Vlingo has released a major update to its voice recognition application for the iPhone. Initially released in late 2008, Vlingo was one of the first voice-powered iPhone apps to allow users to initiate calls, search the web and Google Maps and compose Facebook and Twitter status updates using voice commands. Vlingo 2.0 adds support for dictating and sending e-mail and SMS messages by voice and a completely redesigned user interface to improve ease of use. Searching, updating Facebook and Twitter status and placing calls from the iPhone contact list remain free, however the new features for sending e-mail and SMS messages require an in-app purchase of $7 for one service, or $10 for both. Vlingo 2.0 requires an iPhone running OS 3.1.2 or later and is available on the App Store as a free download.
According to a recent report from Hacking Netflix, several Netflix users have received a survey suggesting that an iPhone streaming application may be in development. The survey describes a hypothetical iPhone app that would allow Netflix members to stream movies and TV show episodes over Wi-Fi at no additional fee and with no advertisements or trailers. The proposed application would also include the ability to fast-forward, rewind, pause and watch content again. Last fall Netflix CEO Reed Hastings told Reuters that an iPhone application is “likely to come over time” but that the company was not yet focusing on mobile solutions. Netflix has previously used surveys like this prior to releasing support for other platforms such as the PS3 and Wii. [via TechCrunch]
At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last week mobile app analytics startup Distimo presented a report with some comparisons on the relative size of the iPhone App Store and the popularity of different categories of applications. Distimo reports that games presently make up 58 percent of the applications on the App Store and breaks this down further by price, category and top sellers. According to the report, the Puzzles category is the largest, consisting of 15 percent of the games on the App Store, with the Action and Arcade categories in second place at 11 percent each. The categories with the fewest titles are Casino, Dice, Music, Racing and Role Playing, with each of these categories making up less than 2 percent of the total number of games.
The Distimo report indicates that the average price of a paid game in the App Store is $2.24, with the most expensive games being found in the Role Playing category at an average price of $7.96. The least expensive games are in the Action and Arcade categories with average prices of $1.68 and $1.39 respectively. By comparison, Distimo reports that 22 percent of the top grossing games are found in the Action category, with 12 percent in the Arcade category and 9 percent in the Adventure category. The report also notes that even though it has the most expensive games on average, the Role Playing category represents only 5 percent of the top grossing games, and the largest single category of games on the App Store, Puzzles, only accounts for 6 percent of the top-grossing applications. The full report can be downloaded from Distimo (free registration required). [via TechCrunch]
Adobe has released a new iPhone application for its Adobe Acrobat Connect Pro enterprise web conferencing solution. Connect Pro Mobile allows iPhone users to watch and listen to live presentations including real-time meeting webcam video and screen sharing demonstrations. Mobile users can see a list of other meeting participants and collaborate directly with others using live text chat. Connect Pro Mobile was built using Flash Professional CS5 beta and published as a native iPhone application using Adobe’s Packager for iPhone demonstrated last October. This marks the first Adobe-authored application to use this technology. Adobe Acrobat Connect Pro Mobile is available on the App Store as a free download.
Square Enix has released iPhone and iPod touch versions of the first two games in its highly acclaimed Final Fantasy series. Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy II are role-playing adventure games where players guide a party of four characters around a magical world, battling creatures, meeting other characters and performing quests. The iPhone and iPod touch versions use a graphical style similar to the later PSP versions and both games include the bonus dungeons first found in the 2004 Dawn of Souls release. Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy II are available separately from the App Store; each game sells for $9.
In a recent interview with Touch Arcade, ngmoco CEO Neil Young clarified the company’s position on the recent acquisition of Freeverse and its move toward a new free-to-pay model. In discussing why ngmoco specifically chose to acquire Freeverse, Young described the company as “wonderful people” who “shared their vision and values.” Young indicated that Freeverse will remain functionally independent and retain the Freeverse brand on their applications.
