In a lengthy, in-depth investigation spurred by an anonymous developer tip, MobileCrunch has revealed that the PR firm Reverb Communications has been actively posting bogus reviews on the App Store for its clients’ games, and offering the same service to potential clients. A check of the App Store, cross-referenced with information from the Internet, shows that Reverb has employed at least seven different iTunes accounts to create positive reviews for clients including IUGO, Pangea Software, which had its game Cro-Mag Rally featured prominently in a TV advertisement for the iPhone 3G, and Publisher X, which is owned by Reverb. In each case, the iTunes account in question had posted only 5-star reviews to a select number of these clients’ games, and had not posted a single review for any non-Reverb application.
In addition to the phony positive reviews, which are created by in-house writers to target select age ranges and are posted upon the game’s release, the company also promises clients “online message boards” management, and preferential placement on the App Store via its dealings with Apple. The company claims to work directly with Apple on “each and every iPhone title,” claiming to have secured on-stage Apple keynote appearances, national iPhone TV commercials, placement on the “What’s Hot,” “Staff Favorite,” and “What’s New” lists, and more for its clients. Other Reverb clients include Harmonix, International Game Technology, Realtime Associates, Playlogic, Zen Studios, Graffiti Entertainment, and MTV Games, and the company claims its clients have sold over $2 billion in product while contracted with the firm.
Over the course of a number of our own reviews of these companies’ titles, iLounge’s Editors have repeatedly noted a pronounced disparity between the quality of the apps and the App Store user comments. We urge our readers to exercise extreme caution in relying upon App Store ratings, as they continue to be subject to considerable manipulation by anonymous users.
Infinite Labs has released Mover+, its latest application for the iPhone and iPod touch. As a paid alternative to the company’s free Mover app—featured prominently in a recent Apple iPhone commercial—Mover+ offers the same Wi-Fi-based picture and contact sharing as its free counterpart, as well as sharing via Bluetooth and e-mail, the ability to paste text, links, and other media from other applications into Mover for sharing, and support for bookmarks, which can be created by pasting in a URL or by using a new Safari bookmarklet. Mover+ is available now from the App Store and sells for $2.
McDSP has introduced Retro Recorder, its new audio application for the iPhone and iPod touch. Retro Recorder is an audio recording application with a tape recorder-like interface, and uses patent pending Audio Level eXtension (ALX) signal processing to boost the decibel level of quiet material and maintain the sound level of louder recordings, without the distortion caused by a traditional volume control. Other features include the ability to export recordings in WAV format to the Mac or PC, support for mono recordings at up to 22,050Hz sample rates, and more. Retro Recorder is available now and sells for $2. the company is also holding an audio clip contest in which users can win up to $50 of iTunes Store credit by submitting an audio clip made using the app’s ALX processing feature.
TapFactory Apps has released Stick It, its latest application for the iPhone and iPod touch. Stick It is a sticky note application, offering users 17 styles of notes, papers and objects, more than 25 backgrounds, full note customization with varied font styles, sizes, and colors, the ability to create wallpapers for one-touch note access, a preview feature to visualize the lock screen with the current Stick It layout applied, automatic saving, and the ability to share notes via e-mail. Stick It is available now and sells for $1.
WEsoft has debuted Comb, its new game for the iPhone and iPod touch. Comb is a match 3-style game, in which players must touch and rotate surrounding hexagons to arrange same-colored stones in diagonal rows, in order to get three or more stones of the same kind placed in the row to clear them. Users can choose to play the game with touch- and accelerometer-based controls, or can use on-screen controls to play the game. Comb is available now from the App Store and sells for $1.
National Public Radio has launched its new NPR News application for the iPhone and iPod touch. Developed by the MPR Mobile team and Bottle Rocket Apps, NPR News relies on location services or a zip code search to let users locate the nearest NPR station. The app also allows users to search by station or by program, letting them connect to more than 1,000 live or on-demand streams of NPR stations, including popular programs such as All Things Considered, Car Talk, and Morning Edition. In addition, it also offers a customizable playlist feature, which lets users select, organize and time-shift their favorite NPR programs or stories. NPR News is available now as a free download.
