Alongside updates to its iTunes software, Apple today released new versions of two of its iOS apps: Podcasts and iTunes Connect. Podcasts 2.1 sees a number of improvements to episode browsing, Siri integration, and more. A new Unplayed tab lists podcasts that haven’t yet been listened to, while the Feed tab shows episodes available to download or stream. Podcast episodes can now be set to be automatically deleted after being played.
Among other new features, Siri can now play specific podcasts and stations, CarPlay support has been added, and links can be shared using AirDrop.
iTunes Connect, a developer tool, has been completely redesigned for iOS. Additionally, it can now be used to access music, movies, and TV shows developers have made available in the iTunes Store, in addition to apps.
The National September 11 Memorial Museum is set to open next week in New York City, and the museum has released the free 9/11 Museum Audio Guide app ahead of the opening. The guide offers themed audio tours, with stories from 9/11 and the recovery at Ground Zero. The Witnessing History Tour is narrated by Robert De Niro, with other stories offered by those who experienced the tragic events of that day. There are also audio tours for younger children and those interested in the architectural aspects of the World Trade Center and the museum. It’s a well-designed app, but some may find the memories too raw and unsettling.
Google’s free Google Search app has been updated to version 4.0.0. Users can now use the voice search feature for associated questions—for example, “What’s the weather like?” followed by “How about this weekend?”. Google Now has added cards and loads faster, and it will also now tell users when there are new articles on their favorite topics, trips, authors, and blogs.
A group of six PhD students at Columbia University have developed Cider, an OS compatibility architecture that permits native iOS apps to run on Android, The Next Web reports. Cider accomplishes this using binary compatibility techniques rather than a virtual machine layer, allowing Android apps to continue functioning on a device while the OS abstraction layer is in place. The report notes the performance of iOS apps on the device is “less than stellar” and not all app features can be supported — for instance, apps that require a device’s camera, Bluetooth, or GPS won’t work. Cider is still a prototype at this time, however, and the students have indicated they are continuing to develop the software.
Castlestorm - Free to Siege is a new realtime strategy tower defense game from Zen Studios. As you might imagine — because the word is right there in the title — it’s free to download. As these games go, the gameplay isn’t bad—varied enough to keep a gamer’s interest for more than a few minutes. But as usual in these cases, your overall enjoyment of the game will be tested by your ability to tolerate in-app purchase requests. Castlestorm offers plenty of IAPs, and the game prompts players to make purchases quite frequently. A paid option without all the ads and IAPs would have been nice. A better name might have been Castlestorm - $1.99 to Siege.
Supertop’s Castro — High Fidelity Podcasts ($4) app has updated to version 1.1 with a completely new design.. The updated app features continuous play, so Castro can automatically play the next episode in your timeline — those episodes can be sorted, and users can control whether or not they’ll stream using cellular data. A new pitch shift algorithm claims to provide improved audio. The app has also added localizations and a sleep timer, among other changes. For heavy podcast listeners, Castro is worth a look, especially compared to Apple’s Podcasts app.
Do you miss the Nintendo Game Boy era of portable gaming? Does anyone? Crescent Moon Games is banking on an affirmative answer with its new platformer, the monochromatic 2-bit Cowboy ($1), which certainly does look a classic Game Boy game. Your taste for the game’s look will be determined by how much greenish, pixelated nostalgia appeals to your own eyes.
Players start the game by picking a cowboy or cowgirl and they’re off, thrown into a wacky Western world. You’re armed with a gun to dispatch your foes — many of whom require multiple shots to finish off. Your character can also jump, double jump, and jump off walls repeatedly to effectively scale anything. It’s a neat gameplay touch. Controls are taken care of with onscreen buttons: left, right, B for shooting, A for jumping, and another action button will pop up from time to time to enter doors or jump on a horse. Yes, you can ride a horse — or a bull — for a short amount of time until it simply disappears.
Adobe’s new Adobe Voice (free) app lets users create videos in minutes, backed by their own voices. It’s very easy to use — you record some audio, and then pick a photo or icon to back the recording. Users can change the layout, pick from pre-set visual themes, and pick music for a backing soundtrack. The app also provides access to Creative Commons-licensed material for use in the video, which can be shared on a number of social networks. Of course, your own photos can be used, as well. It’s best to think of Voice as a presentation maker, rather than a true short film creator.
Another new short video app debuting recently is Cinamatic ($2), from Hipstamatic. Unlike Voice, Cinamatic is more of a filmmaking app. The app lets users shoot 3 to 15-second films and add video filters. Those videos can be posted to Instagram, Vine, or Facebook. It’s another short filmmaking app joining a space that’s getting a bit more crowded — perhaps the filters and the app’s design will be enough to get Vine and Instagram video users to take a look.
Google has updated Google Maps (free) to version 3.0.0. The major update includes many new features, including lane guidance within turn-by-turn navigation. Offline maps can now be saved for use when traveling or when dealing with a slow connection. The app also works in conjunction with Uber — users with the Uber app can open it straight from Google Maps. Users can now view travel time, distance, and estimated arrival at the same time in navigation mode, and transit results display total walking time and the next scheduled arrival of a bus or train. Additional new features include filtering business search results by rating, price, and opening hours, searching using Google Voice Search, and more.
