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Amazon announces Kindle textbook rentals

Amazon has launched a new service allowing students to save money by renting textbooks in electronic form. Kindle Textbook Rental allows students to choose from a catalog of tens of thousands of textbooks for their 2011 school year from leading publishers such as John Wiley & Sons, Elsevier and Taylor & Francis and rent them as e-books for only the period of time required for their course work. Users can customize rental periods to any length between 30 and 360 days with pricing based on the rental period, offering pricing up to 80% off the list price of the print versions of the same text books. Existing rentals can be easily extended in increments as small as one day simply by paying for the extra days, and users can re-extend their rental as often as necessary or simply pay to convert the rental to a purchased book.

Kindle Textbook Rental uses a “Rent Once, Read Everywhere” model allowing users to access any of their rented textbooks on any Kindle-supported device, including the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch or on a PC or Mac or other supported smartphone platforms. Amazon has also enhanced its Whispersync technology to preserve notes, annotations and highlighted content in rental textbooks with a user’s Amazon account indefinitely so that if they subsequently rent the same textbook again in the future, all of the annotations will appear as the user left them.  The Amazon Kindle app is available from the App Store as a free download. More information on the Kindle Textbook Rental service can be found at http://www.amazon.com/kindletextbooks.

Verizon LTE phones to have roaming issues, carrier limits?

Verizon Wireless has confirmed that its LTE phones will not “be compatible on other LTE networks in the U.S” due to frequency differences, according to a PCMag report. The article notes that although the new 4G LTE system being implemented by Verizon, MetroPCS and AT&T uses a SIM card system similar to GSM, carriers such as Verizon may be building phones to run only on their own wireless frequencies, preventing their devices from being used on competing networks, even for roaming where Verizon-specific LTE coverage may be unavailable.

Although both Verizon and AT&T use the 700MHz LTE band, their networks use different frequencies within that spectrum with very little overlap. Other U.S. carriers use 1700MHz and 1500MHz frequencies, while even more LTE bands are available to international carriers, suggesting that it may also be challenging to roam internationally with LTE devices. It is unclear at this point what plans other carriers such as AT&T have with regard to the frequencies used by their LTE phones, and whether Apple will be able to offer universal LTE world phones that avoid the need for multiple versions.

Pangea Software announces Anniversary Giveaway

To commemorate the third anniversary of the App Store, Pangea Software has announced that it is making all of its iOS games available for free for a one-day event. Today, July 11th from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM CST every Pangea title is available from the App Store as a free download, after which they will go on sale for just $1 per app. Pangea’s iOS games include are normally priced at $3-4 each and include Enigmo, Enigmo 2, Enigmo Deluxe, Billy Frontier, Bugdom 2, Cro-Mag Rally, Antimatter, Warheads, Nanosaur 2, Otto Matic and Quarters.

Pangea Software was among the first game companies on the App Store when it debuted three years ago and has experienced great success in developing iPhone apps with over $7 million in sales since 2008. “iOS and the App Store are the most important things to come along in the video game industry in a generation,” said Brian Greenstone, President of Pangea Software, “We’ve been very fortunate to have been a part of this, so to say ‘Thank You’ to all of our awesome customers we’re hosting the biggest giveaway the App Store has ever seen.” The company also reports that it is actively working on major updates to many of its games for iOS 5, with significant updates in store for its multiplayer networked games Nanosaur 2 and Cro-Mag Rally.

Electronic Arts to acquire PopCap Games?

TechCrunch reports that PopCap Games, makers of hit iOS titles such as Peggle and Plants vs Zombies is currently in talks to be acquired for a price of over $1 billion. Initial reports speculated on Zynga, Electronic Arts or an Asian company being possible buyers, however TechCrunch has now received information from two sources that the buyer is Electronic Arts. If accurate, the $1 billion price of the deal would make this one of EA’s largest acquisitions to date, although the report suggests that this may be an effort by EA to depart from its more hardcore games and solidify its position as a casual gaming powerhouse. EA has been making major acquisitions in the iOS and general mobile gaming space over the past year buying publisher Chillingo last fall and most recently acquiring FireMint just last month.

Facebook planning iOS photo-sharing app?

Facebook is planning to launch its own standalone photo-sharing app for iOS devices, according to a new report. Citing roughly 50MB of images and documents related to the app, TechCrunch reports that the app—internally referred to as “Hovertown” or “WithPeople”—is built on top of Facebook’s existing social network, but functions more like standalone photo-sharing apps and services such as Path, Instagram, and Color. TechCrunch claims that it will be posting more on the app soon; we will update this story when/if any new information is available.

