Fireworks apps: Two sizzle, one fizzles

Bottom line readers will want to know I review three fireworks apps today and the bottom line is, yes, on two, and, no way in hell on the third. And, to be honest, if you don’t really like computer generated fireworks, these won’t draw you into the fun. But, for what they are:

  • Fireworks is well worth the dollar
  • miFireworks is worth the dollar
  • Fireworks!!! doesn’t even deserve a single exclamation point after its name, much less the three dollars the developers charge. To misquote David Byrne, “Pyrotechnics, run run away.”

In addition, I rhapsodize on the joys of fireworks and early childhood, how the enjoyment followed me through the teen years I barely survived because of them, the relationship between fireworks and the Bill of Rights, why Baptist Preachers’ Kids are called to sin, and why kids no longer graduate from high school being able to recognize a photograph of the Louvre (if they ever did).

With the memories of the most recent 4th celebration fading, so is our twice yearly fireworks fix. Something about fireworks feels as American as apple pie. More American, even. Apple pie doesn’t explode. It isn’t protected under the 2nd Amendment. Fireworks resemble an explosion of stars against a field of deep blue; they’re more like the American flag than apple pie.

Let’s face it, Americans love fireworks because we associate them with the founding of our nation. More importantly, playing with fireworks carries the risk of bodily injury and there’s nothing more American than risking life and limb. Better yet, if it’s someone else’s. That’s why football players wear enough equipment to knock somebody’s brains back to the seventeenth century. That’s why we pay thousands of dollars to order prescription drugs from other countries that probably are little more than horse tranquilizers. That’s why we need semi-automatic weapons to hunt rabbits and deer.

Some of my fondest memories of childhood involve chasing my sister and younger cousins around the yard with firecrackers, all the while running from my slightly older uncle who was chasing me with a string of Black Cats. Or driving around with my friends throwing cherry bombs into each others cars. Now that was fun.

Especially when a cherry bomb tumbled between my debate partner Ray’s legs while he was driving his Dad’s Corvair convertible. If we’d’ve been wearing seat belts we would have never made it out of the car in time.

Or the time we were drinking on a church trip and being a Baptist Preacher’s Kid I had to drink more Boone’s Farm than anybody to prove I wasn’t a daddy’s boy (and trust me, for young Baptists too young to drink, Boone’s Farm was the equivalent of Everclear). My future roommate, David, the bass player in our band Ptoejam, asked me to hold a lit firecracker for him. He thought that was funny and so did I until I realized I was holding a lit firecracker and—in my panic—tossed it under the church bus. Right under the gas tank.

After everybody ran for cover only to watch the firecracker roll completely under the bus and explode safely on the other side, we all had a good laugh. Then my Dad wanted to know what joker would throw a firecracker under a church bus. And that led to an entirely different set of events that have nothing to do with firecrackers, so I will bring this anecdote to a close and get back to the iPad.

In a minute anyway.

I suppose some readers are shocked that a Baptist Preacher’s Kid (BPK) could get into so much mischief. But the truth is, all BPK’s have a calling to misbehave in case they are later called to the ministry. That’s right. God wants no hypocrites behind the pulpit. How can a preacher discuss the glorious grace of redemption from sin if he hasn’t thrown his hat in the ring for needing a whole lot of redemption?

What kind of testimony would this be? “I went to church every Sunday, did everything my parents told me, never drank, danced or talked back to my teachers but I was saved from all that by God’s Grace and Love.”

Doesn’t really grab you by the heartstrings does it? And every BPK’s father (BPKF) understands this because he did the same thing. From what my mother told me, my father made me look like the kid who’s testimony I just recounted above. It’s just that she was never allowed to tell me until I had my own son because we’re supposed to feel guilty as hell while we’re growing BPK.

And besides, BPKs also have the responsibility of being the spiritual equivalent of cop suckers to their younger siblings (you know, the guys that drive eighty at the front of traffic so we can drive seventy). It was my job to constantly get into trouble so that my younger sisters could get away with murder and never once fall under suspicion.