Discussing ngmoco’s shift to a free-to-pay model, Young dispelled rumours that the move was in response to high piracy rates for iPhone games. Young described the move instead as a result of a combination of other factors, with the two main concerns being significantly higher download numbers for free applications and a general trend away from higher-priced premium games. [via Touch Arcade]
At least one application has returned to the App Store unchanged following Apple’s recent purge of “overtly sexual” content. IUGO’s Daisy Mae’s Alien Buffet was reportedly pulled from the App Store late last week as part of the culling of adult-themed apps. Daisy Mae is a B-movie style survival shooter game that contains a voluptuous lead character and some mildly risque elements.
Yesterday the game reappeared on the App Store, quietly reinstated without any changes from the original version. IUGO indicates that the game just quietly reappeared without any contact from Apple explaining the game’s return. Further, the game now appears as a featured title with the App Store games section. [via Touch Arcade]
TechCrunch reports that following a third round of venture capital funding, ngmoco has acquired iPhone game developer Freeverse. Ngmoco is known for such titles as Rolando, Eliminate and TouchPets, and has recently announced a shift to a free-to-play pricing model. By contrast, Freeverse has a staple of popular paid games including Skee-Ball, Flick Fishing and Moto Chaser. With this acquisition Ngmoco has confirmed that it plans to move these titles over to its free-to-play model whereby the games will be offered for free and revenue generated from in-app purchases instead. Ngmoco CEO Neil Young indicates that this business model has been working well for the company, and expects that ngmoco will release approximately 20 new games this year with the newly-acquired Freeverse team releasing about the same number.
Developer Ngmoco, known for popular games such as Rolando and Star Defense, is reportedly planning to shift to a “Freemium” pricing model for its game lineup, doing away with charging up front for titles. Already found in games such as Eliminate and Touch Pets Dogs, the free-to-play approach gives away the games for free and relies on in-app purchases to generate revenue by selling additional content and power-ups within each game. In an interview with Gamasutra, Ngmoco VP Alan Yu cited high piracy rates and the difficulty in selling iPhone games at higher price points as partial reasons for this change.
Unfortunately, the highly-anticipated Rolando 3 does not fit into this new free-to-play pricing model. Speaking with IGN, Ngmoco founder and CEO Neil Young indicated that Rolando 2 had not quite met the company’s sales expectations and confirmed that Rolando 3 has been put on hold until such time as ngmoco could decide the best way in which to deliver the Rolando franchise effectively as free-to-play games. [via Touch Arcade]
Google has purchased reMail, a mail account searching service, and has pulled the company’s app from the iTunes Store. In an update on his personal blog, reMail founder and former Gmail engineering intern Gabor Cselle writes that “Google and reMail have decided to discontinue reMail’s iPhone application, and we have removed it from the App Store… If you already have reMail, it will continue to work. We’ll even provide support for you until the end of March, and we’ve enabled all paid reMail features for you: You can activate these by clicking ‘Restore Purchases’ inside the app. reMail downloads email directly from your email provider to your phone, and your personal information, passwords, and email are never sent to or stored on our servers.” It is unclear whether Google has plans to re-launch the app under its own brand, or integrate the feature into its current Gmail service.
Whether you consider it a game or an odd little demo, Namco Bandai’s Noby Noby Boy has been ported to the iPhone and iPod touch, and will arrive in the App Store roughly one year after its debut on the PlayStation 3. Developed by Keita Takahashi of Katamari Damacy fame, Noby Noby Boy similarly utilizes deliberately unfamiliar play mechanics and a galactic theme to attempt to hook players: Katamari titles involved rolling up balls of junk that eventually increased to planetary scale, and Noby Noby Boy places you in control of a worm-like creature named Boy who is stretched like an ever-expanding rope from a tiny centimeter size to eventually—with help from other players working collaboratively online—reach and unlock other planets. Unlike the joystick-based PlayStation 3 version, which the game oddly acknowledges in a text bubble “received a mixed reaction,” the iPhone and iPod touch version has you touch Boy’s left and right sides to stretch him out.
