The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has said that it will review the marketing and delivery of certain applications built around In-App Purchases. Citing a letter from FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz to Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, the Washington Post reports that the FTC feels “in-app purchases” in certain applications have raised doubts as to whether consumers fully understand the ramifications of such charges. “We fully share your concern that consumers, particularly children, are unlikely to understand the ramifications of these types of purchases,” Leibowitz wrote. “Let me assure you we will look closely at the current industry practice with respect to the marketing and delivery of these types of applications.”
Rep. Markey released a statement on the matter, saying, “After the Washington Post first broke this story earlier this month, I sent the Federal Trade Commission a letter calling on the agency to investigate the issue of ‘in-app’ purchases and provide additional information about the promotion and delivery of these applications to consumers, especially with respect to children. What may appear in these games to be virtual coins and prizes to children result in very real costs to parents. I am pleased that the FTC has responded, and as the use of mobile apps continues to increase, I will continue to actively monitor developments in this important area.” The issue with children unknowingly racking up large bills via In-App Purchases was first brought to light in an AP story from last December, which focused on “The Smurfs’ Village” game from Capcom.
German site Macerkopf reports that the initial two-week free trial of The Daily appears to have been extended to February 28th. When The Daily was originally released on February 2nd, users were provided with a free two-week trial period, scheduled to end February 16th. Many speculated that this free trial was at least partly offered due to the new in-app subscription feature used by The Daily requiring the as-yet-unreleased iOS 4.3. It is unclear whether this two-week extension is being offered by the developer, News Corp, for promotional purposes or is connected to a possible delay in the release of iOS 4.3. [via Mac Rumors]
Google has updated its Gmail Mobile HTML5 web app adding support for its Priority Inbox feature. First debuted last summer for desktop browsers, Priority Inbox helps users manage their e-mail by automatically identifying important messages and organizing them separately. Users who have configured Priority Inbox in the desktop version of Gmail will now see their Priority Inbox categories displayed in the menu when accessing Gmail from Safari allowing them to more easily focus on priority messages. The updated HTML5 web app will also now display importance markers in the inbox to allow users to quickly identify which messages have been marked as important. At this time the feature does not allow users to setup Priority Inbox from the mobile version nor mark messages as important or unimportant. Gmail users can access the Gmail Mobile Web app simply by visiting gmail.com from within the Safari browser. Additional information on the latest Gmail for mobile update is available at the Google Mobile Blog.
A recent series of high-profile Twitter updates suggests that Apple will be relaxing its restrictions on adult content beginning in March. Late last evening, Playboy CEO Hugh Hefner made an announcement via Twitter that “Playboy—both old & new—will be available on iPad beginning in March.” In response to questions about the content, Hefner added that “all the back issues of Playboy will be available on iPad, & current issues as well,” and said that “Playboy on iPad will be uncensored.” Playboy currently offers a $1 iPhone app, with recent monthly editions available for purchase within the app, but the app’s description states that it “does NOT contain any nude content.” The possibility remains that Playboy has simply created a web application through which it can offer its full range of content, however, Hefner’s preface of “Big News!” on the announcement seems to imply that iPad access will be made possible via an approved app. [via TechTrackr]
Update: Playboy spokesperson Theresa Hennessey, speaking with Fox News, has clarified Hefner’s comments, saying that the magazine’s archives will be coming to the iPad via a web-based subscription service. “We are releasing a web-based subscription service with Bondi Digital Publishing that will give users access to every issue of Playboy both past and present,” said Hennessey. “The service will be iPad-compatible and will utilize iPad functions.”
Starbucks will officially launch its iPhone-based mobile payment service today in all of its U.S. company-operated stores, allowing users of its Starbucks Card Mobile app to pay for their coffee and other Starbucks products directly from their iOS device. The Starbucks Card Mobile app was originally released in the fall of 2009 to allow iPhone users to manage their Starbucks Cards, tracking rewards and balances and reloading their cards. At that time a pilot program was put in place to test mobile payments at select locations in California, Seattle and New York City whereby users could pay simply by displaying a barcode on their iOS device that could be read by the scanner at the register. Starbucks today announced that it is rolling out the mobile payments platform throughout the U.S. allowing iOS devices to be used as virtual Starbucks Cards for payment and rewards. The Starbucks Card Mobile app is available from the App Store as a free download. [via Mashable]
FastIntelligence has re-released its iDOS virtual DOS application onto the App Store in the form of an update. Originally released last November, the original version of iDOS was a DOS emulator for iOS devices that allowed users to run old PC DOS based applications ranging from Doom to Windows 3.1 on an iOS device. Applications were loaded onto the device over USB using the iTunes File Sharing feature and a simple DOS prompt and virtual keyboard was provided to extract and run DOS commands and applications transferred to the device. The application was removed from the App Store after only a day, presumably for violation of Apple’s App Store policies against running external code in iOS applications.
