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Apps of the Week: SimCity BuildIt, Run Sackboy! Run!, Star Wars: Galactic Defense + more

New Games

SimCity BuildIt (free) — The venerable city-building simulation returns as a freemium game that adds a whole new dimension in the form of managing supply chains and new economic trade interactions. SimCity BuildIt takes a more resource-focused approach to building your city, starting out by constructing residential zones, factories, and stores that are used to produce raw materials and manufactured goods that are needed to construct and upgrade residential buildings that range from trailer parks to sprawling condos. The game is presented in a nice and very detailed 360-degree 3D view that allows users to zoom in and out, tilt up and down, and pan around their city.

Players earn gold by trading resources, upgrading residential zones, collecting taxes and completing challenges, which are used to provide necessary city services including water, power, sewage, waste management, fire, police, health, transit, education, and more. As in the original SimCity, new buildings and challenges are unlocked as players grow their city, leveling up and increasing population, although the game adds a new twist in the form of civic awards that you receive for keeping your population happy, which are required to expand your land area. While a freemium model allows users to speed through the game, the gameplay moves at a reasonable enough pace that only the most impatient will be tempted to do so. For everybody else, SimCity BuildIt actually makes a nice casual game that you can pop into and out of throughout the day to gradually build up your city, and with the number of resource and building options available, progressing slowly through the game is definitely a much better approach to gradually become accustomed to all of the myriad options available.

 

Run Sackboy! Run! (free) — LittleBigPlanet’s knitted hero, Sackboy, comes to your iOS device in this new endless platformer, featuring a world that fans will find familiar and endearing. Players run Sackboy through an ever-changing handcrafted world and must dash to escape the goo and the grumpy Negativitron. Players and customize Sackboy with exclusive costumes, collect stickers and unlock prizes, power-ups, and upgrades, and challenge and compete with friends.

 

Star Wars: Galactic Defense (free) — Star Wars excitement returns in this new tower defense game. Players choose their allegiance to the Light or Dark sides of The Force and then deploy an arsenal of specialized towers and Star Wars characters to defend key locations. The game features diverse locations from the Star Wars universe across all eras of the series, with more than 100 different battle scenarios. As players level up, they must tailor their upgrades to match their preferred approach to the game, and a plethora of different unit styles allow for a wide variety of gameplay strategies. A collection of Champions are available for each side: Luke Skywalker, Yoda, and Obi-Wan Kenobi for the Light side, and Darth Vader, Boba Fett, and Darth Sidious on the Dark side of the Force, each with special powers and abilities, and players can call the big guns with things like orbital bombardments if things get really bad. An immersive Star Wars soundtrack adds a great extra dimension to the game that fans of the saga will appreciate.

Trent Reznor working on Apple music project

Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor — who is also chief creative officer of Beats Music — is working on a secret music project with Apple, according to a recent interview in Billboard. When asked if the project was about music delivery, Reznor said, “It’s in that world.” He also noted that Apple “expressed direct interest” in Reznor designing products for the company when Beats was bought by Apple. Apple’s interest was “flattering, as a life-long Apple consumer and fan and advocate,” Reznor said.

Reznor also said, “I am on the side of streaming music, and I think the right streaming service could solve everybody’s problems.” Apple has reportedly asked labels to cut prices for a revamped the Beats Music service. It’s unclear if Reznor is involved in this, or if his project is related to the “secret project” U2 is working on for Apple, involving “a new digital music format.”

Magazine publisher Fleishman explains iOS Newsstand’s failure

A new essay by Glenn Fleishman discusses the reasons for the winding down of his iPad-only digital publication, The Magazine, including an in-depth look at Apple’s continued treatment of Newsstand as a failed experiment. Launched around two years ago as a digital-only periodical, The Magazine focused on reaching iPad users via Apple’s then-fledgling Newsstand app and online store. At its height, The Magazine had nearly 35,000 monthly subscribers paying $2/month, however Fleishman notes that it peaked in February 2013, and has since diminished to 2,000 yearly and 4,000 monthly subscribers.