Garmin acquires Navigon

Garmin Ltd and Navigon AG announced today that the two companies have signed an agreement for Garmin to acquire privately-held Navigon AG. Known in the iOS community for its very popular MobileNavigator series of turn-by-turn GPS apps, Navigon also manufactures a number of portable navigation devices as well as developing software for PNDs and other smartphone platforms. In announcing the acquisition, Garmin’s president and COO Cliff Pemble highlighted the strategic nature of Navigon’s application portfolio, stating that “With Navigon, we are also acquiring one of the top-selling navigation applications for the iPhone and Android platforms – something that we expect will help drive revenue for the combined company going forward.” Although one of the largest GPS navigation product manufacturers, Garmin was relatively late in releasing its own turn-by-turn GPS app for the iOS platform, debuting its StreetPilot application for iOS only six months ago after an earlier announcement in November that it was abandoning its own Nuvifone GPS smartphone product. It is unclear whether both the Garmin and Navigon iOS apps will continue to be developed independently; however Navigon will continue to operate as a subsidiary of Garmin Ltd. The acquisition is still subject to regulatory approvals and other closing conditions and financial terms of the transaction are not being released.

 

Twitter acquires TweetDeck

TweetDeck has officially announced its acquisition by Twitter following rumours over the past several weeks that a deal has been in the works. In a post on the TweetDeck blog, founder Iain Dodsworth confirmed that the company completed the deal on Tuesday and is presently in the process of “joining the flock.” Dodsworth goes on to indicate that Twitter has acquired TweetDeck for its focus on the “Twitter-centric power-user,” suggesting that Twitter is looking to leverage TweetDeck as a tool for more advanced users who are not adequately served by twitter.com or the current official mobile clients. Dodsworth also notes that although some changes should be expected, the TweetDeck team will remain in place and based out of London “with the same focus and products” as before. This latest move by Twitter follows last year’s acquisition of Tweetie which became the official Twitter mobile client for iOS devices.

TinyCo announces $5m Mobile Game Development Fund

iOS and Android game developer TinyCo has announced a new $5 million gaming fund to encourage mobile game development by providing developers with capital and resources to successfully launch their products. This new initiative, dubbed the TinyFund, will provide monetary assistance of up to $500,000 per title to game developers creating any type of game for the iPhone, iPad or Android platforms, including both paid and free titles.

TinyCo has launched five top grossing iOS games in the last year, including Tiny Chef, Tiny Zoo and Tap Resort. The company’s games have all appeared on the top 10 free game charts in the App Store and have received over 20 million downloads in total. TinyCo also recently closed a new $18 million funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz. Games that are supported through the TinyFund will receive access to TinyCo’s large and rapidly growing user base and TinyCo will offer marketing, development and business assistance to game developers as needed to assist with bringing their projects to the widest possible audience.

TinyCo is accepting applications from developers worldwide and games in any stages of development from early concept to completed games will be considered for support. Proposals will be reviewed by a specially selected team of TinyCo executives who will determine what funding and additional support may be required to produce the best possible games. Developers can submit their proposals at the TinyFund site; the company plans on announcing funding recipients in the third quarter of this year.

Lodsys clarifies position on iOS patent claims

Following reports on Friday that several iOS developers had received claims of patent infringement over the use of in-app purchases, Lodsys has attempted to clarify its position in a series of posts on its blog. In the posts, the company notes that Apple is a licensee, as are other large companies such as Google and Microsoft. However, it is Lodsys’ claim that its license does not automatically extend rights to Apple’s third-party developers, and that companies such as Apple cannot currently extend the rights to include independent third-party developers.

Lodsys has outlined the licensing fees that it is demanding from developers, stating that it is “seeking 0.575% of US revenue over the period of the notice letter to the expiration of the patent, plus applicable past usage.” The company estimates that a developer will pay $5,750 for $1m in revenues. Notably, the notices sent to developers on Friday morning did not include any mention of fees, indicating only that the developers had 21 days to license the technology. [via Engadget]

PCalc 2.4 released

James Thomson has decided to release PCalc 2.4 following indications earlier today that he was considering delaying its release due to a series of widespread patent claims against Thomson and several other iOS developers. PCalc 2.4 adds several new features including a “Frac” button on many layouts for faster fraction entry and swap buttons in the conversion section for quickly setting the base unit. Support for several new unit conversions has also been added including lighting units such as lumens and footcandles and inches and millimetres of mercury and water for pressure conversions. Users can also now choose to disable auto-lock while using the app and several new digit styles have been added and improved along with numerous other small fixes and enhancements.