Decidedly experimental in design, the iPhone and iPod touch version of Noby Noby Boy incorporates a variety of fascinating iPhone OS 3.0 multitasking features, including a play mode that links Boy’s stretching to your use of Google Maps, a button that lets you browse a collection of web sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and Google from within the game, and a floating music player that has album art for a torso and control buttons on its hands and feet. Camera modes enable you to take pictures to use as in-game backgrounds, and overlay the game on top of live video from the iPhone 3GS, as well. Namco Bandai also leverages social networking services to enable players to share their current progress with friends. The title is due to appear in the App Store soon, but pricing has not been announced. Additional screenshots can be seen by clicking on the title of this article.
Macworld UK reports that Opera has shown a preview of its iPhone browser at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Opera co-founder Jon S. von Tetzchner briefly demonstrated the Opera Mobile for iPhone app, showing pages rendering very quickly due to page optimization on Opera’s own servers. Tetzchner indicates that Opera “compress[es] data up to 90 per cent” and is claiming that Opera should be “up to six times faster on 3G networks.” Other Opera Mobile for iPhone features include a tabbed browsing interface and support for saved passwords and bookmarks as well as the ability to automatically zoom in on text columns. Tetzchner notes that Opera has not yet been submitted to the App Store and speculation remains as to whether Opera Mobile will be accepted by Apple, although the new version of Opera has been written using native iPhone code rather than simply being a port of the original mobile app. Alternative browsers have been available on the App Store for almost a year, however Opera Mobile is unique in that it does not use the iPhone WebKit engine. Opera has not yet announced an expected release date for Opera Mobile for iPhone.
IGN reports that Capcom is planning a March release of Street Fighter IV on the iPhone and iPod touch. Reportedly still under development, the game is expected to be specifically optimized for the iPhone platform, with Capcom having taken a great deal of time and effort to develop controls suitable for the touchscreen interface. Further, Capcom plans to use artwork assets from the current generation Street Fighter IV code to provide a visual experience similar to the console version and has confirmed that both classic brawlers and new characters will be available in the game. Street Fighter IV will also support multiplayer gaming to allow two players to fight it out over Bluetooth just like the arcade and console versions. No specific availability date or price has yet been announced. More information and screenshots can be found on IGN.
Fring, developer of the popular Voice-over-IP communications app, has reported that mobile video calling now makes up more than 40% of its worldwide calling traffic among supported devices. Fring first introduced video capabilities last November, allowing users to conduct video calls with other fring users and Skype contacts from supported mobile devices, including the iPhone and iPod touch. The company reports even higher usage rates of 60% of call traffic throughout Western European countries—more than double the usage of leading PC-based video calling services. Fring is available as a free download on the App Store for the iPhone and iPod touch, however only incoming video is supported on these devices due to the lack of a front-facing camera.
Popular open-source DVD to MPEG-4 converter Handbrake has been updated to version 0.9.4. The new version offers a host of improvements, including speed, size, and quality improvements taken from the x264 project, support for 64-bit and parallel builds for added speed improvements on 64-bit capable machines, support for soft subtitles, a live preview feature, better input support, constant quality encoding which varies size to meet a given quality level, a new custom anamorphic mode, and more. Handbrake 0.9.4 is available now as a free download for Mac OS X 10.5 or later, Windows XP or later, and Linux.
Palm today introduced its latest handset, named the Pre. Featuring a 3.1-inch, 480x320 touchscreen, a dedicated gesture area below the display, a vertical slide-out QWERTY keyboard, and more, the device is aimed at the same market as the iPhone. Other technical features include high-speed wireless (EV-DO Rev. A or HSDPA, depending on the model and carrier), GPS, Wi-Fi, a 3-megapixel camera with LED flash, 3.5mm headphone jack, microUSB connector, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR with A2DP, 8GB of internal storage, an accelerometer, ambient light and proximity sensors, a removable rechargeable battery, and an optional wireless charger. Pre is exclusive at launch to Sprint.
