iPhone Apps: For whom the timer ticks? (intro)

| Published: February 27, 2009

I'm such a klutz. A few nights ago, after putting a roast in the oven and retreating to the computer to finish some stuff, I jumped when I realized I'd forgotten about the food. Well, not jumped - more like fell. Zooming back to the oven, I wound up having the mother of all slip-and-falls on my kitchen floor, a Wile E. Coyote-style fumble complete with scrambling legs, mid-air suspension and thudding back flop.

The roast wound up dry and overdone, but I didn't even notice because I was distracted by having to eat standing up and holding an ice pack on my butt. As I said, I'm clumsy, and I have a tendency to lose myself in my activities - games, phones, writing, social networking, reading kooky Diggs, etc. This is why having a timer to remind me of things has become essential.

After my colossal fall, I turned to my trusty cell. I'd tried using the microwave, as well as my built-in oven timer, but they don't work if you're not in earshot. Plus, I love any excuse to use my iPhone, so why not let it give me a helping hand?

In all honesty, the phone itself has a decent alarm clock that even lets you set your own music and a seemingly endless array of alarms. And I do use it often ? but mostly for waking up in the morning. I need something much faster and easier to configure on the fly when I want to time an activity like cooking, gameplay or laps around the jogging track (not that I need that one, but it's nice to know it's there).

Turns out, I wasn't the only one with this idea, because there are several entries in the App Store for timers. I took a closer look at four, plus a few extras, and tested them to see which had the best features and ease of use.

One thing you should know before you attempt to use any of the timer apps: These, like all third-party applications, won't work in the background. But in some cases, the developers have figured out a decent workaround. Where noted, the programs have a continuity feature that tracks the time elapsed when you switch to another app and back. This only works mid-session, though. If you take a phone call or open a separate program when a timer is done, the alarm won't go off until you return to the app. Just remember that before you set it and forget it.

So with that in mind, let's get to the first item, the 5 in 1 Timer. Ready. Set. Go!