Seven free apps with a new face on BlackBerry Storm

FRAMINGHAM – The weeks following the release of the Research In Motion’s first touch screen BlackBerry, the Storm, on November 21, were unfortunately filled with complaints from users, reviewers and critics alike regarding the extremely poor quality operating system that shipped with the device.

And rightly so; RIM and Verizon Wireless rushed out buggy OS code that was simply not ready for prime time, in order to meet previously stated release dates.

However, behind the scenes, a variety of mobile software developers were studiously working those weeks away on new applications for the much-anticipated device. Now, less than a month later, Verizon has updated and improved the Storm OS, and many of those apps are starting to pop up on the Web. Best of all: Many of them are free.

Not all of the following applications were developed specifically for the Storm, but each and every one functions well on the device–with the exception of a few minor bugs.

I’ve mentioned most of the apps in previous free BlackBerry software stories, but that was before the Storm landed and before anyone knew whether or not they’d work on RIM’s first touch BlackBerry.

(Note: All of our recommended applications were downloaded and tested using a Verizon Wireless BlackBerry Storm 9530 running OS, the latest official Verizon release.)

WeatherBug for BlackBerry Storm: Makin’ it Rain

One of my personal favorite free BlackBerry applications, WeatherBug is a unique and valuable mobile weather app. The software creates a dynamic icon on your BlackBerry home screen that updates itself according to your local weather conditions–or the weather conditions in a pre-specified locale.

For instance, when it’s partially cloudy, your WeatherBug icon displays an image of the sun with a cloud eclipsing it, as well as the current temperature and the day’s predicted high and low. And when the weather changes, the icon is automatically modified accordingly.

The software pulls its information from the company’s WeatherBug Network, which it claims is the largest, most technologically advanced weather system in the world, at more than five times the size of even the U.S. National Weather Service.

WeatherBug is available for a variety of BlackBerry devices, but the Storm specific-version is different in that you can employ touch-based gestures for navigation. And the app utilizes the Storm’s built-in accelerometer to determine the device’s orientation–portrait (vertical) or landscape (horizontal)–and customize the display accordingly.

Additional WeatherBug features include the ability to view a weather summary for the current day, with metrics like dew point, wind chill/heat index and humidity levels; seven day forecasts; maps with numerous overlays including current temperature and precipitation; and local weather alerts.

WeatherBug for the BlackBerry Storm is available for free over-the-air (OTA) download via the BlackBerry browser.

Viigo for BlackBerry Storm: The Ultimate Lifestyle App

I’ve mentioned Viigo many times on my blog and in various mobile tips and tricks articles, for good reason: The application is by far my favorite mobile RSS reader.

I won’t get into too much detail about that software–there’s plenty of information on Viigo available in those other stories–but Viigo is much more than just a simple RSS reader. For example Viigo provides a variety of weather information; sports schedules, live scores and standings; stocks and finance data; flights and travel updates; and much more.

And the Storm-specific version of Viigo–though still in alpha testing stages and a bit buggy–takes advantage of a number of the device’s unique features to improve an already impressive user experience.

Storm users can scroll through stories in an RSS feed by simply swiping a finger across the screen to the left for newer stories and to the right for older ones. And the app works with the Storm accelerometer, so you can switch back and forth between portrait and landscape modes.

The most notable bug that I spotted was fact that you consistently need to tap the BlackBerry Escape key twice to return to previous screens–after hitting it only once, the screen often freezes midway through the transition between pages.

Surf on over to using your Storm’s BlackBerry browser for a free download.

Facebook for BlackBerry Storm: Mobile Social Networking Done Right

One of the few apps officially available through Verizon’s on-device BlackBerry Application Center, Facebook for BlackBerry is also one of the most popular. Facebook for BlackBerry on the Storm.

That’s because it brings most of the social networking site’s basic functionality directly into the palm of your hand. Though not as robust as the real Facebook site–you can’t access groups, for example–the mobile application displays your home screen notifications, such as status updates, and you can “poke” or message friends and write on their “Walls.”

Lists of friends and their status updates are also available with a single click from the mobile home screen. Photo uploading and sharing is as simple as snapping an image with your smartphone’s camera and uploading it to the site from the application’s home screen.

The Storm-specific version of Facebook for BlackBerry, though not exactly feature-rich, runs seamlessly on the device. It incorporates the Storm accelerometer to let users employ both portrait and landscape views. And uploading photos is significantly more interesting than with other BlackBerrys due to the Storm’s 3.2 megapixel digital camera–the highest quality camera of any RIM device.

