Google made a number of iOS-related announcements today at its I/O Developers Conference, including several that have potentially far-reaching consequences for its iPhone and iPad applications. First, the company released its Hangouts app for iOS, a free messaging app that lets users share photos and make video calls across computers, phones, and tablets. Additionally, Google also demonstrated a redesigned version of Google Maps, which will feature enhanced navigation, a five-star rating system, a 3D view, cards, and more prominent Zagat reviews, among many updates. The latest update will come to iOS devices in the summer, and will also bring to the web version a considerably cleaner interface.
Additionally, Google announced a revamped version of Google+, which will look more like the Google+ iPad app and add considerable new features such as automatic photo synchronization and sorting; an enhanced Google Now voice search for desktop computers that hints more Siri-like functionality will come to its iOS Google app; and Google Play Music All Access, an unlimited streaming music service. All Access will compete with Pandora, Spotify and other subscription services, as it beats Apple’s rumored iRadio service to market, offering users access to millions of tracks from various recording labels. Users who sign up for a 30-day trial by June 30 will pay $8 a month. After that, users can sign up for $10 a month.
ABC has relaunched its ABC Player app as Watch ABC, which now streams live programming in limited markets. Currently, live streaming of ABC programming is only available in the New York City and Philadelphia areas.
The app is currently available in an “open access” preview, but starting July 1, the app will request verification of an eligible TV provider to access live streaming video. Watch ABC will expand to other markets in the coming months, including Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Houston, Raleigh-Durham, Fresno, Boston, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and Milwaukee.
1Password ($18), AgileBits’ password manager and secure wallet app, has been updated to version 4.2. The update includes a number of improvements to 1Browser, the app’s built-in web browser, including use of a strong password generator. It’s now possible to share items through Messages or email. Search has also been improved, with the ability to expand results across all fields. Results also show the primary URL of the term, as well.
Amazon Mobile has released Amazon Cloud Drive Photos (free), an app for storing photos in Amazon’s cloud. The app automatically saves photos taken while the app is running. Amazon offers 5GB of free storage to save about 2,000 photos. Users can buy up to 1TB of additional storage.
Blackberry has announced that its BBM messaging service will be released as a free iOS app this summer, complete with support for iOS 6 and above. BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins said the release of BBM on other platforms is a “statement of confidence,” and noted that the free app is expected to include messaging and groups at launch, with voice, screen share, and channels to be added later. As noted in a press release, BBM for iOS depends on Apple approval. [via The Verge]
Apple’s countdown to 50 billion App Store downloads is nearing its end. At the current download rate depicted by Apple’s web site counter, the 50 billionth app should be downloaded at some point in the next two days; however, it’s unclear how accurate the counter is, and whether the speed will accelerate as the milestone draws nearer.
The person who downloads the 50 billionth app will win a $10,000 App Store Gift Card, and the next 50 people to download an app will win a $500 App Store Gift Card.
Peapod Labs’ just-released Bugsy’s Math Quest ($3) stars the company’s long-time mascot, Bugsy the hamster, who walks through 2-D side-scrolling levels, facing animals and monsters every few seconds. To get past most opponents, you need to tap once or twice on the bottom-of-screen keypad to enter digits that solve a multiplication or division problem. Each level ends with a boss encounter akin to a quiz, where you need to rapidly solve a handful of problems in a row to defeat the boss and move on. The game’s flat graphics and audio are pretty good, improving on what we’ve previously seen from Peapod’s Bugsy titles, but even the easy difficulty level will prove challenging for the young (4-5-year-old) children the app claims to be appropriate for. This is due in equal parts to the fast pacing, the lack of instructional content, and choice of multiplication and division rather than addition and subtraction; Math Quest is really appropriate for older kids who already know basic multiplication and division tables from school. They’ll find this to be a great reinforcer — better than flash cards — but a mode that teaches rather than just drilling on correct answers would be a nice addition.
Netflix’s newly-updated version 4.1 Netflix (free) app now makes it easier for binge watchers with the new post-play feature. When watching a TV show, the Netflix app will now automatically queue up the next episode and play it without the user having to do anything. For movies, post-play lists the three best related movie recommendations while the credits of the current movie start to roll.
New for iPad from Warner Music Group is The Doors, ($5) a new app that “brings The Doors’ story to life.” An interactive career retrospective of the Jim Morrison-fronted rock band, The Doors app features insider stories about the group, a timeline of The Doors’ history, song samples, lyrics, and more. A graphic novel about the band’s famous “Miami Incident” is included, as are 44 video commentaries and 6 full-length music videos.
PDFpen for iPad ($10) by SmileOnMyMac lets users make edits and corrections to a PDF file on the screen. It can use iCloud, Dropbox, Evernote, and Google Docs as storage. The iPad app notably added support for Adonit’s new Jot Touch 4 pressure-sensitive stylus in version 1.5.2, making it one of the first apps to support the Bluetooth 4 peripheral. Since that recent update, version 1.5.3 has resolved issues with Dropbox and other various crash issues.