While Fleishman doesn’t completely blame Apple, he spotlights how Newsstand’s implementation failed to live up to expectations and publisher requirements, noting that Apple’s well-intentioned focus on privacy and customer experience weren’t always compatible with the publishing industry’s needs. Difficulty communicating with subscribers, nagging monthly billing reminder e-mails, required continuous app re-developmen, and the “brushing aside” of Newsstand in iOS 7’s design were all key issues that eroded and dissatisfied readership. Fleishman notes that iOS 7 alone triggered hundreds of emails from readers who forgot to read new issues, received bills, then cancelled subscriptions after realizing that they hadn’t read a single article in recent memory. The 30% cut taken by Apple for each subscription was also a factor, and Fleishman notes that it would have been more reasonable for Apple to find a way to reduce the amount to 15% in subsequent years, as most publications expect front-loaded expenses for acquiring new subscribers, but expect costs to be reduced for subscriber retention.

Fleishman describes Apple’s Newsstand today as “a wasteland for publications that only use it as an adjunct,” but offers salient points on what Apple could do to improve the experience for both users and publishers. Options include releasing publications from Newsstand to essentially turn them into standalone apps, providing an optional path for publishers to reach their readers directly, and stop sending monthly billing notifications to subscribers. Fleishman acknowledges that Newsstand clearly didn’t turn into a success for Apple, and compares it to the iBookstore, which he notes “never quite took off either.” While Apple continues to run both systems, he said, it hasn’t been improving the tools on either side. He concludes by saying that “If Newsstand is to persist, it needs its own app for users to find publications, download sample issues (currently not available; only free trials), and manage subscriptions,” describing the integration and dependency on the App Store and iTunes as “maddening and confusing.”

Mac: Sabrent DC-BLK + EC-HDD2 Hard Drive Docking Stations

If you’re a PowerMac or Mac Pro user, or use external storage devices with your Mac, you’ve probably got a few spare hard drives kicking around from various upgrades over the years that haven’t even been worth selling off with the plummeting prices of hard drives. Enter Sabrent’s DS-UBLK ($50) and EC-HDD2 ($70). Available on Amazon for roughly half their MSRPs, these external docking stations connect to your Mac using a fast USB 3.0 connection, and allow you to pop in any 3.5” or 2.5” SATA hard drive. This is great for recovering data from a retired internal drive, or putting old drives back into service for occasional offline backup.

Daily Deal: Get the DJI Phantom FC40 Drone for only $499

Today in iLounge Deals we have a special offer on the DJI Phantom FC40 drone at $499. Not only is that over 20% off the regular price, but if you use the code “PHANTOM35” at checkout you can get an extra $35 off the already-discounted price. Sporting a smart HD camera, the FC40 can zip around left and right with ease and climb hundreds of feet in the air letting you capture and record everything from backyard baseball games to fireworks from an epic perspective. The camera pairs with your iPhone using a 2.4Ghz Wi-Fi connection to provide a live video feed while flying up to 100 meters away. Whether you’re a budding aerial videographer or just love the thrill of flight, you’ll enjoy the Phantom FC40’s stunning design and advanced features including auto-piloting, auto-hover, 720p/30fps HD Smart Camera, a failsafe autopilot with a GPS-based “go home” landing feature, and a 5.8Ghz remote that operates from up to 1,640 feet away.

Get your Phantom FC40 Drone now and take to the skies for only $499

Jony Ive: Apple Watch was a ‘design challenge’

A new report in The Wall Street Journal highlights comments by Apple’s chief designer, Jony Ive, on the challenges of designing the Apple Watch. Speaking at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art on Thursday, Ive explained that although he believes with “every bone in his body” that the Apple Watch will break new ground in computing devices, actually designing it was more challenging than the iPhone due to the “social expectations around a wristwatch.” Ive noted that the wrist is an ideal place for “lightweight interactions” and “casual glancing” but not for heavy reading. He went on to explain that there are “cultural, historical implications and expectations” around designing a watch, and described it as a “humbling” experience, stating that creating a wearable device raises new consumer expectations that had to be addressed, such as a wider selection of cosmetic options as people don’t generally all wear the same thing—except in prison. Ive also stated that his focus is entirely on creating great products, rather than paying attention to Apple’s finances, and revealed that he doesn’t even know sales and revenue numbers, other than that “they are high.” 

