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Italian authorities seeking response from Apple on in-app purchases

Italy’s Antitrust and Competition Authority is investigating Apple for misleading consumers by advertising free apps that actually required in-app purchases to keep playing. Google, Amazon, and Gameloft are also being targeted by authorities for the same reason. The companies now have 20 days to comply with information requests and to offer a defense, ZDNet reports. According to the report, the companies could face a fine of up to €5 million — about $6.85 million. Authorities took action after examining a Gameloft app called Littlest Pet Shop, a free kids app that offers in-game currencies.

Apple has been scrutinized a number of times for its in-app purchase model during the past few years — the company settled a class action lawsuit over freemium apps aimed at children in February 2013, and settled with the Federal Trade Commission over IAPs in January 2014. The FTC forced Apple to modify its billing practices in the App Store.

iWork for iCloud adds up to 1GB file support, interactive charts, more

Apple has updated iWork for iCloud with new features, including the ability to create and format 2-D and interactive charts. Documents up to 1 GB can now be edited, and images up to 10 MB can be inserted into documents. Additionally, up to 100 people can now collaborate on a single document. All of these changes have been instituted in Pages, Keynote, and Numbers, with each program receiving additional minor changes as well. The changes can be seen when opening the programs at iCloud.com.

 

Apps: 100 Balls 1.3, The Awesome Collection, The Elements Flashcards + Sago Mini Space Explorer

Giedrius Talzunas’ 100 Balls (free) is currently topping the Free Apps chart in the App Store. First released in April, the app has updated to version 1.3 with new bonus balls, cups with effects, and new soundtracks. A simplistic game, 100 Balls has players dump balls into cups moving on a track. As the game advances, the cups move faster and change colors — the different colored buckets give players the opportunity to get higher scores. The game ends when all the balls are lost or all the buckets are gone, as each empty bucket that passes by without receiving any balls drops off the screen. It’s better than many of the recent top free gaming apps, but not by much. 100 Balls will likely only prove addictive for the easily amused.

In what we hope will be a continuing series, StoryToys has released The Awesome Collection - Interactive Books, Jigsaws and Stickers ($10/$5), a collection of three of its prior storybooks in one app. A single download gets you Grimm’s Puss in Boots, The Jungle Book, and Haunted House, each containing a voice-narrated story and a lightly animated, multi-page 3-D storybook to entertain kids. If purchased separately, the books would otherwise cost $11 plus $9 of in-app purchase content. Although that additional content isn’t worth buying separately — it’s sets of very simple jigsaw puzzles and sticker books based upon artwork created for the stories — and Haunted House isn’t as strong in the story department as the other two titles, the overall value delivered by the combined package is high, particularly at its $5 introductory price. If you don’t already have one of the three included books, definitely consider grabbing it before the price doubles.

iLounge Game Spotlight: JoyJoy

JoyJoy ($2) is a frantic, flashy shooter from Radiangames. Originally released on Xbox Live Indie Games four years ago, JoyJoy just hit the App Store this week with touchscreen controls. The developer has noted the scoring system has been revised for the new mobile version, as has the game’s UI.

 

From the start, JoyJoy’s look reminded us of an old-school handheld water tank game, where you’d have to push a button to get a ring or a ball to float to a certain place. It’s simple, but inviting, with fluid animation. Screenshots don’t really do the game justice. Your small ship is trapped inside a similar, blue area and you must zoom around, fending off enemies with a variety of weapons as you dip and dive past them. Each new level — referred to as a wave — brings new enemies, patterns, and challenges.

Apple allowing promo codes for in-app purchases?

Apple is now apparently allowing developers to provide promo codes for in-app purchases, if a recent EA promotion is any indication. As pointed out by 148Apps.com, EA is offering a promo code for “10 free gold” within Real Racing 3, normally a $2 purchase. Users must visit this link to take advantage of the free gold offer. It’s unclear if this is a one-time-only thing, or indicative of a new stance by Apple. A policy shift would make it easier for reviewers and others to access more in-app content.

Apple updates Podcasts, iTunes Connect apps

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.

 

Apps: 9/11 Museum Audio Guide, Google Search 4.0.0, Haunted House + Swarm by Foursquare

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.

Columbia students develop software to run iOS apps on Android

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.

Apps: Castlestorm, Castro 1.1, Square Order + Twitter 6.5

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.

iLounge Game Spotlight: 2-Bit Cowboy

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.

Apps: Adobe Voice, Cinamatic, GoodReader 4 + Record Run

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.

 

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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.

Apps: Google Maps 3.0, Intake, Republique 2.0 + Tumblr 3.6

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.

 

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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.

Report: iOS 7 doesn’t encrypt Mail attachments

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]

iLounge Game Spotlight: Leo’s Fortune

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.

 

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Apps: Beats Music 2.0, Botanicula, OneNote for iPhone 2.2.1 + Snapchat

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.

 

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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.

iOS 8 features may be pushed to iOS 8.1; Apple TV update still in the works

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 brings Google Docs, Sheets to App Store

Google has announced that its Google Docs and Google Sheets apps are now available in the App Store. Both apps are free, and work offline.

 

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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 to allow free mobile viewing, launch new app

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.

Office for iPad adds AirPrint support

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.

Apps: Clear 1.4, Doozer Creek, Facebook Messenger 5.0 + What Do I Wear?

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.

 

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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.

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