As it has for a number of iTunes milestones, Apple has launched a new contest, this time for the 50 billionth iOS app downloaded. The person who downloads that app will win a $10,000 App Store Gift Card, and the next 50 people will win $500 App Store Gift Cards.
Along with the prizes, Apple has listed the top 25 all-time paid and free apps, for both iPhone and iPad, with Angry Birds, Facebook, Pages, and Skype for iPad at the top of the lists, respectively. As of the time this story was posted, the counter appeared to be at just over 49,207,000,000 downloads; a rough calculation suggests that the 50 billion mark will be hit in roughly 11 days.
With users of Google Now for iOS — found within the Google Search app — complaining about excessive battery drain, a recently published post on Lifehacker suggested turning off location reporting in settings for a fix. However, Google responded to the Lifehacker report, claiming that reports about excessive loss of battery life are “incorrect.” The company claims Google Now uses cell towers and wifi hot spots “for much lower battery impact.” Google claims Google Now for iOS was tested extensively for months without any significant battery impact.
Originally a Facebook-only game, Rovio’s Angry Birds Friends is now available on iOS for free. The game still revolves around Facebook though — you have to sign into Facebook to compete in the tournaments and challenge friends for trophies. New levels are added to tournaments every week, and the iOS game syncs automatically with the Facebook game. However, keep in mind the only single-player experience focuses on practicing with power-ups. It’s free, but Angry Birds Friends is still only worth downloading if you’ve got friends willing to play along. Otherwise, you’d be better off sticking with one of Rovio’s many other flying fowl titles.
Haunted Hollow (free) from 2K Games was developed by Firaxis, the same studio that made Sid Meier’s Civilization and XCOM: Enemy Unknown. The new strategy game for iOS lets players build and rule over a mansion while creating an army of monster minions. Players can send monsters such as vampires, zombies, mummies, witches, and reapers into town to capture townhouses and do battle. Multiplayer mode lets Haunted Hollow players face off against friends.
Zynga has released the sequel to its once insanely popular game Draw Something in two incarnations: Draw Something 2 ($3) and Draw Something 2 Free. Both games feature dozens of new tools, patterns, stamps, and colors for drawing. Also featured are new words, new play modes, and a feed that shares drawings with all of your friends. The premium version also includes a free Sparkle Pen, no ads between turns, a free star and coin bonus, and thousands of extra new words.
Already beloved for its interactive iOS storybooks, Nosy Crow has hit another home run with the release of Little Red Riding Hood by Nosy Crow ($5), a lightly modernized take on the classic fable. As would be expected from this story, Little Red Riding Hood embarks on a walk through the forest to carry a basket of food to her ailing grandmother, but Nosy Crow adds several branching paths to the forest, enabling kids to choose additional items that will help Red defeat the big, bad wolf at her grandmother’s home—plus multiple endings. Beyond the fun of collecting these items in various mini games, the developer has populated the app with zoomable high-definition artwork, plenty of voice narration, and intuitively interactive elements that really bring the story’s scenes to life. This is certainly Nosy Crow’s best storybook yet, which says a lot given that it has previously released some of the very best iOS kids apps we’ve tested. Fans of the story should grab this one without thinking twice; it’s that impressive.
A new update to the Google Search app for iOS features Google Now, Google’s personal assistant. Google Now offers weather and traffic conditions at the start of the day, as well as updates on favorite sports teams and breaking news. Google Now uses more than 25 different “cards,” including cards for boarding passes, restaurant reservations, flight information, and more.
Google’s Eric Schmidt alluded to Google Now awaiting Apple approval in March. Apple responded, saying Google Now wasn’t submitted to its App Store; as it turns out, it was instead debuted within an existing app. [via 9to5Mac]
Apple has added a new section to the App Store to help consumers “Learn More About In-App Purchases.” The informational section describes what in-app purchases are, the different types of in-app purchases, how in-app purchases work, and how to restrict a child’s ability to make in-app purchases using parental controls. In the wake of legal issues and other complaints regarding these follow-on purchases, Apple is making more of an effort to inform consumers about in-app purchases — the company recently added an “Offers In-App Purchases” line to all relevant apps.
Though a minor update for some users, Apple’s Apple Store app (free) has been updated to version 2.6 — the app now lets users receive notifications noting when they’re eligible for upgrade pricing on a new iPhone.
