Apple over the weekend launched a significant revamp of its retail stores, replacing its paper-based information graphics with iPads. As noted by ifoAppleStore, there is now one iPad next to each major product in the stores, including Macs, iPhones, iPads, Apple TV, and the iPod touch, while smaller iPod models are mounted in groups with a single iPad. The iPads, which are mounted semi-permanently in clear acrylic, are running interactive software that can take customers through each product’s main features, and features a Specialist button that allows customers to request assistance, with an indication of where the customer is the queue of other people waiting.
In addition to the changes made at the retail stores, Apple also released version 1.3 of its Apple Store app for iOS. The update offers the ability to custom-configure a new Mac, and new in-store features that allow customers to request assistance from a Specialist, check on Genius Bar wait times and make appointments, and see when the next workshop is scheduled. The Apple Store app for iOS is available now as a free download from the App Store.
Yuri Vishnevsky, creator of experimental generative artwork site weavesilk.com has released an iPad app that allows users to create flowing interactive artwork using the iPad screen. Supported by an original soundscape created by Osmos music composer Mat Jarvis, Silk absorbs users into an ethereal experience where strands of colour spring from their fingertips. The app provides simple gesture-based controls for choosing colours, adjusting direction and clearing the canvas, and users can screenshot the results into the iPad photo library for creating wallpapers or sharing via e-mail or other online services. Silk requires an iPad running iOS 4.0 or later and is available from the App Store for $2.
Chillingo and Cobra Mobile have released Storm in a Teacup, a new physics-based platform game where players take on the role of Storm, exploring an elaborate dream-like world in a magical teacup. Players must journey through 40 different levels solving puzzles, avoiding obstacles and defeating bad guys. The game provides challenging physics-based puzzles and detailed high-definition Retina Display graphics as well as Game Center and Crystal with 15 different in-game achievements. Storm in a Teacup is a universal app and is available from the App Store for $1.
G-Form has debuted its new Extreme Sleeve 2 for iPad. Made from the company’s RPT composite material, the water-resistant Extreme Sleeve 2 is said to absorb over 90 percent of the energy of an impact, while stiffening to offer further protection. The Extreme Sleeve 2 offers an additional layer of RPT along the edge and under the zipper, as well as more interior room to better accomodate an iPad 2 with a Smart Cover attached. G-Form’s Extreme Sleeve 2 for iPad is available now for pre-order and will ship on June 15 for $70.
China Telecom, the country’s third-largest wireless carrier, is in talks with Apple over the CDMA iPhone. Reuters reports that Apple’s exclusivity deal with current iPhone carrier China Unicom expires this year, leaving the door open for Apple to add China Telecom as a second carrier in the region. “We’re not denying that we’re in touch with iPhone (Apple), but I cannot comment on the progress,” said China Telecom Chairman Wang Xiaochu. Interestingly, a report from earlier this week indicated that Apple has also reached some sort of agreement with leading Chinese carrier China Mobile that will see Apple produce iPhone models capable of running on China Mobile’s TD-LTE 4G network; Apple has decided not to make an iPhone capable of running on China Mobile’s proprietary 3G network.
MotionX has released an update to its GPS navigation app for the iPad adding several new high-quality voices for its live voice guidance feature. MotionX GPS Drive is an inexpensive turn-by-turn GPS navigation app for iOS devices that offers turn-by-turn voice-guided navigation as an annual subscription and uses online mapping rather than preloading map data onto the device. Additional features include Facebook Places integration, and POI search based on Google Local and Wikipedia. Version 10 introduces seven fun new male and female voices available for in-app purchase. MotionX GPS Drive HD is available from the App Store for $3; a thirty-day free trial of live voice guidance is included with the purchase of the app, after which users must purchase a $20/year subscription to continue using the feature. Additional voices sell via in-app purchase for $1 each.
An explosion has been reported at Foxconn’s Chengdu manufacturing plant, causing a number of casualties. Citing a variety of Chinese news sources, M.I.C. Gadget reports that the explosion occured around 7:00 p.m. local time in building A5 of the complex, and had that a doctor on the scene said he had already seen six or seven people injured, with more reports injury expected. According to the report, there were hundreds or more workers inside the building at the time of the explosion, which cause many materials to be thrown out of the building. The building is known to house iPad 2 production lines on its second, third, and fourth floors; it is unknown what affect the explosion may have had on the iPad 2-related equipment.
Update: The Wall Street Journal reports that two people were killed in the blast and sixteen injured, three seriously.