Discovery Communications has introduced its new Discovery Channel application for the iPhone and iPod touch. The free application offers users access to a collection of video clips from some of the network’s shows, including Mythbusters, Man vs. Wild, and Cash Cab, along with a collection of quizzes, photo galleries, programming schedules and updates from Discovery News. Users may also share content via email and save favorites for later viewing. The Discovery Channel application is available now.
YinzCam has released iBurgh, a new application for the iPhone that allows Pittsburgh residents to report problems to the city. The application lets users take photographs of problems, such as graffiti, potholes, traffic issues, and more, automatically geotagging the image to allow officials to know exactly where the problem is, and sending it to the city’s 311 complaint system. iBurgh is available now and is a free download.
Announced and demonstrated during Apple’s 2009 WWDC Keynote Address, TomTom has released its navigation applications for the iPhone. The four separate TomTom apps cover the U.S. and Canada, Western Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, respectively, each featuring the latest Tele Atlas maps for its designated region. Features include the company’s IQ Routes technology for calculating fast, accurate routes and travel time estimates, voice instructions, automatic re-routing if a turn is missed, six million points of interest for the U.S. and Canada edition, night and day color modes, 2D and 3D display options, multi-touch gestures for zoom control, Contacts integration, and more. TomTom’s navigation apps for the U.S. and Canada, Western Europe, Australia, and New Zealand are available now and sell for $100, $140, $80, and $95, respectively. A mounting cradle with GPS antenna accessory announced by TomTom for use with the apps is not required in order to use the software.
2K Games has released Civilization Revolution, its first game for the iPhone and iPod touch. Remade for the iPhone OS, Revolution puts players in control of an entire civilization, which they have to evolve by waging war, conducting diplomacy, discovering new technologies, and building an empire. The game features 16 historical civilizations to choose from, gesture-based touch controls, multiple difficulty levels, an integrated tutorial, and in-game advisors. Civilization Revolution is available now and sells for $5.
Electronic Arts has released Wolfenstein RPG, a Firemint-developed iPhone and iPod touch remake of the J2ME mobile game by id Software. Unlike the first-person shooter from which it gets its name, Wolfenstein RPG is a turn-based game, featuring a variety of different weapons, nine levels and over eight hours of gameplay, 32 different types of enemies, two built-in mini-games, hidden secrets, and a “mixing station” at which players can enhance their characters’ abilities. Wolfenstein RPG is priced at $5.
The University of Saskatchewan has released its new iUsask application for the iPhone and iPod touch. This new app allows students to get a list of their classes, read class announcements, get news and recent scores for the school’s sports teams, search for books in the library catalogue and view their library account, check assignment marks and feedback, check final grades, view a campus map, and more. iUsask is available now as a free download from the App Store.
Top Meadow has released Buggle, its latest game for the iPhone and iPod touch. A match 3-style game, Buggle has players swipe their fingers across the screen to slide and rotate various bugs placed on the screen in order to match three or more and “free” them before they can be eaten by a spider. Features include five different “super powers,” the ability to earn award badges, and an in-game top ten list. Buggle is available now and sells for $1.
3D Realms has released Duke Nukem 3D, an iPhone and iPod touch port of the classic PC game. Though the graphics engine offers a faithful port other than certain censored risque graphics, users have discovered serious control issues, as well as problems getting the game to install on iPod touch units. According to Touch Arcade, the game’s on-screen analog sticks don’t work properly, requiring taps rather than smooth dragging motions. George Broussard, a co-author of the original game, has replied to some of the criticism on the site’s forums, saying that there was “internal miscommunication” which resulted in the game being released before he had a chance to test it, admitting that he agrees “100% on the comments on the [control] sticks,” and indicating that the company will be releasing an update that addresses “as much as possible.” Duke Nukem 3D is available now from the App Store and is priced at $3.