The real risk to the BPKF is that their BPK won’t feel guilty at all and grow up to join a religious cult like the Presbyterians or Episcopalians who have a tenuous hold on faith and a suspect grasp of theology, which is what happened to me. My poor father never lived it down. Every Sunday the parishioners would ask, “How’s Phillip?” He would have to lie and say I was waiting to be accepted into the Southwestern Theological Seminary when the truth was I was sharing bloody Marys with high church Episcopalians after communion.

Now that I’ve cleared the air, I can return to the review with a clear, or at least slightly less sullied, conscience.

It is precisely because of fond memories such as nearly blowing our fingers off while launching Roman Candles, or having spinners dance up the pants of our legs, that developers love to bring fireworks to computer screens. Perhaps the most memorable is, of course, the Pyro screensaver that used to play on Mac Plus and SE computers worldwide. It may have been the most popular screensaver on the Mac until the full color, fully dimensional CPU eating aquarium and flying toasters came along.

I found three fireworks apps for the iPad to help satisfy our own feelings of withdrawal after the long 4th weekend. Two of them are well worth the dollar price. That being said, a dollar more and I would probably be less enthusiastic. The third, with costs three times as much, isn’t as good as the other two.

There is no fireworks screensaver app for the iPad because the device is designed to shut down when you leave it alone too long. A screensaver would eat battery life.

All show, no blow

The apps Fireworks and miFireworks take similar approaches. The user touches the screen to launch each round. They also use similar graphic particle-based animations for the fireworks displays. They diverge when it comes to implementing the user interaction.


Fireworks tries to emulate the public fireworks experience. The app provides you with a series of public backdrops–such as the Eiffel Tower, the Sydney Opera House or even the moon–and access to your iPod. You tap the screen where you want the fireworks to explode and the burst fires toward the point where you tapped.

You can tap once or dance your fingers across the screen. Fireworks seems to be able to follow up to eight or ten taps.

Fireworks follow your finger while music plays.

You don’t have too much control over the fireworks. You can change the color of the next burst by using a clumsy color wheel. You touch and drag to open the wheel then drag to select the color. Unfortunately, I suspect it’s more intuitive for users to touch and drag to guide the trajectory of the fireworks (which, they will discover, they can’t do). I find the color wheel a little awkward and superfluous considering how many colors are displayed in the bursts anyway.

You can also change the size of the burst and change the location of the show. You can even stop the sound of the fireworks over the music, although I can’t imagine fireworks without the sound.

You can’t change the size of the particles or the speed of the rocket.

Tap and drag to bring up the color wheel.

The particle animations take full advantage of iPad HD and the entire display can be about as breathtaking as you can get on a computer screen.

A couple of small criticisms: The app doesn’t tell you what famous landmark you’re choosing, which means the geographically impaired won’t really understand where they’re supposed to be watching from. I know, we should all know the Roman Coliseum when we see it, but I suspect the developers are young enough to remember how school was too busy teaching them to pass the standardized test to teach useful things like geography.1

Nor does the app pause your iPod playback when you quit. The fireworks leave, but the music goes on. Interestingly enough, although the developers say they would never tell you what music to listen to, they suggest Journey, Red Hot Chili Peppers and ZZ Top. Now I will never say no to the bearded ones, and I’m neutral on the Peppers, but Journey? Come on. And I still love loud bands, but I have to say fireworks also go well with Tchaikovsky and John Phillip Sousa. There’s a reason the Boston Pops Orchestra doesn’t invite Steve Perry, or even Mick Jagger, to their Fourth of July Concerts.


miFireworks, which iThink is supposed to be a pun riffing off the idea of iFireworks (which as far as I know doesn’t exist) works from essentially the same premise. You touch the screen and the rockets follow your fingers, exploding at the point you touched. The experience, however, is totally different. Fireworks emulates the experience of public fireworks viewing. miFireworks is about exploring the pyrotechnics themselves.