Apple has now reached a cloud-based music licensing agreement with Sony Music Group, giving it deals with three of the four largest labels, according to a Bloomberg report. Citing people with knowledge of the deals, the report reiterates that the service will allow users to store content on Apple’s servers and access it via the Internet rather than storing it locally on a device. An Apple patent application discovered yesterday shows one implementation of how such a service could work. The report goes on to state that Apple is close to a deal with Universal Music Group, and that separate agreements with music publishers would also be necessary, as they control different rights than the labels.
Speaking at the Reuters Global Technology Summit, Verizon Wireless Chief Financial Officer Fran Shammo reiterated a prior claim that the next iPhone will offer both CDMA and GSM connectivity. Reuters reports that although sales of the Verizon iPhone 4 have been lower than some analysts expected, the company is happy with sales of the “six-month-old phone.” Shammo indicated that the next iPhone would launch simultaneously on AT&T and Verizon, and that Verizon’s version will also work in as many countries as AT&T’s iPhone, pointing to a single model capable of running on both CDMA and GSM networks. Shammo made similar comments last month during the company’s Q1 2011 financial results conference call.
SkyGrid has released version 2.0 of its news aggregator for iOS devices adding major improvements to the ability for users to follow and keep track of their favourite news sources. In addition to following topics of interest, SkyGrid 2.0 allows users to easily follow specific sites as well as content from social media sources such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and various local, traffic and weather sources. All topics and sites are aggregated onto a single “Following” tab and users can easily search or navigate to sources from a single point of access. A new SkyReport feature allows users to share news and photos in real-time and significant improvements have been made to page rendering speeds and display of photos. SkyGrid 2.0 is a universal app and is available from the App Store as a free download.
iOS developer Bambino Avenue has released its first app aimed at teaching numbers and counting to young children. Targeted at preschoolers and kindergarteners, Dano Pirate & The Numbers guides the child through 20 fun and educational activities with colourful characters and an engaging story teaching skills such as writing numbers by tracing, recognizing spoken and written numbers and understanding concepts of quantities and ordering of numbers. The application was designed by elementary school teachers to specifically support national math education standards and provides an indicator page for parents to monitor their child’s progress within the app as well as difficulty levels adapted to the child’s abilities. The app is available as two separate device-specific versions: Dano Pirate & The Numbers ($2) for the iPhone and iPod touch and Dano Pirate & The Numbers HD ($3) for the iPad.
Square Enix has released Chaos Rings Omega, a prequel to last year’s Chaos Rings RPG. The new instalment reveals the backstory of the Arc Arena life-or-death tournament from 10,000 years earlier, laying the foundation for the events and setting of the original game. Chaos Rings Omega provides classic RPG game play on a rich 3D graphic interface ideal for the iPhone and iPod touch Retina Display. Players engage in turn-based battles in the Arc Arena to defeat enemy monsters, obtaining their magic and special attacks. The new game features a refined battle system from the prior version and will include free monthly content updates beyond this first version to add new features such as voice acting from top-quality Japanese talent, and the raising of level caps and addition of new secret bosses. The game is available in separate device-specific versions: Chaos Rings Omega ($12) for the iPhone and iPod touch and Chaos Rings Omega for iPad ($15).
PhatWare has released an update to WritePad, its handwriting-recognition application for iOS adding support for synchronization with Evernote and Google Docs sharing. WritePad allows users to enter text on their device using cursive, print or mixed handwriting styles for taking notes, sending e-mail, composing Twitter and Facebook updates and sending SMS messages. Users can exchange files between their device and desktop computer over Wi-Fi or synchronize them via the cloud. In addition to improved Dropbox synchronization, WritePad users now have the option of synchronizing their notes with the popular Evernote online service instead. Users can also now upload WritePad documents to Google Docs for storage or sharing. The update also makes several improvements to the built-in handwriting recognition engine allowing users to disable unused letter shapes to improve the learning process. WritePad for iPhone is available from the App Store for $4.
Automattic has released an update to its official WordPress app adding a new Quick Photo feature and the ability to access site statistics directly from the app. The new Quick Photo feature allows users with photo-centric blogs to easily snap and post a photo with a quick writeup on it; the feature is available only for iPhone users at this time. The update also adds support for accessing site statistics such as daily, weekly and monthly page views, post views and top referrers directly from within the app providing the appropriate plug-ins are available on the WordPress blog. The new version also includes localizations for a number of new languages and incorporates numerous bug fixes. Notably, Automattic also indicates in the release notes that version 2.8 will likely be the last version to provide iOS 3.x support, advising users to ensure they keep a copy
of this version for when the next update becomes available. WordPress 2.8 is a universal app and is available from the App Store as a free download. [via Mashable]
PopCap, developer of acclaimed games such as Peggle and Plants vs Zombies has re-released one of its old Flash-based online games for iOS. Adapted for iOS as a personal project by an aspiring game programmer who worked in a different part of the company, Candy Train challenges players to drive a train around and collect candy while quickly piecing together the track ahead of the train’s path. Players earn points based on how much candy they are able to collect before the train runs out of track. Candy Train is a universal app and is available from the App Store as a free download.
