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2014 iPad iPhone iPod Buyers' Guide from iLounge.com

News

Apps: Madden NFL 25, Notability 5.01, Pinball Arcade 2.7 + Solar Flux HD

EA’s Madden NFL 25 (Free*) has taken the “freemium” game model to ridiculous extremes. Feeling more like a shakedown than a football game, Madden is free to play, but rubs artificial-feeling limitations in your face well before your team can take the field. Before you get to play the game, you’re told that you’re being given some basic player cards and enough credit to play a game for free, after which the title tries to sell you Madden Cash using in-app purchases. Paying lets you keep playing a seriously stripped-down version of Madden football using very simple tap and touch controls, but in some cases, you’ll have to unlock individual plays, as well as players. If paying outright for player cards didn’t seem silly enough, Madden includes an in-app auction where players can compete against each other to buy cards for certain players. We can’t imagine anyone paying anything—let alone $100, as offered in one in-app purchase—to keep playing a game that has nowhere near the depth or content of a console football title. The in-game graphics aren’t much better than football titles from two years ago, Retina support not withstanding, and the audio’s nothing special, either. Our advice: skip this one.

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Notability ($5) from Ginger Labs has updated to version 5.01, and is now universal on all iOS devices. The note-taking app has also added iCloud support to keep notes updated on any iOS device running iOS 6 or later. A new scissor tool lets users scale and rotate handwriting. Themes have gotten a new look and feel, and one new theme has been added, as well.

Apple revising App Store rankings system?

Apple may be working toward incorporating user ratings into its App Store Top Charts rankings, according to some new analysis by Fiksu, an app marketing startup. The report notes that based on some in-depth and ongoing analysis, it would appear that Apple has been at least testing changes to the iTunes ranking algorithms to factor in user ratings and reviews in addition to the traditional number and frequency of downloads—apps with four stars or more seem to be receiving a consistent ranking boost.

The report also notes that the position of apps in the App Store appear to be updating with less frequency—every three hours as opposed to every 15 minutes previously. Fiksu speculates that this change may be to add a ‘buffer’ period to prevent developers and marketers from trying to game the system through short download bursts. It is unclear at this point whether these changes are part of a new strategy on Apple’s part or simply the result of the company experimenting with the App Store rankings. [via 9to5Mac]

Apps: Asphalt 8, Real Racing 3 1.3, Yahoo Weather 1.2, YouTube 2.0

Gameloft has released Asphalt 8: Airborne (iLounge Rating: A), an extremely impressive new instalment in the company’s long-running Asphalt racing game series. Asphalt 8 sets a new high standard for iOS gaming, taking the player through eight “seasons” with 180 diverse, fun, and interesting racing events. As its name hints, Asphalt 8: Airborne also introduces vehicular acrobatics to the mix, with ramps scattered throughout courses allowing players to flip their car through barrel rolls, 360-degree spins, and more. Visually and sonically fantastic, a tremendous amount of fun to play, challenging, and diverse in unexpected ways, it’s the best driving game we’ve yet seen in the App Store.

Real Racing 3 has been updated to version 1.3, introducing a whole new iconic collection of big Dodge and Shelby V8 muscle cars hailing from Detroit, along with a new racing series to feature the collection. The update also makes improvements to difficulty tuning, visual physics, and cameras, and adds additional social networking options for Time Shifted Multiplayer and Cloud Save.

iTunes Festival returns to Apple TV, iOS

With the return of Apple’s annual iTunes Festival for 2013, the company has once again added a dedicated Apple TV section allowing users to access and stream content directly onto the Apple TV. An update to the free iTunes Festival universal iOS app has also just been released, refreshing the design and allowing users to stream live and on-demand content directly to their iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. Content can also be streamed directly to a Mac or Windows PC via the iTunes Festival Page in the iTunes Store.

The Festival will feature 30 nights of free, live music from more than 50 artists performing at the Roundhouse in London from September 1 to September 30, 2013. Previous shows are expected to be available for a limited time via iTunes, the Apple TV, and the iOS app, and it is unclear for how long the iTunes Festival section will remain available on the Apple TV following the conclusion of the event on September 30th.

Apps: Google Maps + Waze, OverDrive 3.0, Procreate 1.9 + Sonic Dash 1.5

Google has announced new Waze integration with Google Maps. The Google Maps app for iOS will now show real-time incident reports from Waze users, such as accidents, construction, and road closures. The feature is rolling out on the back-end Google Maps servers—there is no need for an update to the Google Maps app for iOS—and will be available in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, France, Germany, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Switzerland, U.K. and the U.S. An update to the Waze app is also in the works that will add Google Search along with Street View and satellite imagery in the Waze Map Editor.