Late last night iDOS 2.0.1 appeared as an update for owners of the previous version with the significant change that the iTunes File Sharing feature has been removed, preventing users from installing their own external code. Instead, the package includes a number of DOS freeware/shareware games from 3D Realms including Wolfenstein 3D, Major Striker, Duke Nukem I and II, SuperNova and Kingdom of Kroz II. The update also adds a simplified game launcher so users are not required to use the DOS command-line and a virtual gamepad/joystick within the app. Improvements have also been made to landscape view and Bluetooth keyboard support for text-based games has been added. iDOS 2.0.1 is available from the App Store as a free download. Users of iDOS 1.0 may wish to back up their existing version before downloading the update.
Toy maker Mattel is showing a new Angry Birds-branded playset at the 2011 International CES. Named “Angry Birds: Knock On Wood,” the multi-piece plastic set includes recreations of the red, yellow, and black bomb birds from the game, a variety of wooden set pieces and pigs, and a slingshot launcher. Also included are point cards for keeping track of the score. Angry Birds: Knock On Wood will launch in May and will retail for $15; a second playset is planned for release, as is a card-based Angry Birds game. Keep reading for more pictures.
At its booth in the iLounge Pavilion at the 2011 International CES, Mobee has given iLounge an exclusive preview of its upcoming charging solutions for Apple’s Magic Trackpad, Wireless Keyboard, and portable devices. The Magic Trackpad and Wireless Keyboard solution consists of rechargeable battery tubes that slip into the devices’ battery compartments, with a small external nub that slides into a receptacle on the charger. The charger itself is a stylish metal piece with a curved tray designed to hold the curved rear surfaces of the trackpad and keyboard. For either device, users can expect to recharge the battery pack every 3-4 weeks; the battery pack recharges in roughly eight-hours. A second charger will be offered that is similar to the first but features a large rear surface for charging a Magic Mouse and second device, as well as an integrated four-port USB hub.
Mobee’s portable solution consists of a 5,000mAh battery inside an iPhone 4-inspired case. The portable battery pack charges via induction on either the company’s Magic Charger base or on the upcoming keyboard charger, with a USB port for charging an iPod, iPhone, iPad, or other portable device. Interestingly, the battery pack itself also doubles as an inductive charger for the company’s Magic Mouse battery pack or other future inductive charging solutions for the company, switching between the two modes with the flip of a switch. Pricing and availability for Mobee’s new products have yet to be announced.
Popular open-source DVD to MPEG-4 converter Handbrake has been updated to version 0.9.5, its first update in over a year. The new version offers a long list of improvements, including new presets for the iPad, iPhone 4, and second-generation Apple TV, support for SSA subtitles, automatic discovery of VLC in the Applications folder (necessary for ripping encrypted DVDs), AC3 encoding support, universal audio downmix support, a peak framerate option, and more. Notably, 0.9.5 drops support for legacy PowerPC-based Macs; a complete list of changes is available here. Handbrake 0.9.5 is available now as a free download for Mac OS X 10.5 or later, Windows 2000 or later, and Linux.
In an interview with Forbes, Epic Games’ vice president and co-founder Mark Rein said that the company’s new iOS game Infinity Blade was already profitable despite having been on the market for only a week, leading to its title as fastest-grossing app. Rein didn’t disclose how much money the game has made, but the report notes that the game has more than 300,000 users playing on Apple’s Game Center social gaming network; at $6 a copy, that translates to roughly $1.8 million in sales, $1.26 million of which would go to Epic. Interestingly, Rein described the Game Center numbers as “quite a bit lower” than actual sales, because not all users who purchased the game are playing it with Game Center enabled. Rein also said that more console-quality games will be coming to iOS soon, as he believes there is a business model for such titles, adding that Infinity Blade was made quickly for a “very reasonable price by a very reasonably sized team.” The report notes that Cut the Rope was considered the previous record holder, generating $1 million in sales in just 10 days.