PCalc is available in two versions: PCalc Lite Calculator is a free version that provides advanced calculator functionality including an optional RPN mode, basic unit conversions and two themes, with additional options available via in-app purchase such as engineering and scientific notation support, hexadecimal, octal and binary calculations and additional themes. Alternatively, users can purchase the full version, PCalc RPN Calculator for $10 which includes all of the optional modules. Both versions are universal apps supporting the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad.

Samsung to show high-res tablet screen prototype

Samsung has announced that it will be demonstrating a 10.1-inch, 2560x1600 display at the SID Display Week 2011 International Symposium, which runs from May 17-19. According to the release, the display uses PenTile RGBW technology, which allows for the 300 dpi resolution. “Samsung’s PenTile display technology is the only display technology that operates at 40 percent less power yet provides twice that of Full HD-viewing performance for consumers compared to legacy RGB stripe LCDs. There is no other commercial display technology on the market today that offers this high of a resolution and pixel density in a 10.1-inch size display,” said Dr. Sungtae Shin, Senior VP of Samsung Electronics. As noted by TUAW, while the screen size and pixel density do appear to confirm that an iPad-sized Retina Display is possible, it is extremely unlikely that Apple would use this particular part in a future iPad, due to its larger size and resolution beyond that of a pixel-doubled iPad display.

Electronic Arts acquires Firemint (Updated)

TechCrunch reports that Electronic Arts has acquired Australian iOS game developer Firemint. Known for popular iOS titles such as the Real Racing series and Flight Control, Firemint will now become part of EA Interactive, the parent division of EA Mobile, Pogo and Playfish. Terms of the acquisition have not been disclosed at this time, although EA indicates the deal is “not material to the company.” The deal is expected to close within four weeks. [via Touch Arcade]

Update: Firemint CEO Rob Murray has revealed some additional details on the company’s blog describing the acquisition as “business as usual.” Murray notes that Firemint will remain in Australia and continue to operate with “very high levels of autonomy” with Murray continuing to run Firemint and focus on the company’s current games and customers.

Mobigame releases Bulletproof by Amnesty International

iOS game developer Mobigame and French agency La chose have released a new game in recognition of the 50th Anniversary of Amnesty International. The game, Bulletproof, challenges players to quickly stop bullets from a firing squad executing a man condemned to death by an oppressive regime. Players stop bullets by tapping on the touchscreen as each bullet is fired and the game provides several levels of increasing difficulty; at each level the player must stop a specified number of bullets allowing as few as possible to get through. Bulletproof is available from the App Store for $1 with all revenues going to Amnesty International in support of its work defending human rights.

Mysterious device listing appears on, removed from App Store

A mysterious device string appeared earlier today on some App Store product pages, leading to speculation that Apple could be planning to allow a fourth device to download apps from the App Store. Panic software developer Cabel Sasser first spotted the string, “ix.Mac.MarketingName,” earlier this morning in the requirements section of the listing for his company’s new iOS app Prompt; he speculated that the text could be a placeholder string for a mysterious new fourth device. While an App Store for the Apple TV has been the subject of past speculation, the string in question appears to point to some sort of Mac compatibility for iOS applications, even though its disclosure at this point was most likely the result of an error. [via Mac Rumors]

Designer creates iPhone-inspired speaker + table

Kyle Buckner Designs has taken the wraps off its new iTable, a hybrid coffee table and sound system inspired by the iPhone 4. It features a black and silver design with wrap-around rails bolted onto the outside of the table using 96 stainless steel hex-head bolts, a flat black top with two LED-lit, aluminum-trimmed cup-holders, a dock, and touch-sensitive controls for the LED lighting, volume, and motorized sound bar. The sound bar itself holds eight “high-end” transducer speakers, augmented by a hidden six-inch down-firing subwoofer. The company is accepting orders for the hand-crafted table and is offering customization options; for pricing and more info, see the company’s website. [via Engadget]

Twitter removes QuickBar from iOS app

Responding to negative feedback from users, Twitter has released an update to its iOS app removing the QuickBar feature. Originally debuted earlier this month, the QuickBar was intended to help users discover content outside of their normal follower channels by displaying popular trending topics at the top of the timeline. The new feature prompted a huge negative response almost immediately after its release, however, with many calling it offensive and adopting the term “dickbar” as a euphemism to describe their feelings about it.