CourseSmart has launched its new eTextbooks application for the iPhone and iPod touch. eTextbooks serves as a reader application for CourseSmart’s eTextbook service, which offers online access to more than 7,000 textbook titles from twelve different publishers. The Textbooks are offered via a subscription at an average of 50% off traditional print versions, although the electronic versions typically expire after 180 days and require an Internet connection for access. Features of the application include access to subscribed textbooks, the ability to scan for visual aids, skim thumbnails, access full pages, and keyword search. CourseSmart’s eTextbooks for the iPhone is available now as a free download from the App Store.
USAA, a privately held bank and insurance company, plans to allow customers to deposit checks remotely using its iPhone application, the New York Times reports. The updated application, which is expected to be released this week, will use the iPhone’s camera to photograph both sides of a check, with an on-screen guide to make sure the check’s image is placed correctly in the frame. “We’re essentially taking an image of the check, and once you hit the send button, that image is going into our deposit-taking system as any other check would,” Wayne Peacock, a USAA executive vice president, told the NYT. Customers will not be required to mail the check in, and are told to void the check and either file it or discard it after it has been deposited. To reduce fraud, only customers who are eligible for credit and have some form of insurance through USAA will be permitted to use the feature, a group which includes about 60 percent of the bank’s customers.
Apple has pulled the paid version of ThinAir Wireless’ Offender Locator application from the App Store, but left the free version—Offender Locator Lite—in place. Offender Locator used publicly-available databases to help users locate sex offenders in their areas. Trip Wakefield, a ThinAir employee, told Cnet that the app was pulled for unspecified legal reasons, although readers on both Cnet and TechCrunch have suggested that the state of California prohibits the sale of criminal information for profit, which would have made the paid version of the application illegal. Wakefield also noted that a competing paid application, Sex Offenders Search, remains on sale.
Vimov has introduced iSimulate, a new iPhone app and Xcode library bundle that lets iPhone developers wirelessly control their applications and games from an actual iPhone or iPod touch unit. In addition to sending multi-touch events, accelerometer data, and GPS location to the iPhone Simulator, iSimulate also allows developers to test across different versions of the iPhone OS without needing several devices, each provisioned with a different OS build, and test applications with different device IDs to test for different models. The ability to fully control the iPhone Simulator on a real device allows developers to take full-quality preview videos of games and other mixed-media applications. iSimulate is available now from the App Store and is currently $8; its price will be raised to $32 on August 16.
RJ Softwares has released Lexulous, its first game for the iPhone and iPod touch. Lexulous is a crossword-style game that challenges players to make words on a 15x15 board using eight letter tiles, and is designed for play by 2-4 players at a time. The game features real-time chat between players, Facebook integration, as well as the ability to continue games started on the device on Facebook, a dictionary for word look-up, a two-letter word list, and the ability to listen to iPod music while playing. Lexulous is available now from the App Store and sells for $4.
Social mapping service Waze has released its new client application on the App Store. Compatible with both the iPhone and iPod touch, Waze uses driver-generated data to build road maps and provide real-time traffic information to users. As the app runs, it automatically and anonymously relays location points back to the company’s servers, data which is used to build and constantly updated the road grid, traffic information, driving directions, road changes, and more. Waze is available now as a free download.
ALK Technologies has released its CoPilot Live United Kingdom turn-by-turn navigation application for the iPhone 3G and 3GS. Featuring detailed street maps of the U.K. and Ireland, it offers 3D and 2D driving views with speed-variable zoom and street names, automatic portrait to landscape switching, intelligent navigation for guidance in tunnels and overpasses, automatic day/night mode switching, lane indicator, signpost display, and ClearTurn features, weather forecasts, and more. It also stores maps on the phone for use when out of service areas, and does not require monthly fees. CoPilot Live United Kingdom is priced at £26, or $43.