Gowalla has released a major update to its location-based social networking application for the iPhone and iPod touch adding integration with competing location-based networks and a number of other significant new features and enhancements. Gowalla 3.0 expands its services to include Facebook Places and Foursquare, allowing users to connect to their other accounts to check-in and view friends’ check-ins across all three networks in one place. Check-ins can also be posted to Twitter and Tumblr for sharing. Users can now leave personal notes at a location for their Gowalla friends who will receive the note when they next check-in at that location and bookmark specific spots for later. Other improvements include faster check-ins based on user history, the ability to add and browse highlights for a city and the ability to flag spots to report problems or closed locations right from within the app. Gowalla 3.0 also sports a completely re-imagined user interface design to improve the user experience and makes uploading photos, creating spots and browsing friends much easier than in the previous version. Gowalla is available from the App Store as a free download. An iPad version is also available however it has not yet been updated to include these latest features.
IMDb has released an update to its universal iOS application adding support for multi-tasking and Retina Display capabilities and expanding its theatre showtimes feature to 13 additional countries. IMDb Movies & TV 2.0 also now allows users to rate movies and TV shows by signing in with either their IMDb or Facebook accounts and provides links to the latest entertainment news from hundreds of media outlets, organized by category and linked to titles and names in the database. Movie theatre showtimes have now been expanded to include Canada, U.K., France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Mexico, Columbia, Argentina, Chile, Australia and New Zealand. IMDb Pro subscribers can also now find representation listings and contact details from directly within the application. The new version also provides a redesigned home screen highlighting the latest trailers and entertainment news and supports Chinese localization. IMDb Movies & TV 2.0 is available from the App Store as a free download.
Skyfire Labs reports that it has been forced to suspend sales of its new Skyfire app after only a few hours of sales due to extremely high demand. Released yesterday afternoon, Skyfire allows users to view online Flash video from the web by using intermediate proxy servers to transcode Flash video to an iOS-friendly format. Skyfire Labs reports that the application was received with “unbelievable enthusiasm” and became the top grossing app on the App Store within five hours, however the popularity of the app quickly overwhelmed the company’s proxy servers and bandwidth causing the video experience to degrade. As a result, the developer has suspended sales of the application, declaring the app effectively ‘sold out.’ Skyfire reports that it is “working really hard to increase capacity” and hopes to be able to resume sales of the application soon.
CNNMoney reports that Skyfire, a web browser app that can be used to view Flash video, had been approved by Apple and is expected to be available for download on Thursday. Skyfire will allow users to view Flash videos from the web by using intermediate proxy servers to transcode them to an iOS-friendly HTML5 and MPEG-4/H.264 standard before streaming them to the user’s device. When using Skyfire to browse to a web site containing Flash video, a thumbnail will be displayed that the user can tap on to stream the video content to their device from Skyfire’s servers. The report notes that Skyfire will be designed to translate only video content and can’t be used to translate games or other non-video Flash content. Adobe estimates that nearly 75% of online video is encoded in Flash, however other studies have noted that many of these sites encode videos in other formats in addition to Flash to provide compatibility with a broader range of devices. However, Skyfire’s CEO estimates that Skyfire will provide access to millions of web sites that were previously unavailable to iPhone, iPad and iPod touch users. CNNMoney also notes however that one major Flash-based service, Hulu, will not be available as the company has blocked the Skyfire service from being able to download its videos. It is unclear whether other similar streaming services may also follow suit.
Update (11/03/2010): Skyfire is now available from the App Store—a day earlier than expected.
Update (11/04/2010): Skyfire has been temporarily removed from the App Store by the developer due to excessive demand and server performance problems.
Rémi Denis-Courmont, one of the primary developers of the VLC Media Player has sent a formal notification of copyright infringement to Apple regarding distribution of the VLC media player for iPad, iPhone and iPod touch. Denis-Courmont indicates that VLC media player is free software licensed solely under the GNU General Public License (GPL) and Apple is violating the terms of the GPL through its App Store usage rules which restrict free and open distribution of applications by applying Digital Rights Management (DRM) that prevents users from freely sharing the application.
Denis-Courmont goes on to state that although VLC is still available on the App Store, “it is to be expected that Apple will cease distribution soon” pointing to the example of GNU Go which was removed by Apple earlier this year under similar circumstances. Denis-Courmont notes that the developers who published VLC for the iPad should have been fully aware of the incompatibility of the GPL with the App Store distribution model and “they bear full responsibility for any consequences” however he also notes that “users of iOS-based devices [will] be deprived of VLC media player, as a consequence of the intransigently tight control Apple maintains over its mobile applications platform.” The GNU General Public License requires that works licensed under it must be free to be used for any purpose, freely shared with others, and open to modification by individual users to suit their needs and share those changes with others. The iOS and App Store distribution model precludes most of these uses through Digital Rights Management of the application as well as the inability for end users to create their own modifications to the source code without being a member of Apple’s iOS Developer Program.
