mine, I thought I'd plug it again, go buy it and leave a constructive comment. This is a bingo game, with tiles that cover about 30 common claims from various arenas, such as evolution, vaccines, CAM and so forth (although I have only completed evolution for now).
Skeptical Science: Wow, this guy John Cook, spent a great deal of time pulling apart common global warming dissident claims and presenting them in a clear, easy to navigate app. The graphic design is clean (apparently his wife did it, can she help me clean up my program?). All I can say is: Nice work John! He also has put in some interactivity that lets you mark down when you hear a certain claim. I'm presuming that he is collecting data on what the most common claims are, as these may change with time.
At this point i'd like to point out that PZ Myers posted about an iphone app, counter-creationism Handbook, that basically had the Talk Origins website in it. I was also going to make an app like that but I did know the copyright ramifications of doing that, and I didn't know who to get in touch with over there. However, this app, presently seems to have disappeared. I am not sure why.
I'll stop here for a moment because that is essentially it for skeptical iPhone apps, that are actually like, you know, applications. There are a couple of more apps from the skeptical community.
Skepticality: for $1.99 this app basically offers a conduit to the podcast.
Skeptoid: for $1.99 this app basically offers a conduit to the Skeptoid podcast. Its layout and functionality is identical to the one above (and made by the same folks).
Making your own app
These last two apps point out that, basically, if you have a blog (or a podcast) for a small amount of money you can have an app. This is exactly what Answers in Genesis did when they made their app. Turns out, there is a service out there who provides software to turn you blog into an app. For a couple of hundred dollars, the AppMakr folks will turn your blog into an app and submit it for you into iTunes. The software seems pretty robust, so if you have a popular blog, there is no reason not to follow Swoopy, Derek, and Brian's lead and make an app out of it. Maybe you can make a buck or two. Or you can follow the AIG model and make it free.
But what if you don't want to make a conduit or just transform your blog. What if you want to make a real app? Well, thats what I wanted to do, so I'l tell you the process.
Well, this is more difficult and/or more costly.
You could learn to program it yourself. You need to buy a mac (you can get a mini for about $550, I got a macbook for about a grand. Then you need to drop about 100 bucks to become a developer. Then you get all the programming tools (no extra cost), and Apple's developer website is filled with forums, sample code, and documentation to get you going. There is a lot there, so much that it is a little overwhelming.
You also need to learn objective C. That's the programming language that is used for iPhones (and Macs in general). There are a number of good books on the subject, plus Stanford has a podcast in itunesU that is their entire course on iPhone programming.
This is the path I started down. But man, I ended up not really having time (work, landlording, two kids, two dogs, you get the picture). So what do we do when we can't do a job ourselves? We pay someone.
There is an excellent, but rustic, website called rentacoder.com (there is another one, I think, called guru.com, but I didn't evaluate that one). On this website you can describe what you want to do, and have people bid on it. I used it for Skeptic's Bingo, but I also used it for having someone make Excel macros for me for work. It's an excellent service.
However, if you want to make a full application and put it up for bid at rentacoder.com, I STRONGLY suggest that you take the time and come up with a detailed software specification (you can google that to see an example) that fully describes the app, each screen and what each button does. This way, when people bid on it, they really know what they are getting into. Prices?
Well let's say, I had someone in Russia doing Excel macros that had to collate data and graph things in a flexible manner and that cost between 30 and 80 dollars. Skeptics Bingo cost about 3000 dollars for an american programmer, and the he didnt do ANY of the content or artwork. This is why I'm charging a buck, I hoping to recoup that cost, and be able to pay a graphic designer to clean up the app so it doesnt look like a left handed engineer made it.
My programmer did the bingo functionality, the flexibility for me to expand the program myself (so I can add new bingo games like vaccines and CAM), he did the zooming functionality and the in-app purchase.
One other difficulty in doing this yourself is that due to iTunes store security there is a lot of barely intelligible stuff you got to do to your program to get it on iTunes. I did this part myself because I want to update it in the future without the help of someone else, but you can get the programmer to get it in the app store himself. Someone who does it often probably will have an easier time. To do it yourself, you must have the dev kit, create things like Provisioning Profiles, set stuff up in the AppStore conduit (called Connect) and a number of other steps.
Then you have to get past their approval folks. Yak! This is where I stumbled a lot. Sometimes I screwed up, sometimes it was because they didn't understand how to use the software (even though the help button really spells it out).
That's a lot of work! Why bother?
It is a lot of work, time, and expense to design a game or utility. There is no doubt (unless you are just "Appifying" your blog). So why? Well my opinion is that I would really like to see more skeptical applications on iPhones, iTouches, androids, and iPads. It puts a vast array of information in your pocket, in a format that is better than using the internet. It's more concentrated, more accessible if done right.
Further, perhaps some of you creative skeptics can make something fun?
I also challenge you to look through the AppStore. Never mind the unending versions of bible apps. Never mind the Answers in Genesis app I mentioned above. Check these out:
There are 5 acupuncture apps.
There are 5 traditional chinese medicine apps.
There are 4 chiropractic apps.
There are at least 2 "Natural Cures" Apps.
Taking a look at the "health & fitness" category yields many, many apps filled with utter nonsense. Some of them claim to heal you by putting hte iPhone near you! It would be nice to see some more rationally based apps out there that have similar keywords so they show up in similar searches, are based on actual scientific information, and are 1 dollar or free.
What is Skeptical Software?
I've been thinking about this a lot recently. I hate to admit this, but I really don't know. I have not come to a good conclusion of what it might be. Skeptic's bingo is obviously software geared to the skeptical community. The Mad Scientist mentioned Aardvark (vark.com). Sometimes you get a good answer (like I asked what the 3 best arguments for creationism were, and all three answers was "There isn't any", but when I asked about vaccines schedules, I got a bunch of hocus pocus).
It would be great if you could focus your questions to particular groups of people with that. you can crete a circle of friends, but I would rather ask a cloud of christians a specific question, or ask a cloud of epidemologists a questions rather than just putting out to a general cloud.
So, I guess a source that lets you retrieve information efficiently could certainly reside within the bounds of whatever "Skeptical Software" is. But is that it? Any topic that includes scientific investigation? Consumer protection? What about new topics that arise? What about the podcast and blog conduits?
Further, as skeptics we like to analyze and take apart problems and situations looking for "reality" or how something really works. This same characteristic is embedded into RPG games like World of Warcraft when you take down boss monsters. It a puzzle, it takes trial and error, it takes observation. But would I say that WoW is skeptical software? No, while some of the skills may arise, I certainly wouldn't put it in that category.
Well, whatever Skeptical Software is, I have two or three more ideas that I would like to implement, some of them are iPhone apps, and some of them are web based information sources. I hope my app get bought enough that I can pursue these other avenues of developing skeptical software, I hope you come along for the ride.
this week Apple told Mobile Roadie, a company that provides templates for clients to build iPhone apps, that the App Store would no longer accept “cookie-cutter” apps — apps made with app-generating services that do little more than reproduce websites or pull RSS feeds from the internet.
Looks like apple feels similarly to Skeptico in the comments below. That is quite a blow to those companies making blog conversion software. There is another interesting comment in that article.