Amidio, in collaboration with Dream Theater keyboardist Jordan Rudess, has released JR Hexatone Pro, its new music creation application for the iPhone and iPod touch. Hexatone Pro is a six-directional drum machine and rhythm sequencer that uses artificial intelligence and advanced randomization algorithms to produce constantly changing sonic structures. The app can create a variety of drum loops, melodic sequences or rhythm patterns by loading custom user samples and modifying them in real-time; users can also add stutter or chorus effects and control them via the iPhone’s or iPod touch’s accelerometers. Hexatone Pro features 400 original factory samples, 40 loop presets, and .WAV exporting, and is available now for $10.
Apple has started rejecting all e-book and e-book reader applications for the iPhone and iPod touch on the basis of possible copyright infringement, according to a new report. Citing developers speaking on the grounds of anonymity, TUAW reports that Apple has begun sending all e-book submitters rejection letters which state, “this category of applications is often used for the purpose of infringing upon third party rights. We have chosen to not publish this type of application to the App Store.” The report claims that Apple has rejected at least one application from a national content syndicate who owns the rights to the materials and can prove those rights, and has also rejected a new e-book reader application on the same grounds. As the developer of the reader application said in an email to TUAW, “[l]eaving aside the presumption of innocence, [what] about iTunes and iPod; shouldn’t they be banned too? After all many users indeed are using them to listen to the music that is not always legally obtained.” It is unclear whether the company also plans to remove and/or reject future updates to other e-book applications currently available on the App Store, and whether this move may be paving the way for Apple to offer its own e-book store, as was rumored last week.
An U.K.-based online retailer has posted pricing for TomTom’s upcoming GPS car mount and application bundle for the iPhone. According to the item’s Handtec listing page, the TomTom for iPhone Mount will sell for £99 plus VAT, or roughly $168 plus tax. Unveiled during Apple’s 2009 WWDC Keynote, the Mount will offer a more accurate, consistent GPS signal than that made possible by the iPhone 3G or 3GS alone, a louder speaker, a microphone to facilitate hands-free calling, the ability to power the iPhone while docked, and the ability to stick to either the windshield or dashboard. An exact release date has yet to be revealed. [via Daniweb | MDN]
Namco has released Pac-Man Remix, its latest game for the iPhone and iPod touch. Announced in July and featuring an angled overhead 3-D view, the game is similar to the Pac-Man Arrangement game found on Namco Museum Battle Collection for the PSP, and adds maze traps, the ability to jump, and a number of power-ups to the classic Pac-Man gameplay. Additional features include a choice between on-screen, flick-, and accelerometer-based controls, six unique boss characters, and stage-specific gadgets. Pac-Man Remix is available now from the App Store and sells for $6.
Sony Pictures Television has released Q*Bert Deluxe, its newest release for the iPhone and iPod touch. An updated version of the 1982 arcade game, Q*Bert Deluxe features three game modes—arcade, modern, and jungle—a choice between accelerometer- or touch-based controls, five different enemy types, and four friendly objects. The developer also promises “regular updates” with “new themes and gameplay.” Q*Bert Deluxe is available now and is priced at $2.
Intuit has released its new GoPayment application for the iPhone and iPod touch. Intuit GoPayment allows business owners to process credit card payments directly from their devices, view past charges and send customers electronic receipts via e-mail or text message. In addition, users can also review transactions online and synchronize them with Intuit’s QuickBooks software. In addition to the app, users will need an Intuit GoPayment merchant account, which costs $19.95 a month and requires a one-time setup fee of $59.95; Intuit will, for a limited time only, waive both the setup fee as well as the first 60 days of monthly fees and minimums. Intuit’s GoPayment application is available now as a free download from the App Store.