Following a report earlier this month that membership club Costco would be ceasing sales of iPods after being denied the opportunity to sell the iPad, iLounge has now been informed that the warehouse retailer will also be ending sales of all discounted iTunes cards this coming Saturday, October 30th. It is unclear at this time whether this applies to all Costco locations worldwide, but the source suggests that it is expected to affect all North American locations. The report also confirms that current stock of iPods will continue to be sold until inventories are exhausted, however barring a future change in policy iPods will no longer be available from Costco after the current stock has been sold.
As Halloween approaches, several game developers have released Halloween-themed editions of popular iPhone and iPad game titles. Rovio Mobile has released special editions of its popular Angry Birds game, Angry Birds Halloween ($1) for the iPhone and iPod touch and Angry Birds Halloween HD ($2) for the iPad. Both versions add new levels with Halloween-themed objects such as spooky backgrounds and pumpkins to smash, and are purchased separately special editions of Angry Birds.
Lima Sky has updated the existing version of Doodle Jump ($1), adding a haunted Halloween theme as a free update for current users. Players can turn Doodle into a scary Doodlestein monster that must dodge zombies, vampires, witches and other creepy creatures. This latest version of Doodle Jump is a free update for current users.
Eyedip has released revamped Halloween versions of several of its popular applications, transforming them entirely rather than merely adding an additional theme. Flight Doodle ($1) and Flight Doodle HD ($3) sport an entirely new Halloween look with darker menus and orange and black falling tacks, ghouls, ghosts and zombies as enemies. Cargo planes have been replaced with a friendly witch to deliver tricks and treats as power-ups and numerous other Halloween themed objects and backgrounds have been added. Eyedip has also released the latest chapter in Pocket Devil ($1) and Pocket Devil HD ($3), dressing up the characters and sending them out for All Hallow’s Eve with a new mini-game, a pumpkin head editor, Halloween brain feast and new spooky scenery. All four games are available as free updates for current users.
Following yesterday’s acquisition of iOS game publisher Chillingo by Electronic Arts, Angry Birds developer Rovio revealed to TechCrunch that its relationship with Chillingo was limited to the original release of the iPhone and iPad games in December 2009 and April 2010 and did not evolve beyond that point. Peter Vesterbacka of Rovio told TechCrunch, “We only did the first iPad/iPhone integration with Chillingo and aside from that we’ve published everything ourselves. We will not use Chillingo again.” Rovio Mobile has published all of its other games directly since the initial deal with Chillingo, including its flagship Angry Birds game for other mobile platforms and its latest Angry Birds Halloween title for the iPhone and iPad. According to Vesterbacka, Rovio Mobile retained all intellectual property rights to Angry Birds in its contract with Chillingo, and Rovio plans to continue publishing the game independently.
The LA Times reports that Electronic Arts has purchased U.K. based iOS gaming publisher Chillingo. EA spokesperson Holly Rockwood confirmed the purchase this morning but did not provide any comment on the acquisition amount, although “sources close to the deal” cited by the LA Times indicated that the amount was less than $20 million in cash. Chillingo is a game publisher rather than a developer and the company represents a number of independent iOS developers. Popular titles released by Chillingo include Angry Birds by Rovio and Cut the Rope by ZeptoLab, both of which are currently hold top positions on the iTunes App Store charts. Neither Rovio or ZeptoLab are part of the EA acquisition. In a statement released this morning, EA noted that the acquisition will “combine Chillingo’s expertise in cultivating the ideas of independent developers with EA’s global mobile publishing reach.”
Gameloft has released a teaser trailer for its upcoming game, N.O.V.A. 2 Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance. The trailer provides a first glimpse of the company’s new first-person shooter for the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad, designed as a sequel to the original critically-acclaimed N.O.V.A. - Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance which broke new ground in handheld FPS games. Little is known about the sequel beyond what is shown in the trailer which provides only a brief glimpse of the new game and that the main character, Kal Wardin will be making a return to active duty to fight for mankind’s survival once more. No release date has yet been provided; fans can follow @Nova_FPS on Twitter or check the game’s web site at http://www.near-orbit-vanguard-alliance.com for more details as they become available.