Cipher Prime Studios has released some of the most visually appealing action-puzzle games we’ve seen for the iPad — Pulse, Splice, and Fractal among them, all solely for Apple’s tablets rather than pocket devices. Intake: Be Aggressive ($3) is its latest title, and a very interesting, retro-influenced experience, even though it’s not the company’s best effort in the gameplay department. The gameplay is extremely simple: two colors of pills stream from the top of the screen to the bottom, and you need to tap every pill of at least one of the colors to keep playing; a glow at the bottom of the screen shows you which pill color will be absorbed by a shield if they’re missed, rather than instantly ending the game with a fatal dosage. You can tap every pill if you want, but you get combo bonuses for focusing on a single color pill over and over; you’ll only advance to the next level if you repeatedly hit the right color. While the gameplay is changed up a little by the eventual addition of neutrally-colored pills and unlockable powerups, what will hook you or not are the glowing special effects, the cool electronic soundtrack, and the increasing pace at which the pills drop over time. Intake’s goal is to hook you with small but thoughtful aesthetic and gameplay elements; if you’re intrigued by this description, you’ll likely be pleased by the game.
Security researcher Andreas Kurtz wrote a blog post in late April noting that iOS 7 does not actually encrypt email attachments from the Mail app, as Apple claims. The issue reportedly remains in the current iOS 7.1.1. Kurtz was told by Apple that the company was aware of the issue, “but did not state any date when a fix is to be expected.” It’s possible a patch will be issued in the near future, but for now, it’s advisable to send sensitive files using other, more secure means. [via 9to5Mac]
Released in April, Leo’s Fortune ($5) has picked up steam and is now hovering near the top of the paid apps chart. A gorgeous platformer with puzzle-solving elements, the game has users maneuvering the tiny Leo through a number of different environments to retrieve his fortune.
Leo is a small furry teal ball with two blinking eyes and a large mustache, and that mustache is everything. It really makes the character. He’s seeking his fortune, which has been left for him to pick up like a trail of breadcrumbs, as gold coins guide your way through the levels. The first thing you’ll notice about the game are the stunning graphics. There have been a lot of good-looking games in the App Store recently, but Leo’s Fortune might be the best of the bunch. Though he’s just a ball of puff, Leo seems to come to life in the beautifully rendered, detailed environments. The game’s score is also great, and Leo will even throw his voice into the mix at times — he has a Russian accent for some reason, and we’re not complaining.
Beats Music has come to iPad with version 2.0.0. The app features the same functionality as the iPhone-designed version with native iPad support in landscape and portrait modes. In-app subscription and account management is now available through an iTunes account. A Find Your Friends feature has also been added to the app, to let users find and follow Twitter friends who use Beats Music.
Botanicula was released for OS X about two years ago, and today it makes its iOS debut with a $5 price tag. A point-and-click adventure game, Botanicula lets players guide a small cast of tiny creatures along branches in order to save the last seed from their home tree. A beautifully designed, wordless adventure, it combines puzzle gameplay with a whimsical, unique look and feel. The game earned plenty of praise for its charm and imagination upon its first release, and should find a whole new audience on iOS.
Apple may push a number of notable features originally planned for iOS 8 back to iOS 8.1, 9to5Mac reports. Some of these features could possibly include Healthbook, an updated Maps app, a standalone iTunes Radio app, VoLTE calling support, and TextEdit and Preview apps, among other additions. Resources are being allocated to the upcoming OS X operating system 10.10 and other projects, which may be the cause of the delayed push to iOS 8.1 for some features, sources said.
It’s also noted that Apple may give “a larger presence” to OS X operating system 10.10 at its Worldwide Developers Conference over iOS 8. iOS 8 could take advantage of a new processor from Apple, referred to as A8 — the successor to its current 64-bit A7 chip.
The report also notes that though Apple planned to introduce a new Apple TV in the first half of this year, it appears obvious that date has been pushed back. It’s possible that Apple’s discussions with Comcast could have contributed to the delay. Apple is reportedly working on both new hardware and revamped software for the Apple TV, but the two things are “not specifically tied together,” and could arrive at different times.
Google Docs is Google’s document app for creating, editing and collaborating, and Google Sheets is a similar app for spreadsheets. The company also announced that its presentation program, Google Slides, would soon be arriving as a mobile app, as well.
Hulu announced today that it would let viewers watch a selection of ad-supported TV shows for free on mobile devices starting this summer. Currently, Hulu only allows desktop users to stream full episodes for free, while mobile device users must have a paid Hulu Plus subscription to be able to watch anything at all. Additionally, Hulu will launch a redesigned Hulu Plus iPhone app this summer. According to The Verge, free episodes will reach Android users first before arriving on iOS.