Apple rejected the dictionary app Ninjawords three times before accepting it into the App Store, in the process forcing the developers to remove every word it deemed “objectionable,” including commonly-used words that have non-objectionable uses. Unlike many competing low-cost dictionary apps using WordNet, Ninjawords uses Wiktionary as its source. John Gruber of Daring Fireball notes that Mac OS X’s built-in Dictionary app lists all of the words deemed objectionable by App Store reviewers. After having been rejected in May for a bug that crashed the software on the latest beta of iPhone OS 3.0, the app was rejected again for listing curse words.
Phil Crosby, a developer for Ninjawords maker Matchstick Software, told Gruber in an email interview that the rejection came despite the fact that Ninjawords filtered out all curse words in its suggestion listings, something competing apps, including Dictionary.com’s application, don’t do. It was rejected a third time following Matchstick’s efforts to remove the curse words, with an Apple representative calling Matchstick to inform them that “no matter what we did to our dictionary, it will have to be 17+ to make it to the App Store.” In the end, Matchstick ended up having to remove common words such as snatch, c*ck, and screw, and managed to have the app approved in mid-July. Ninjawords is available now from the App Store and sells for $2.
Update: Apple Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller has responded to Gruber’s report via an email, stating that Ninjawords was rejected not because of common swear words, but because of “other more vulgar terms,” “urban slang” that might be more offensive than those found in traditional and common dictionaries, and suggested that had the developer waited for the release of Parental Controls in iPhone OS 3.0, the app would not have needed censoring.
“You are correct that the Ninjawords application should not have needed to be censored while also receiving a 17+ rating, but that was a result of the developers’ actions, not Apple’s. I believe that the Apple app review team’s original recommendation to the developer to submit the Ninjawords application, without censoring it, to the App Store once parental controls was implemented would have been the best course of action for all; Wiktionary.org is an open, ever-changing resource and filtering the content does not seem reasonable or necessary,” Schiller said in his email.
Gameloft has unveiled two upcoming games for the iPhone and iPod touch: NFL 2010, and the first-person shooter Modern Combat: Sandstorm. NFL 2010 will offer a “full football simulation,” on-screen controls, and full NFL team rosters. Pricing has yet to be set, but the company hopes to release the game on the App Store by the end of the month. Even less is known about Modern Combat: Sandstorm, which debuted on YouTube with a video description claiming that the game places players in the “heart of a modern war.” Pricing is similarly unannounced, and the game is said to be coming soon. Continue reading for more screenshots of both games.
Microsoft has posted a case study on its Windows Mobile Development Center offering an example of how to port an iPhone application to Windows Mobile 6.5. The application in question, Amplitude by Luke Thompson of Gripwire.com, allows users to enhance distant and/or quiet sounds to make them more audible to those nearby. According to a post on the Windows Mobile Blog, the app is “well suited for a porting project because it combines a rich user interface with features such as alpha blending and transparency with specific audio and sound requirements, which makes it challenging to port the app but, at the same time, provides a number of helpful learning experiences.” Some of those challenges included adding support for running in the background, accommodating keyboards, and porting the UI, since the .NET Compact Framework Thompson was using didn’t offer support for transparencies and alpha blending like the iPhone OS. Microsoft plans to open its App Store competitor Windows Marketplace for Mobile sometime this fall.
Apple has banned an iPhone developer responsible for over 900 apps for repeated complaints of copyright infringement. Khalid Shaikh has seen his iPhone Developer Program License Agreement and Registered iPhone Developer Agreement terminated by Apple, who told Shaikh in its rejection email that it has “informed you of numerous third party intellectual property complaints concerning over 100 of your Applications and reminded you of your obligations to obtain the necessary rights prior to submission of your Applications. Nevertheless, we continue to receive the same or similar types of complaints regarding your Applications despite our repeated notices to you. The persistent nature of such complaints has led us to conclude that you are entering into the representations and warranties in the iDP Agreement in bad faith by misrepresenting that you have all the necessary rights for your submissions.”