For BlackBerry Storm: Strike a Pose

The Flickr Photo Uploader for BlackBerry is a free, yet truly valuable mobile photo uploading application that works in conjunction with Yahoo’s online photo storage and sharing service.

To upload images stored on your device or media card, just launch the app, locate the photos and tap an upload command. You can give photos custom names, choose privacy settings–Private, Friends, Family, etc.–and even select the size in which you want the image to appear. Within a minute or so, the photo will be available on your Flickr page.

The Storm-specific version of Flickr Photo Uploader for BlackBerry is exactly the same as the general BlackBerry app, except it utilizes the Storm’s accelerometer to let users pick between portrait and landscape orientations.

Flickr for BlackBerry is available for free on RIM’s website, as well as through Verizon’s on-device BlackBerry Application Center, and all you need is a Flickr account, which is also free.

TwitterBerry on the BlackBerry Storm: Reach Out and “Tweet” Somebody

At this point, if you’ve never heard of the social networking/microblogging service Twitter, you’d be wise to perform a quick Google search on the subject. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

TwitterBerry, a free, easy-to-use mobile application for BlackBerry, offers much of the same functionality as the standard, desktop Twitter. With a single click from the BlackBerry home screen, you can input Twitter updates.

Replies to status updates, as well as timelines of their latest posts and the last public posts, are available through the TwitterBerry menu, which is accessed via the BlackBerry menu key. You can even refresh timelines without ever leaving them and set your own custom TwitterBerry notifications.

While there’s no Storm-specific version of TwitterBerry quite yet, version 0.8–the latest official release–works well on RIM’s touch screen device. But since it’s not built for the Storm, the app does not work with the handset’s accelerometer, which means it’s only viewable in portrait mode.

Unfortunately, that means the default keyboard option is the dreaded SureType keyboard–though multitap format is also available. You also cannot hide the keypad, which takes up half of your total screen real estate.

You can download TwitterBerry OTA from Orangatame Software.

WorldMate Live: A Travel Maestro

The WorldMate Live service aims to simplify the lives of frequent travelers by automatically delivering a variety of valuable content and services to mobile devices.

Free features include the My Itineraries function, which stores information on flights, hotels, meetings, public transportation and car rentals on BlackBerrys.

The application also lets you export travel information from booking confirmation e-mails, corporate calendars and more, directly into WorldMate Live, and it automatically assembles your itineraries. You can even read hotel reviews from other WorldMate Live users and then book a residence directly from the application.

The “Clocks” feature provides the current time and weather for one set location, as well as the time differences in four additional cities of the your choice. The Weather function offers a five day forecast for any major city, and the currency converter quickly translates U.S. dollars into Euros or Japanese yen and back again.

Finally, a full color, searchable map of the world provides locations of cities as well as the date and time of day in each selected location.

The Storm-specific version of WorldMate Live is exactly like the general BlackBerry version, and it doesn’t use the Storm accelerometer so you can only view the application in landscape mode, for now.

Download WorldMate Live OTA for the BlackBerry Storm by visiting the company’s site via BlackBerry Browser.

You Can Never Have Too Many Browsers

The BlackBerry browser that ships along with BlackBerry OS 4.7 on the Storm works significantly better than previous versions of RIM’s Web surfing app. However, some of those earlier versions were so weak that I became accustomed to–and even fond of–Opera Software’s free Opera Mini browser.

So naturally, Opera Mini was one of the first BlackBerry apps I installed on the Storm.

Unfortunately, though the latest version of the software, v4.2, works on the device, it’s not Storm-specific: therefore, some of the browser’s most basic functions don’t work as well as they should–or at all.

For example, zooming in on pages using Opera Mini on a BlackBerry typically calls for a few clicks of the trackball. But the Storm is trackball-less and clicking the screen doesn’t zoom like you might expect.

The app does, however, work with the Storm’s accelerometer, so you can view pages in both portrait and landscape modes.

But beware of switching orientation while a page is loading, as it could keep the page from rendering correctly. In fact, if you do change your screen orientation from portrait to landscape while loading a page, or vice versa, an on-screen dialogue box warns you that you may want to reload the page in the current orientation.

Like newer versions of the BlackBerry browser, Opera Mini gives you a tiny cursor that you can move around to any spot or link on a page, instead of having to scroll up and down to get to the links you want. Alternatively, you can also use a number of keypad shortcuts for navigation–however, this is a bit awkward since the Storm’s keyboard takes up valuable screen space.

Though not perfect for the Storm, Opera Mini’s a valid alternative to the default BlackBerry browser.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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