OverDrive has released a major update to its OverDrive Media Console for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. The OverDrive app provides free library book borrowing-style access to thousands of e-books and audiobooks for members of over 22,000 libraries around the world. Version 3.0 provides a whole new look with simplified menus and a built-in tutorial to help first-time users get started. The update also adds variable speed audiobook playback and the ability to sync recent position and bookmarks across multiple devices. It’s definitely worth checking out.

Apple outlines Kids app submission rules for Developers

Following the release of updated App Store Guidelines for Children’s Apps last week, Apple has sent out an e-mail to iOS developers outlining the new Kids category that will be appearing in the App Store with the debut of iOS 7. For apps made specifically for children under the age of 11, developers will now be able to choose one of three age ranges: 5 and under, 6 to 8, or 9 to 11.

The e-mail notes that only one age range can be chosen for each app. Kids apps will still have a primary and secondary category as with any other app, but will also appear in a new, separate area of the App Store designated for Kids Apps. Starting in the fall, the existing Kids subcategory for Games will be removed from the App Store. Further, developers who wish to assign the Kids category to any of their existing apps will be required to submit a new version of those apps for review, suggesting that Apple will apply more specific standards to apps within this particular category.

Apps: Amtrak 1.6, Flipboard 2.0.5, Plants vs Zombies 2 1.1 + Yelp 7.0

Amtrak has updated its free app to version 1.6. The app now features redesigned station details with more features, including more hours and improved map integration. Recently selected stations are now included in the station list for easy access. It’s also easier to switch arrival and departure stations on search pages.

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The free Flipboard app is now at version 2.0.5, and with the update comes… GIFs, which are now supported on Flipboard for both iPad and iPhone. The day’s top stories have also been divided into sections for News, Tech, Business, and Sports.

Apple updates Guidelines for Children’s Apps

Apple has released an update to its App Store Review Guidelines with a focus on clarifying policies regarding applications for children. Several of the new rules appear designed to address the recent expansion of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), limiting developers from asking for personal information from children under the age of 13 and specifically requiring that apps that collect or “have the capability to share” personal information from a minor must “comply with applicable children’s privacy statutes.”

A new section 24, “Kids Apps” has also been added to provide specific guidelines for apps that are “primarily intended” for users under the age of 13. The section indicates that such apps must include a privacy policy, must include age-appropriate advertising and may not include behavioural advertising of any kind, and must require the user to get parental permission or use a “parental gate” before linking out of the app of engage in any online transactions. Apps in the new “Kids” category must also be specifically made for one of three age groups: 5 and under, 6 to 8, or 9 to 11. [via Mac Rumors]

Apps: CBS Sports 6.0, KeyMe, Moose Math + Skype 4.1

CBS Sports (free) from CBS Interactive now features full iPad support. Version 6.0 of the redesigned app features live video, including SEC football games, NCAA basketball games, PGA Tour events, and various CBS Sports shows. When it comes to live scores, CBS Sports doesn’t offer scoring in as many leagues as ESPN’s ScoreCenter, but it’s still extensive and won’t affect most users of the app. Considering how quick and reliable scoring is on CBS Sports’ website, the CBS Sports app will likely be a good alternative to other popular offerings.

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KeyMe’s free KeyMe: Digital Keychain is an interesting new app that allows users to take a picture of their house keys for storage in the cloud. The app offers instructions on making the keys from scratch, so that if users get locked out, they could conceivably go to a local hardware store or locksmith to get a new key. KeyMe also lets users order copies of keys directly from the app for $10 each. The keys are then mailed to the user, in a number of different designs. It’s also possible to share digital copies of keys with family and friends.

Apps: Instagram 4.1, Interactive Alphabet 3.0, Mikey Hooks + Twitter 5.9

Burbn’s Instagram (free) app is now at version 4.1. Two major features are included in this update: users can now import any videos from their camera roll, instead of having to use Instagram itself to record the video. Also, Instagram now automatically straightens photos when taken with the Instagram camera.