First Look: Bowers & Wilkins T7 Bluetooth Speaker

Admired for its daring speakers and classy headphones, Bowers & Wilkins was an early supporter of Apple's shaky AirPlay wireless speaker standard, and thus is only now releasing its first Bluetooth speaker. Unlike rivals that merely dropped Bluetooth chips into earlier AirPlay products, however, B&W has come up with something entirely new in T7 ($350) — a portable Bluetooth audio system with a highly distinctive industrial design. Mixing gunmetal, black matte plastic and clear glossy plastic in ways that look better in pictures than photos, T7 uses a hexagonal "Micro Matrix" frame to support four audio drivers — twin two-inch glass fiber drivers, straddling two bass radiators stacked together in the center. The honeycomb is actually functional, designed to reduce distortion by firmly holding the speakers without adding weight to the chassis. Two amplifiers and a DSP are powered by an 18-hour rechargeable battery, controlled by five total buttons and indicated with side-mounted white lights. The footprint is roughly comparable to Jawbone's Big Jambox and Braven's 850 series, though not quite as large. We'll have a full review of T7 very soon.

Mac: LG 31MU97-B 31” Digital 4K IPS LED Monitor

Ultra-high resolution 4K displays are becoming the norm now, with Apple’s new iMac pushing the envelope even further. If you’re looking for something bigger than Apple’s Thunderbolt Display, LG has you covered with its new 31” Digital Cinema 4K IPS LED Monitor ($1400). With a 17:9 aspect ratio, this display boasts a resolution of 4096 x 2160, a 1M:1 contrast ratio, and 10-bit color depth. It also features a 178/178 viewing angle and advanced anti-glare coating, making it suitable for use in a wide variety of professional and studio environments.

Review: Rokform Crystal v3 for iPhone 6

Rokform's Crystal v3 ($39) case for iPhone 6 is very similar to its Sport v3 case. Both cases feature similar solid builds with the same claimed 6' drop protection, and both include a magnet and mount. An included hole in Crystal v3 also allows the cases to attach to Rokform's own integrated mounting system. Crystal v3 only comes in two colors, however — clear and a translucent orange. And while Sport v3 features two large replaceable back panels — one with the hole for the mount system and one with a built-in magnet and no hole — Crystal v3 keeps the mounting hole intact and uses two much smaller panels which offer the same magnetic mount functionality.

Apple reverses course on iOS calculator widgets

Following Wednesday reports that Apple would be removing apps from the App Store that make improper use of the new iOS 8 Today screen extensions, TechCrunch reports that the company appears to have softened the policy somewhat, at least concerning calculator widgets. James Thomson, developer of the popular iOS calculator app PCalc, had been one of the first to add new extension features when iOS 8 was released. However, despite his app being approved in time for the initial iOS 8 launch — and featured as an Editors Choice in the App Store — Thomson was advised by Apple earlier this week that PCalc would be pulled from the App Store as “widgets on iOS cannot perform any calculations.”

Now, however, an Apple spokesperson has confirmed to TechCrunch that it is reversing course, allowing the PCalc app to remain in the App Store, with the widget intact, and permitting calculator-type widgets in other apps in the future. The calculator use case was supposedly not one that Apple had anticipated—despite including its own calculator widget in the OS X Yosemite Today screen—and the restriction was originally intended to prohibit developers from creating more complex widgets with functionality that should be placed in a standalone app. Apple’s developer documentation specifically notes that Today widgets are designed to “give users quick updates or enable very simple tasks.”

Thomson tweeted that the policy reversal actually came as a surprise to him, and that he is now trying to get confirmation from Apple that this is indeed the case. But it appears that PCalc will remain in the App Store in its current form, allowing iOS 8 users to continue to take advantage of the handy calculator widget that it provides. While calculator widgets have now received a green light, it remains unclear what this means for other apps making more advanced use of Today widgets; it seems that with any major new iOS 8 feature, Apple still has to sort out a few blurred lines within its App Store Review Guidelines.

 






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