The iPhone has spawned thousands of useful applications, and if you're looking for one of those, look elsewhere. This isn't about them. It's about the exact opposite: totally useless but totally fun (or at least interestingly unusual) apps that you can get for $.99 or less.
We waded through hundreds of applications for this list and rejected most because, well, they're too useful! We left out handy apps like Dual Level for hanging pictures; myLite that helps you find your way in the dark; and FourTrack, which can actually record quadruple-tracked vocals with uncanny ease.
No, those all had too much purpose for our tastes. They actually do something. Instead we found ten of the best iPhone apps in the world that exist purely for the fun of it. Some of them are so useless, they're actually free. Hit the Continue link to see the list.
1. Virtual Zippo Lighter
It costs nothing, but excels in its realism. There's nothing quite like the sounds of a Zippo lighter, and this replicates those perfectly, from opening it, to flicking its flint wheel, to watching the flame dance to the side as you tilt it, to extinguishing it as you close the cap with a subtle clang.
2. Koi Pond
Watch the Koi fish swim around as you watch your blood pressure drop with this 99-cent app. Its water sounds sooth as ripples radiate from your fingertips. Those languid swimmers are smart, too, avoiding your bothersome ministrations with realistic awareness. Makes you want to write a haiku or two.
Blow into the iPhone's mic and you have yourself a 99-cent electronic wind instrument. You can even pick which scale your melodies are based on (Mixolydian mode, anyone?), and then play them live to other Ocarina musicians around the world. You can see where other tunes are coming from on a world map. We heard someone playing an ethereal version of "Amazing Grace" on this thing.
This one serves as a clock as it displays 20 of your favorite photos on your iPhone or iPod Touch screen. It only shows them in the vertical format and you can't crop the photos to fit, but it's a worthy display app for 99 cents. In its slide show mode, we just wish you could dissolve from one photo to the next instead of its abrupt default cut. Think digital photo frames are useless? This app might qualify, but sure beats buying a $150 picture frame.
Here's the king of useless 99-cent apps, making you thirsty with its realistic-looking beer graphic that diminishes as you tilt your iPhone. Pick the amount of foam you want, and listen to the repetitive sound effect of all the brewskis sloshing around, one after the other. Good for a giggle or two.
Everybody could use a sheet or two of stress-reducing bubblewrap from time to time, popping their troubles away with the plastic mini-explosions. This app is actually a game, taking away a good portion of all that stress-reduction with a touch of performance anxiety — it counts how many bubbles you've popped and promptlyrevives each one soon thereafter. This could go on forever. Good sound effects, and the price is right — it's free.
7. Sonic Lighter
Drop 99 cents on this virtual lighter, and you get a whole lot more than just another lame flame simulation. It not only acts like a lighter, but shows you a world map where thousands of other dollar-wasting chumps are firing up their virtual lighters too. Don't get us wrong — it's oddly enlightening to see the exact location of people all over the world who are doing the same thing you are, no matter how trivial, at that exact moment.
8. Nixie TubeClock
We love nixie tubes, and this 99-cent clock satisfies that hankering. Those old vacuum tubes from the '50s never looked so good, showing up in either portrait or landscape mode. We only wish there were tubes showing the seconds, because it takes too long to see them change from one minute to the next.
9. Newton's Cradle
You've seen Newton's Cradle, haven't you? This is a faithful reproduction of those swinging steel orbs, acting and reacting just as Sir Isaac said they would. It even acts according the Laws of Physics when you tilt the iPhone to the side. You get way more then what you pay for with this one, especially since it's free.
10. Spectrograph Wallpaper
Shout into your iPhone mic and you get a scientific-looking spectrograph readout on your iPhone in real time with this 99-cent app. It's fun to see what various noises look like, which you can then freeze for posterity and save them as photos or wallpaper. To be especially romantic, say "I love you" into it, and send it off to your significant other. Geek love, on a graph. How touching!