MobileCrunch reports that Shaikh’s 9-month-old company, Perfect Acumen, had a team of 26 developers and had managed to publish 943 applications, or an average of 5 apps a day, every day, for 250 days. Many of the company’s apps were serialized in nature and sold for $5 each, such as “Top Sexy Ladies,” “Top Sexy Men,” and a vast number of news update applications. The report also notes that competing developer Brighthouse Labs has released over 2,000 applications, each costing $0.99, many of which seem to have similar copyright issues as Shaikh’s apps.
Kensington has introduced its new Charging Dock with Mini Battery Pack for iPhone and iPod. The white and gray Charging Dock simultaneously charges the attached iPhone or iPod and the Mini Battery Pack, which extends music play time up to 30 hours, video playback by 6 hours, and talk time by 3 hours, depending on the model. Other features include a detachable USB cable for charging and syncing and the ability to charge encased iPhones and iPods. Kensington’s Charging Dock with Mini Battery Pack for iPhone and iPod is available for pre-order for $70 and is expected to ship October 23.
The Federal Communications Commission has opened an inquiry into why Apple rejected an official Google Voice application for the iPhone and subsequently removed related applications from the App Store. Letters sent to both companies, as well as AT&T, ask why Apple rejected the application and removed voice applications already available, and how and if AT&T was consulted when making the decision. The FCC asks pointedly what AT&T’s role is in approving or denying applications allowed in the App Store, as well as asking the companies to explain their reasoning for application rejections.
Its letter to Google asks for a description of the Google Voice application, and whether Apple has approved any other Google applications for its store. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said the FCC “has a mission to foster a competitive wireless marketplace, protect and empower consumers, and promote innovation and investment.” The inquiry letters “reflect the Commission’s proactive approach to getting the facts and data necessary to make the best policy decisions,” and hint at concern over topics such as lack of consumer disclosure, and lack of developer disclosure, regarding the type of applications that are permitted and rejected. The Wall Street Journal reports that while the investigation isn’t formal, it is notable because the FCC hadn’t received a complaint about the rejection and removals.
Following the rejection of Google’s official Google Voice app and the subsequent removal of all third-party Google Voice apps from the App Store, a number of developers have voiced their concerns over the long-term viability of the platform, with at least one vowing to move on to other platforms. Second Gear developer Justin Williams, maker of the iPhone app FitnessTrack, has written a lengthy piece describing some of the core problems currently facing iPhone developers, most notably lack of feedback for developers and an unsustainable pricing structure. Williams finishes the post by stating that he is “seriously considering” selling off his two iPhone properties and leaving iPhone development behind because he believes the App Store “as it presently stands is not capable of providing a reliable and consistent means of income.” A brief summarization of the piece is available in the form of a Twitter update, which reads, “Baseless app rejections, an unsustainable pricing structure, piss-poor developer relations and a blackbox review system. Where do I sign up?”
In response, Craig Hockenberry, who, along with his Iconfactory colleagues, received an Apple Design Award for the iPhone version of Twitterrific, said he is “seriously doubting the long-term viability of this business,” while Frasier Spiers, developer of the Flickr app Darkslide who announced last year that he would not write another new application for the iPhone as long as the App Store stayed as it was (and is), has used Twitter to describe the App Store as “high risk, low probability of reward, [with] many insurmountable factors totally [outside] your control.” Finally, Layton Duncan of iPhone development house Polar Bear Farm has written an equally-lengthy piece further discussing App Store issues, and announcing that “[a]s with many other serious iPhone developers recently, we’ve made the hard decision to kill all but one project in progress, and stop investing any resources in creating new applications. We’ll continue to sell and fully support our existing iPhone offerings, however we’re already moving to platforms which show signs of real viability.”
The overarching problems—developer feedback, consistent approval policies, and the current pricing and promotion structure—are cited as problems that developers can do nothing to fix without Apple’s help, leaving them with only the option to stick it out or leave. In addition to stopping the release of entirely new applications, the loss of more iPhone developers could impact updates to current releases, rendering yesterday’s apps incompatible with new versions of the iPhone OS.