Microsoft has announced that Office for iPad now allows printing via AirPrint. All three Office for iPad apps — Word, Excel, and Powerpoint — have been updated to version 1.0.1, enabling users to print Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, and PowerPoint presentations with any AirPrint printer. The Powerpoint update also includes SmartGuides, which helps users easily align pictures, shapes, and text boxes. Excel has also added AutoFit to adjust multiple rows or columns at the same time.
Clear ($5), the popular productivity app from Realmac Software, has updated to version 1.4. The update has introduced reminders for Clear — users can now set a date and time for each task within a list. Clear can sync the alerts across all devices. It’s also now possible to customize Clear’s sounds through in-app purchases. For $2, sci-fi or 8-bit sound effects can be added to the app. Clear+ users can get the sound packs for free.
Doozer Creek is a new free app from The Jim Henson Company. If you’re unfamiliar with the characters, Doozers are the small green creatures from Fraggle Rock who love to work. And work they do in Doozer Creek, as kids build worlds on a blank play mat within the app. The interactive building app offers seven free play pieces with additional playsets available for in-app purchase.
The stealth puzzlers just keep on coming, apparently. Following last week’s release of Square Enix’s stunning Hitman GO, Gameblyr has introduced Third Eye Crime: Act 1 ($3). Like Hitman GO, Third Eye Crime has a distinct design, with this game going for a noir look.
Third Eye Crime lays the noir theme on thick from the get-go through an interactive comic strip scene before gameplay. Players control Rothko, a criminal who finds himself walking through various areas while picking up diamonds or other items and avoiding guards along the way. Rothko has limited telepathic abilities — hence the “third eye” in the title. Gamers can anticipate where the guards will go next. This allows Rothko, who isn’t exactly a speedster, to make his escape. If you run into a guard, you’ll have to restart the level.
Playground Theory’s new Bonsai Slice ($3) has already gotten some press for its unique play mechanics. The game makes players move and swing their iPads around in their hands as if holding a sword. Onscreen, a swinging sword slashes through items to earn points and coins — sort of like Fruit Ninja, but with actual iPad motion, opposed to touchscreen swipes. Some parts of the game even require spinning around with your iPad in hands to slash at the correct items. You can also upgrade your sword by accumulating coins. It’s more fun to watch someone play the game than to play it yourself. First of all, there are way too many bombs to avoid. They do turn into coins, but instead of getting to swing freely, you’re trying to miss the bombs, necessitating more subtle movements, which isn’t as fun. But even those movements can be annoying — you’re forced to watch the items pop up, then physically move your iPad, all while trying to keep your eyes on the screen. It’s a prime recipe for motion sickness.
Bounsy is a new game from karzy. An iOS exclusive, Bounsy is a physics-based game that has players using their fingers to guide a stream of balls to a set target. There are plenty of great physics-based games in the App Store by now, so it’s become tougher to stand out. Bounsy’s issue — which plagues plenty of touchscreen games — is that your fingers and hands cover up too much of the screen. This causes the gameplay to feel a bit more frustrating than it should be, but it might bother some more than others. If you’re looking for another physics game, Bounsy is free to play, and the full version costs $1.
Apple has sent an email to developers about recent changes that may affect the content rating of certain apps. A new rating system has been instituted in Brazil to meet local regulations — the rating is determined by an app’s existing content description. Territory-specific restrictions in the Brazil, Korea, United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia app stores have also changed. Additionally, developers can now use new descriptions for apps: medical/treatment information, gambling and contests, and unrestricted web access.
AgileBits is calling its newest version of 1Password ($9) its biggest update ever — an apt time for it, considering the catastrophic Heartbleed bug. The password manager and secure wallet app has been rebuilt for speed and productivity in version 4.5. 1Password now supports multiple vaults and sharing from the Mac or Windows versions of 1Password. Multiple Dropbox accounts are also now supported. The app’s browser has been improved, with easier login and checkout, and one button for autofill.
New from Gameloft is The Amazing Spider-Man 2 ($5), a new fighting adventure based on the upcoming film. Players can guide an impressively-animated Spider-Man through an open world, web-slinging and wall climbing while fighting many recognizable characters from the Spider-Man universe. While the game has been designed to encourage exploration, enabling Spider-Man to move throughout a giant and impressively populated city, the swinging, climbing, and jumping controls haven’t quite been perfected, nor have the camera controls, collectively making navigation and movement somewhat confusing. The non-linear design also leaves Spider-Man to fight minor crooks and take on side missions that feel both repetitive and not particularly meaningful, rather than tackling big villains. It’s not a bad game, but with a bit of extra polish, it could have been a great one.
Both Apple and Google are approaching game developers to get top titles to debut first on their respective operating systems, the Wall Street Journal reports. The companies are both offering premium placement within their app stores in exchange for exclusivity. It’s reported that Apple doesn’t offer money for exclusive game debuts, only “marketing or promotional assistance.”
Apple and EA reached a deal for the launch of Plants Vs. Zombies 2 last August — Apple got about two months of exclusivity for the game, and it was released on Android in October. ZeptoLab’s Cut the Rope 2 was also featured exclusively on Apple’s App Store for about three months. Gameloft has considered Apple exclusivity, but thus far has decided against it, opting for simultaneous iOS and Android launches.