In a blog posting today, Twitter Creative Director Doug Bowman noted that the QuickBar was a new feature the company was experimenting with and that it was “originally conceived to help users discover what’s happening in the broader world beyond people they already follow.” Bowman explains that the team had considered using the bar as a means for in-app notifications of new activity such as DMs and mentions and that the goal was to connect users “to what’s most meaningful to them.” Despite this, however, Bowman indicates that the company has decided to remove the feature rather than continuing to develop it in its current form, stating that “after testing a feature and evaluating its merits, if we learn it doesn’t improve the user experience or serve our mission, we’ll remove that feature.” He goes on to explain that Twitter still feels there are benefits to improving user awareness beyond their own timeline and that the QuickBar showed “incredibly high usage metrics” however the company will be looking at other ways to provide this with a better user experience.

Condé Nast to move to new app platform, raise prices

AllThingsD is reporting that publisher Condé Nast will be raising prices for two of its iPad magazine titles, GQ and Vanity Fair as part of a shift to a new digital publishing platform. Previously, readers who had purchased a single digital issue of these magazines were able to purchase subsequent issues at a discounted price. This option will be going away as of next month, bringing prices to $5 an issue for both digital publications, from previous per-issue pricing of $3 for GQ and $4 for Vanity Fair. This is reportedly part of Condé Nast’s decision to move these titles from its own in-house digital publishing system over to the Adobe platform it chose to standardize on last fall, a change which will also require readers of these publications to download new apps. Glamour magazine will also be moving to the new platform and the company plans to promote the new app by offering it for a limited-time discounted price of $1 starting next Tuesday.

Condé Nast explains the price change by noting that the move to the new platform provides it with a chance to “reexamine pricing” and that the publisher intends to sell its digital titles at the same price as physical newsstand copies. The company has not commented on any plans regarding subscription pricing or Apple’s new subscription model. Condé has confirmed that purchased issues downloaded and archived in the current apps will remain available for reading as long as the app remains on the device, however users will need to install the new apps to purchase content going forward. The publisher also notes that for now the new app and new issues of the three magazines will be available on the iPad only, leaving previous iPhone and iPod touch readers out of the picture.

Gameloft shifts away from freemium, releases full versions

Gameloft has returned to its traditional lite/full pricing structure for its recent games following a try at releasing them using a more contemporary ‘freemium’ model. Both Sacred Odyssey and Starfront: Collision were released by Gameloft earlier this year as free limited versions for users to download and try which could then be upgraded to the full version using an in-app purchase (IAP) instead of downloading a separate app. Negative comments in the App Store revealed that many customers did not respond positively to this model, with criticisms ranging from users mistakenly believing that they would need to repurchase the game every time they reinstalled it to others feeling the game was far too large for a trial version. Gameloft’s UK marketing manager, Callum Rowley indicated to PocketGamer that the company had received feedback from “many players who did not feel comfortable with the new free model with in-app purchases” and as a result the company decided to release “the classical, full versions that players are used to buying.” Rowley noted that the freemium IAP versions will remain on the App Store to provide users with a choice of whichever “purchasing experience” they prefer. The full version of Starfront: Collision is available now on the App Store for $7. The full version is identical to the freemium version with the in-app purchase, which remains available on the App Store. A full version of Sacred Odyssey is also expected soon.

 

Random House brings entire U.S. catalog to iBookstore

Following yesterday’s announcement by Random House that it was adopting an agency pricing model for e-book sales, Apple announced today that the publisher has made its entire catalog of 17,000 e-books available for sale on the iBookstore. The catalog includes bestsellers by such authors as Stieg Larson, John Grisham, Dan Brown, Danielle Steel, and Lauren Hillenbrand and customers will also be able to pre-order upcoming releases from Random House directly through the iBookstore. Random House is the last of the six major trade publishers to offer its catalog on the iBookstore.

FTC to review In-App Purchase-based applications

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has said that it will review the marketing and delivery of certain applications built around In-App Purchases. Citing a letter from FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz to Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, the Washington Post reports that the FTC feels “in-app purchases” in certain applications have raised doubts as to whether consumers fully understand the ramifications of such charges. “We fully share your concern that consumers, particularly children, are unlikely to understand the ramifications of these types of purchases,” Leibowitz wrote. “Let me assure you we will look closely at the current industry practice with respect to the marketing and delivery of these types of applications.”

Rep. Markey released a statement on the matter, saying, “After the Washington Post first broke this story earlier this month, I sent the Federal Trade Commission a letter calling on the agency to investigate the issue of ‘in-app’ purchases and provide additional information about the promotion and delivery of these applications to consumers, especially with respect to children. What may appear in these games to be virtual coins and prizes to children result in very real costs to parents. I am pleased that the FTC has responded, and as the use of mobile apps continues to increase, I will continue to actively monitor developments in this important area.” The issue with children unknowingly racking up large bills via In-App Purchases was first brought to light in an AP story from last December, which focused on “The Smurfs’ Village” game from Capcom.

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