At any point you can pause the animation and then explore each explosion on the screen. Your fingertip works like a camera dolly allowing you to to pan, tilt and rotate to see any burst from all sides. You can also rotate the screen iPad style to see the fireworks launch in portrait or landscape mode.

You can zoom, pan and tilt to explore each burst

miFireworks also provides a clock face, which allows you to view the fireworks at different points in the evening, from pure black at midnight to the rising sun in the east. You can’t load songs from your iPod into the show, but that isn’t really a problem. You simply can’t access iPod from the app. You can start a tune playing before you launch miFireworks and listen while the rockets burst.

The only drawback I can find to miFireworks is that it looks like the graphics were simply enlarged from an iPhone app and then a gaussian blur filter applied to reduce the pixilation. This does make the burst particles bigger than those in Fireworks, but they lack the crisp feeling you want when you watch things on the iPad.

Fortunately you don’t have to choose. Both apps are cheap enough to carry side-by-side on your iPad. I just have to admit that the less focused graphics of miFireworks really begins to grate me after a while. The bursts themselves are more impressive, but I think the Fireworks developers made the better choice by offering absolute clarity and precision.


When you search for the string “fireworks” in the app store, Fireworks!!! appears in the same window as the other two apps, creating the misleading impression that it also displays fireworks. It displays photographs of fireworks. But it’s easy miss that when you read the description.

Fireworks!!! delivers a slideshow of fireworks along with a simple march beat played through a basic (one note) synthesizer. You can watch or move the slides forward yourself.

The developer claims these are thousands of the most stunning pyrotechnic photographs in the world. And some of them are, admittedly, stunning. Most, however, are no better than the free photos you can download from stock image sites like Stock Xchange. Even worse, since you can only view in landscape orientation, I would have hoped they would have scaled an cropped the images to take the most advantage of the crisp iPad display.

Maybe the images get better if you wait it out and watch the entire show. My initial reaction after a dozen or so images was that, for three dollars, anyone who downloads this app will feel gypped. Maybe not serious pyrotechnic aficionados but the average user. And the serious viewers that I know have large glossies and books with images that look better than these. I tried to view the slide show three times and I just couldn’t sit through that many without feeling even more underwhelmed each time.

My advice. If you don’t spend every hour at work just waiting to get home and look at pictures of fireworks, don’t buy this app. And if you do share a love of pyrotechnics with a club, pitch in and have one of you download the app. Then see for yourself whether it’s worth the three bucks.

Jenny Manytoes rates

Jenny Manytoes would purr for both Fireworks and miFireworks. She just wishes they exploded mice or birds so she could actually chase something. Whenever I looked at Fireworks!!!, however, she immediately curled up to take a nap. Jenny doesn’t find it at all interesting to look at even more pictures. Unless, of course, they’re pictures of her (like the one below).

1 You know what I’m kvetching about, the standardized tests that legislators mandate because they don’t trust your school well enough to teach their kids, who they would never let attend public school anyway because they’re paying tuition for a private school where kids aren’t required to pass the standardized tests to graduate. (The same standardized tests they aren’t willing to take themselves to prove they deserved to graduate.) Or did you miss that part in Civics because a) you were too busy studying for the standardized test or b) in private school where Civics classes aren’t required to teach this stuff anyway?back

The Jenny Manytoes Rating System

Jenny Manytoes, our polydactyl cat
  • When Jenny makes biscuits on a product she thinks she’s in heaven.
  • When Jenny purrs over a product she’s very happy.
  • When Jenny naps next to a product it’s okay with her.
  • When Jenny bunches her tail she can live with a product, but she has higher expectations.
  • When Jenny leaves it in the litter box….I don’t think I need to explain this one.

iPad Envy is created entirely using apps from my iPad
iPad Envy.


About Phillip T Stephens

Phillip T. Stephens disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle twenty years before he was born, creating a time travel paradox so confusing it remains unspoken between physicists and sci-fi writers to this day. Follow @stephens_pt
This entry was posted in Entertainment, Games, iPad, Time Wasters and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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