Sega’s unpredictable history of iOS releases continued this week with the release of House of the Dead: Overkill - The Lost Reels ($5), a visually unimpressive yet semi-engaging zombie shooting game with grindhouse-inspired interface and audio elements. Like virtually all of the prior House of the Dead games, you’re in an on-rails first-person perspective shooting at zombie attackers — here called “mutants,” and with a drag-based on screen reticule rather than just pointing and tapping, increasing the challenge level. Two of the game’s three worlds are unlocked for the $5 asking price, while a third world requires a $2 purchase, and as is sadly now the norm, additional weapons are sold as in-app purchases if you don’t want to spend the time earning them. Overkill’s language is unusually raw, so kids shouldn’t download it; more importantly, due to Sega’s use of relatively low polygon counts for device compatibility, the in-game graphics are merely competent rather than scary. Fans of the series will find this title to be far less stylish and energetic than the best House of the Dead titles, but it’s something to play at a relatively affordable price.
A new Cut the Rope game has hit the App Store from ZeptoLab UK Limited. Cut the Rope: Time Travel ($1) features two monsters to feed in each level as the physics-based puzzler returns in different new settings, including the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, a pirate ship, ancient Egypt, ancient Greece, and the Stone Age.
FedEx’s free FedEx Mobile app now features FedEx Delivery Manager in version 4.2. Signing up for the manager lets users schedule a delivery or change a delivery to another address. It’s also now possible to sign for a package using the app. FedEx Mobile also lets users provide delivery instructions, schedule a vacation hold, or opt to hold a package at a FedEx location for pickup. FedEx Mobile’s Delivery Manager is available for U.S. residential delivery destinations.
One year ago, Read It Later became Pocket (free), the popular app from Idea Shower which saves content for offline reading. Now updated to version 4.5, the app introduces new sharing features, including Send to Friend, which lets you quickly share content with friends and family. An inbox will show content that’s been shared with you, along with any comments and highlighted quotes. The redesigned Share Menu provides shortcuts for sharing, and optional push notifications let users know when new content has arrived in their Pocket inbox.
Time Warner Cable’s free app, TWC TV (version 3.2.0), now lets Time Warner subscribers watch live TV channels while away from home. The update also lets viewers watch select On Demand programming from anywhere. Filtering and sorting shows and categories has also been improved.
Facebook, Inc. has updated its Facebook app (free) to version 6.0. The new update adds chat heads to both the iPhone and iPad versions of the app — a “floating” head now enables users to quickly continue a chat with a friend while browsing other feeds. iPhone Facebook app users can send Emoji-style stickers within messages, and new feeds such as Music, Photos, and Games have been added. For the iPad app, the News Feed has been redesigned and streamlined. Chat heads and stickers should be available for all users “over the next few weeks.”
SugarSync, Inc. has released version 4.0.0 of its SugarSync app (free). The redesigned Dropbox competitor now offers quicker access to synced content. It’s also easier to share and access content shared by others. The new Cloud Search feature lets users search for files across all computers right from the app, and Open In lets users save documents, photos, or videos from other apps into the SugarSync app. A device filter for viewing all folders is also new, and a folder label feature is coming soon.
Logitech has announced two new home control remotes — the Harmony Ultimate ($350) and Harmony Smart Control ($130) — that can both use an iOS app for control. Harmony Ultimate is a full remote with 2.4” color touchscreen that can control up to 15 devices through swipes and taps. It can also control the Philips Hue lighting system.
Harmony Smart Control works mainly through the Harmony smartphone app, though it also comes with a simple remote. It can consolidate up to eight remote controls into one app. Both remotes are compatible with 225,000 home theater devices, and both include the Harmony Hub, which turns RF signals from the remote into IR and Bluetooth commands for home theater device compatibility. The Harmony Hub also allows users to control devices through cabinets and walls. Harmony Ultimate is expected to launch this month, while Harmony Smart Control should be available in May.
Twitter is planning on launching its new standalone iOS music application this weekend, possibly as early as today, according to reports. A new site, music.twitter.com, asks users for permission to allow an app called Trending Music Web, though at this point authorization of the app only sends users back to the sign in page.
The app will suggest artists and songs based on “personalized signals,” which include the Twitter accounts a user follows. Third-party services, such as iTunes, will allow users to listen to music clips within the app. Users will also be able to watch music videos from Vevo. Twitter recently acknowledged its acquisition of the music startup We Are Hunted, which tracked the most popular songs on social networks. [via AllThingsD]
Update: Twitter’s music app will launch to the public in about a week; for now, only select celebrities and “influencers” have access to the app. [via AllThingsD]
Google Inc.‘s Chrome (free) app has updated to version 26.0.1410.50. Google’s browser for iOS now allows users to access fullscreen browsing for iPhone and iPod touch — the toolbar can be scrolled off the screen to view a full page of content on the devices. Printing has also been updated, as it’s now possible to print web pages using either AirPrint or Google Cloud Print. It’s also now possible to save any page as a PDF to a Google Drive account.
Foursquare Labs, Inc. has released version 6.0 of its popular Foursquare (free) app. The newest update focuses on the “most interesting things nearby.” Sort of Foursquare’s attempt at a best-of, the app can now tell users the top attractions in the area. Search has also been given a more prevalent role within the app, as the Explore field has been moved to the top of the app when it’s opened.