The device runs Palm’s new WebKit-based operating system, webOS. Designed for next-generation, touch-friendly devices, it offers many iPhone OS-like features, such as a full web browser, Exchange email support in addition to POP and IMAP, IM, MMS, and SMS messaging, and Palm Synergy, a new feature that aims to consolidate information like calendars, chats, and contacts from various sources in one place. Slated for release in the first half of 2009, no price has yet been set for the Pre. Initial impressions suggest that the phone is a large step forward for the company, which hired former Apple senior vice president Jon Rubenstein to develop its next-generation software and hardware in October 2007. Former Apple employees have reportedly joined Palm in significant numbers to aid Rubinstein in Pre’s development.
Inspired by the iPhone and a previous reader-made iPod coffee table, iLounge readers Tuan Nguyen, Ken Thomas and their associates have created an iPhone coffee table. According to Nguyen, the table is “completely made of corrugate and glued together with white glue,” and features removable, usable coasters built-in. Congrats to Tuan and his friends on their creation — more pictures of the table and coasters are below.
Samsung, one of Apple’s main iPod component suppliers, has announced that it will unveil two new parts designed for “mobile consumer devices” in January, coinciding with the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. First is the world’s first 1.3-inch hard drive, a size that is smaller than the 1.8” drives found in current iPod classic models; second is its 32 Gbit (4GB) NAND memory chip, which will not only increase the capacity of portable devices, but feature improvements to make it twice as fast as previous models. It is unknown if the new 1.3-inch drive will appear in a future iPod model, however, as Samsung is one of Apple’s main NAND memory vendors, it is highly likely that the new 32 Gbit NAND modules will appear in higher-capacity, flash-based iPods, iPhones, and/or Macintosh computers sometime next year.
As part of a strategic relationship between the private equity firm Elevation Partners and Palm, former senior vice president of Apple’s iPod Division Jon Rubinstein, and Fred Anderson, former Apple CFO, will be joining Palm’s board of directors. Rubinstein will join as executive chairman of the board, while Anderson, along with Elevation partner Roger McNamee, will replace Eric Benhamou and D. Scott Mercer on the board. Palm CEO Ed Colligan said, “Jon Rubinstein is one of the top engineering executives in Silicon Valley, and he will lead our product-development efforts.”
Rubinstein added, “I have tremendous respect for Ed Colligan, Jeff Hawkins and their team, and I am thrilled by the prospect of helping Palm deliver innovative products capable of transforming the mobile-device market. Approximately 1 billion cell phones are sold each year, and mobile computing is a category with enormous potential. This is a company with an impressive history of introducing game-changing products – it pioneered the smartphone – and I intend to help extend that legacy.”
After offering confirmation of recent reports that Microsoft will release an iPod-competitive media player called Zune, representatives of iPod accessory manufacturers have disclosed to iLounge that the Redmond, Washington-based company has contacted them regarding potential accessory licensing and compatibility plans for the device, similar to Apple’s Made For iPod program. Like all current iPods except for the iPod shuffle, Zune will feature a proprietary expansion port that Microsoft will allow companies to accessorize at a lower rate than the Made For iPod program, and one which a source suggests will likely lead to widespread iPod industry third-party support for the new device.
Additionally, iLounge has heard that Zune will most likely follow Apple’s recent decision - as seen in the upcoming Nike+iPod Sport Kit - to use some form of proprietary wireless communication technology, eschewing the open Bluetooth standard in favor of one developed at least in part by Microsoft. As previously reported, the Nike+iPod Sport Kit uses an Apple-developed version of 802.11, which may offer bandwidth and other benefits over the various flavors of Bluetooth, but could lock third-party developers out from creating compatible accessories. It is unclear whether Microsoft’s technology, which reportedly enables music “sharing” between multiple Zune users, will resemble Apple’s in all regards, but it will likely be available to third-party developers for accessorization. A recent competing music player, MusicGremlin’s Gremlin MG-1000, already uses the open 802.11b standard for its wireless functionality, a decision which enables the device to connect to existing Wi-Fi home and hotspot network locations. Future digital music players may support one or more 802.11 standards to guarantee both Wi-Fi network and proprietary accessory compatibility.