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Pi’ikea Street’s Interactive Alphabet ABCs, ($3) a long-time iLounge editors’ favorite for kids, has just reached version 3.01—a milestone that adds letter tracing and an add-your-own-image mode. The letter trading feature is really well-conceived, using illuminating lights to track the path of a child’s finger, and providing both helpful clues and rewards to encourage progress. Separately, the photo feature lets parents add their own photos, words, and sounds to the app’s Explore mode, presenting each photo as an alternate page for a given alphabet letter — a cool way to add “D is for Daddy” or “M is for Mommy,” just to name a couple of examples. Pi’ikea Street has effectively added another app worth of content to the title, yet it has cut Interactive Alphabet’s footprint in half. It was already a must-download app for young kids; this update further cements its excellent reputation.

Publishers object to agency ban in proposed Apple remedy

The five major U.S. publishers that settled with the U.S. government prior to trial are objecting to the U.S. Department of Justice’s proposed remedy for Apple’s e-book price fixing, The Wall Street Journal reports. In a court filing, publishers said eliminating the “agency model” for five years as proposed would harm the publishers instead of Apple, since publishers were given the ability to set the retail prices for e-books under the model. The publishers — Simon & Schuster, Penguin Random House, Macmillan, Hachette, and HarperCollins — all settled with the government before a price fixing trial, while Apple went to court and was subsequently found guilty of fixing e-book prices. Apple has spoken out against the DOJ’s proposal, calling it a “draconian and punitive intrusion.”

Apps: Aztec Puzzle, Dropchord, NFL Mobile 8.0 + US Airways

The sequel to the excellent Mayan Puzzle, Mind Crew’s just-released Aztec Puzzle ($2) is all about redirecting flowing elements — water, fire, earth, and air, represented by moving lines passing through directional arrows — from one place to another using a limited amount of moves. The game has 72 total levels, and a “pure mode” to cut out distractions. It may not be as aesthetically impressive as Mayan Puzzle was, but Aztec Puzzle is a fun, challenging game, with some neat special effects and interesting challenges.

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Double Fine Productions’ Dropchord ($3) is a quick-moving game, conceptually inspired by the classic Atari game Missile Command. Dropchord initially challenges you to control a line-shaped beam of light by using two fingers on opposite sides of the screen. Moving one finger up or down moves one of the beam’s sides up or down, while moving both fingers at the same time lets you twist the beam around inside an on-screen circle filled with moving dots that need to be popped with the beam. Other levels include one- and two-finger dot-tapping challenges, breaking up the action. There are tons of psychedelic special effects recalling beloved console games such as Atari’s Tempest 2000 and Sega’s Rez, as well as an impressive electronic soundtrack.

Facebook app causing iPhone battery issues?

A number of iPhones are experiencing battery life issues and some feel hot to the touch, possibly related to the iOS Facebook app. iLounge’s editors have seen both issues firsthand, and a number of tweets seem to verify there could be some sort of intermittent issue. Within the past five days, there have been a number of tweets on the matter, as a Twitter search for “Facebook app battery” shows. A post on blog.hagga.net took a look at the issue in May, and noted that a June update did not fix the problem. Facebook’s iOS app was last updated July 10. It’s hard to know for sure what is exactly causing the battery drain, though Facebook’s VoIP capabilities allow the app to run in the background, with no way of turning it off. The issue could be connected to something unusual happening on Facebook’s server, as well, or messaging notifications.

Apple slams DOJ e-book proposal as ‘draconian’ intrusion

Apple has responded to the U.S. Department of Justice’s proposed restrictions to remedy the company’s e-book price fixing, calling the proposal “a draconian and punitive intrusion into Apple’s business.” The company argues in its opposing brief that the restrictions proposed today could cost both dollars and “lost opportunities for American businesses and consumers.” Apple doesn’t believe any further injunction is warranted — but if an injunction is issued, the company suggests mild limitations and obligations which would be a far cry from what the DOJ suggests. A hearing on the remedies is set for Aug. 9. [via AllThingsD]

DOJ proposes remedy for Apple e-book price fixing

The U.S. Department of Justice has released a proposed remedy addressing Apple’s e-book price fixing, for which the company was found guilty last month. Under the proposal, Apple would be required to terminate “existing agreements with the five publishers with which it conspired” and to “refrain for five years from entering new e-book distribution contracts which would restrain Apple from competing on price.” The company would be prohibited from “again serving as a conduit of information among the conspiring publishers or from retaliating against publishers for refusing to sell e-books on agency terms.” Apple would also be prohibited from entering into agreements with any content providers that are “likely to increase the prices at which Apple’s competitor retailers may sell that content.” Additionally, for two years, Apple would be required to allow other retailers — such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble — to provide links from their own e-book apps to their e-bookstores, allowing for easy comparison between their own prices and Apple’s prices.