A newly published Apple patent application suggests that the company may be planning to use small, locally-stored clips of media items stored in the cloud as an on-device buffer. Such a setup would allow for reduced media footprints on devices such as the iPod and iPhone, as only a short portion of each song or video—think an iTunes preview clip—would be stored locally, in order to give the device an opportunity to grab the rest of the item while reducing the possibility of playback pauses as media is retrieved from a server.
Entitled “Local Storage of a Portion of Streamed Media Items,” the patent describes “locally storing one or more clips corresponding to a media item such that the clips can be immediately played back in response to a user request to play back the media item. While the clips are played back, the electronic device can retrieve the remaining segments of the media item from the user’s media library as a media stream over a communications network. Once the playback of the clip is complete, the electronic device can seamlessly switch playback to the media stream received from the user’s library.” Notably, one of the images included with the patent shows an iTunes synchronization settings screen, in which an iPhone is set to “Sync partial music,” with a “Minimum Connection Speed” of 3G. As with all Apple patents, this application does not necessarily represent any future product release from Apple, but offers evidence of the company’s research in this area. [via AppleInsider]
China Mobile and Apple are in discussions over bringing a TD-LTE 4G version of the iPhone to the world’s largest cellular provider, according to a pair of new reports. Citing China Mobile Chairman Wang Jianzhou, MarketWatch reports that China Mobile has “reached consensus” with Apple on using TD-LTE, the carrier’s fourth-generation cellular data standard, in an iPhone to be offered by China Mobile. The same report notes that Wang said talks with Apple on launching the iPhone remain ongoing, and declined to elaborate on what exactly has been decided upon between the two companies. In a separate report, Bloomberg states that Apple has decided not to make a version of the iPhone for China Mobile’s 3G network, but that it “may” produce a version for the 4G TD-LTE system. Talks between the two companies date back to 2007.
Apple has signed a cloud-based music licensing agreement with EMI music and is close to securing deals with the remaining “big four” labels, according to a new report. Citing multiple music industry sources, Cnet reports that EMI, along with Warner Music Group, have signed agreements with Apple, while similar deals with Sony Music Group and Universal Music Group are nearing completion. The report states that negotiations with the latter two labels could be wrapped up as early as next week, giving Apple contracts with all four of the top labels heading into WWDC, where many expect the company to announce its cloud-based offering. Apple’s approach differs from that of rivals Amazon and Google, both of which have launched cloud-based music services without the support of the labels; the report claims that the labels’ agreements with Apple may allow it to offer features that Amazon and Google lack.
Red Chair has released another major update for its highly acclaimed Infinity Blade for iOS devices, adding a third new content pack and a new multiplayer arena. With Infinity Blade: Arena players can now challenge their friends to multiplayer matches via Apple’s Game Center or play in Survivor mode and face off against a legion of Titans. The update also adds a set of new Holiday Helms for every season, two dozen new magic rings, swords, shields and helmets to collect and master. New achievements and more leaderboards are also now available as well as some additional surprises in the game. Infinity Blade 1.3 is a universal app and is currently available from the App Store for $3 for a limited time. The game requires an iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, third- or fourth-generation iPod touch or iPad running iOS 3.2 or later; it is recommended that users update to the latest version of iOS before playing the game, however.
Yahoo has released an update to Yahoo Messenger for iOS adding a native iPad UI and support for voice and video calling on the iPad 2. Yahoo Messenger allows users to connect with their friends on the Yahoo and Windows Live instant messaging networks, place international VoIP phone calls to landlines or mobile phones and sending free SMS messages to mobile phones in select countries. Yahoo Messenger 2.1 is now a universal app with a layout specific for iPad users and takes advantage of the integrated camera on the iPad 2 to allow users to conduct video calls to their Yahoo Messenger contacts. The new version also improves spam management for more easily blocking add requests and includes a number of bug fixes. Yahoo Messenger 2.1 is available from the App Store as a free download and requires iOS 4.0 or later.