Friday, April 1, 2011

These iPhone Apps are not how you learn CW

One of the things I have been working on is learning Morse code(CW). Since I have my iPhone with me at all times it has great potential to be a useful training tool. And with that in mind I have been evaluating all the various iPhone apps out there which are geared towards helping someone learn Morse code. There are a few promising apps available and I will be writing about them individually, but right now I just wanted to warn you that there are a huge number of apps that are pretty much useless when it comes to actually learning to use Morse code.

Most of these don't even have any audio output and amount to little more than flash cards dots and dashes on them, which anyone who actually knows Morse code will tell you are worthless. The proper way to learn Morse code is by learning it as a second language and strictly by sound and not by counting dits dahs etc. None of these iPhone apps will help learn that way at all.

So here my list of worthless apps on the iPhone to avoid if you want to learn Morse code:

  • Morse Code Alphabet - Soundboard $1.99 - This app is little more than a sound board where you press the letter and it outputs the Morse code sounds for that letter. Not much use, and certainly not worth $1.99.
  • iMorseCode FREE - This app lets you type in the box, and outputs the sounds in Morse code. No way to change the speed, or tone. Just type and play. Kind of useless, but at least its free.
  • Morse $0.99 - Yet, another text-to-morse program.
  • Free Morse Code FREE - One of the press the letter and hear the morse code apps. No way to change the speed or anything like that so not really worth the time.
  • Morse Code: Secret Code $0.99 - Another text-to-morse code app, this one throws in the exciting feature of spitting out random words as well.
  • Morse Code Trainer $1.99 - This app flashes a letter in the middle of the screen and you are supposed to click on the correct set of dits/dahs in little blocks around the entire outside of the screen in a multiple choice fashion. Not that useful, learning via counting dits and dahs is not the way to learn CW, learning by sound is the way to go. Skip this one too.
  • Morse Code $0.99 - You guessed it, ANOTHER text-to-morse app. I guess this guy was first to the app store and grabbed the name 'morse code'. Next!
  • Morse Code Study Buddy! FREE and Morse Code Study Buddy(no bang!) $1.99 seem to be the same app from the same developer for 2 different peices. Both of them are nothing but simple 'flash card' apps that show you dit-dah's on the screen and you choose the letter that matches from 4 multiple choice answers below the pattern. Again, memorizing the dits-and-dah's is not the way to learn morse code so pass on both of these.
  • Morse Code QuickRef FREE - This app is a show-me version of the Study Buddy programs from the same developer. Basically looks identical minus the quiz part.
  • iStudy: Morse Code $1.99 - This app is an early version of the flashcard/quiz app from the Study Buddy developer. It is a 'true/false' version instead of a multiple choice version. It shows a dit-dah patter, and a litter and you can chose correct/incorrect.
  • MorseTest $1.99 - With this app we are finally at least given a tool that might be of some use for learning CW. It is a random code group generator. It will send random groups of letters for code copy practice, and you can adjust the speed and tone. Unfortunately there are better programs out there than this one for the price. I would pass for now.
  • Morse Code Driller $0.99 - This is another flash card dit-dah program. This one has multiple choice quizzes, and even connect-the-question-answers but again its just focusing on the memorization of the dit-dah patterns which will never get someone past learning very, very slow speed morse code.
  • Morse Code Pro $1.99 - App store reviews are saying this app does not work at all. But it basically is another app focused on the dit-dah visual patters so its not very useful anyway.
  • Super Morse $2.99 - This is yet another text-to-morse converter and for a couple more dollars than the others for a bonus.
  • iMorse FREE and Simple Morse FREE - Just a couple more free text-to-dit-dahs on the screen app. Not useful, but free.
  • Text2Morse $0.99 - At $0.99 there is no reason to choose this over any of the many free apps, or just use this feature that is built into most other morse apps.
  • Morse Code MC $0.99 - This is just a flash card game app that uses visual icons. At best it will teach you to visualize dots and dashes rather than hear patterns. No good!!
  • MorseTrainer FREE + $1.99 in app upgrade - This app almost has potential, but it has a pretty bad user interface. There is a semi-useful alphabet tutor if you click the keyer picture. But the screen where you can set the sending speed is only a slider and you have no idea what its actually setting it to, so there is no way to set it to 20wpm or anything like that. I would skip for some of the other, better apps.

While the following iPhone Morse apps might not actually help much in learning CW that much, these are at least potentially useful in some way.

  • MorseDecoder $9.99 - This is an audio morse code decoder which works well, but its quite steep a price. You decide. I had decent luck with the decoder built into the cheaper Morse-It, you might want to save the money and try that first.
  • Decode Morse $1.99 - This is supposed to be a morse code audio decoder, which apparently does not work. It might be useful if the developer gets it to work, but for now I would avoid. Take a look at Morse-It(below) or the other more expensive MorseDecoder(below), both of which I was able to actually get to work when I played with them.
  • Morse Defender $1.99 and Morse Defender FREE - Take Space Invaders + Morse Code and you have this game. You have to tap on the falling letters in morse to stop them from hitting the ground. Not a bad drill I guess. The problem I had is that it makes the dit and dah sounds AFTER you bring your finger up which is totally not the way real sending of morse code works and it threw my timing off quite a bit. Try the free version first.
  • MorseKey FREE - Its a free straight key tap emulator. Could be useful, but the morse key simulator in Morse-It(below) is better.
  • Morse-It $0.99 - At first look, this app looks like it is just another "Type and beep" app. But hidden in with the main function it was designed for to translated typed text into morse sounds or light flashes on the iphone screen, there are some more useful tools.
    • It actually has a Morse "decoder" built in that can listen to audio and decode morse code on the screen.
    • It has a nice practice pad, to practice sending. It can even be set to let you practice Iambic keying. While practicing sending on the iphone tapping the screen is not anything like the real thing, it is somewhat useful for practicing sending characters. I espeically found the iambic paddle practice useful.
    • There are some additional features available for 'in-app' purchase for an additional $4.99 such as a Q-code glossery but they don't seem to be of any real value as far as I can tell.

So, the question one might ask is why are there so many iPhone Morse Code apps that are not worth anything? Well, I think most of these are apparently written by people who don't ACTUALLY know CW themselves or use even use Morse code personally, and just thought it would be a good app category to make some money off of.

But, don't despair. There are a couple of really good iPhone apps available that can help a Ham learn CW. I will review those in another more detailed post.

And on the bright side, maybe I just saved you $24.95.