The DOJ is also “asking the court to appoint an external monitor to ensure that Apple’s internal antitrust compliance policies are sufficient to catch anticompetitive activities before they result in harm to consumers.” Apple would pay the salary and expenses of the court-appointed monitor. It must be noted that the DOJ’s proposal must be approved in court. A hearing on the remedies is scheduled to be held on August 9.

Apple Store app starts offering free content

Previously rumored but not rolled out, Apple has now started to offer free content within its Apple Store iOS app. The Apple Store is now offering Color Zen, normally $1, as a complimentary download.

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Color Zen must be downloaded from within the Apple Store app to get it for free. Reportedly, Apple will be providing a new app, iBook, or piece of iTunes content for free each week, apparently as an enticement to increase interest in Apple’s retail operations. [via 9to5Mac]

Apps: Bento, Bloodmasque, Hipmunk 3.1, Peek-a-Zoo + Temple Run 2 1.4

Apple-owned Filemaker has announced that it will stop offering its Bento app for iPad ($10) and iPhone ($5) after Sept. 30. The company will also discontinue support for the personal database app after July 30, 2014.

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Square Enix’s new Bloodmasque ($7) is a vampire hunting game that mixes Infinity Blade-style fighting with the RPG elements Square fans have come to expect. Bloodmasque allows a team of vampire hunters to fight together in multiplayer action, with one player taking control of a customizable on-screen hero, assisted by others. Players are given a fair amount of virtual controller freedom while exploring towns, and the game is heavy on story elements, as well. One of the more notable features lets users swap in a photo of their own face to create their character — or a photo of anyone else. Up to three photos can be added to express different emotions for the user’s virtual hunter. The graphics are top-notch, and as such, Square Enix notes the game may consume battery life “relatively quickly.”

Hipmunk has updated Hipmunk Flights & Hotels (free) to version 3.1.0. The app has added Tonight Only hotel deals, which allows travelers to find a hotel room for up to 60 percent off. Also, Fare Alerts allow users to be notified instantly whenever airfare changes. The interface for the iPad side of the app has also been improved.

Apps: Kindle 3.9, Prince of Persia, Riptide GP2 + Yahoo! Fantasy Football 5.0

Amazon has just released version 3.9 of its free Kindle app. The app now allows for a free sample search — using the existing Library Search, customers can now search books and download free samples from within the app. Also notable in the new update is the ability to use previously purchased dictionaries or translation references to look up word definitions in other books. Accessibility gestures for blind and visually impaired customers have also been added for quick reference, and the new Instant Cover Loader displays book covers quickly.

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Prince of Persia: The Shadow and the Flame ($3) from Ubisoft brings a new chapter to the classic Prince of Persia series, which has continued its evolution following film adaptations. The new iOS Prince of Persia features a 14-level single player side-scrolling adventure, including fully polygonal, detailed artwork for the levels, and a brand new combat system with combos and new weapons. Prince of Persia’s gameplay allows users to choose between a virtual joystick or gesture-based touch controls, with all of the classic jumping, running, ducking, climbing, and attacking options fans would expect.

Apps: Angry Birds Rio 1.7, Bank of America 4.3, djay 2 + OpenTable 5.1

Rovio’s been keeping its furious fowl busy as another Angry Birds game gets new levels — this time it’s Angry Birds Rio (free). Version 1.7 of the game includes 15 more beach levels to the Golden Beachball episode. Collecting all the golden cherries will unlock bonus levels, and other surprises have been added to the game, as well.

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Bank of America updated its free Bank of America — Mobile Banking app to version 4.3. Most notably, Bank of America members can now make credit card payments using checking accounts from other banks — users just have to set up an external account. It’s also now possible for members to receive and send money using email addresses and mobile phone numbers.

App Store top earner for EA during quarter

Electronic Arts, one of the world’s largest game companies, disclosed that it made more money through Apple’s App Store than any through other retail outlet in the most recent quarter. Freemium games such as The Simpsons: Tapped Out, Real Racing 3, and The Sims FreePlay pushed mobile revenues for EA, surpassing the money made through both retail distributors and its own Origin download service. EA COO Peter Moore said Apple becoming EA’s biggest retail partner is “a first.” The company was also reportedly the most downloaded publisher on the App Store in the quarter. [via VentureBeat]

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