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Testing your iPhone coolness

Your iPhone applications say a lot about you.

September 19, 2008: 10:06 AM EDT

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(Fortune Magazine) -- If you're still racking your brain trying to think of pre-meeting small talk - about the weather, say, or "The Game" - help has arrived.

Want to break the ice while demonstrating your coolness? Take it from the trendsetters of Silicon Valley: Show off the latest iPhone app, the stupider the better. There's "iLightr," "Kazoo," "More Cowbell"....

"The pecking order gets established before you even sit down," says Bruce Carlisle, CEO of Digital Axle, a marketing company. "Someone showed me 'Crazy Disco' the other day, and it blew me away. Never saw it before. I felt like I'd lost for the day."

"Crazy Disco," for those using company-issue BlackBerrys and Treos, features a swirling disco ball and campy music. "iLightr" is a flickering flame for waving at rock concerts. "More Cowbell" has a clip of Christopher Walken from the famous "Saturday Night Live" skit croaking, "I gotta have more cowbell!" and a cowbell that clanks when you tap it.

But woe to the young entrepreneur hoping to impress VCs with "Koi Pond," which shows fish swimming in a pool that ripples when you touch the screen. A former No. 1 bestseller, "Koi Pond" is now utterly passé and raises troubling questions about what else you are behind the curve on. "If I have a three o'clock meeting," says Carlisle, "I want to check the apps store right before I get into my car."

"We're all amazed that people are trying to monetize stupidity," says MacKenzie Smith of Quacon, a Bay Area technology tester, who admits to releasing the fartlike sounds of "Kazoo" during project meetings. But monetizing stupidity, though certainly a worthy goal, is not easy.

While the top ten developers of iPhone apps have reaped about $9 million of the $21 million total Apple (AAPL, Fortune 500) has paid out, most are like Aaron Berk, a 37-year-old Web developer from Atlanta whose biggest hit so far is "Wooo Button" (press a button and a guy hollers, "Wooo!"). Like many apps, "Wooo Button" is free, so Berk got zip from the 40,000 downloads the first three days of its release. But he charged 99 cents for "Disco Ball" (a precursor to "Crazy Disco"), which was downloaded 3,000 times. Since developers get 70% of revenues, Berk stands to earn $2,100 - but so far has only one check, for $315.

"Those two apps were more to get my feet wet," he shrugs, promising that his next app, a financial program, will be more useful. Hard to imagine.  To top of page

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