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2014 iPad iPhone iPod Buyers' Guide from iLounge.com

News

Apps: 1Password 4.5, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Health Mate 2.0 + WeMo 1.5.1

AgileBits is calling its newest version of 1Password ($9) its biggest update ever — an apt time for it, considering the catastrophic Heartbleed bug. The password manager and secure wallet app has been rebuilt for speed and productivity in version 4.5. 1Password now supports multiple vaults and sharing from the Mac or Windows versions of 1Password. Multiple Dropbox accounts are also now supported. The app’s browser has been improved, with easier login and checkout, and one button for autofill.

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New from Gameloft is The Amazing Spider-Man 2 ($5), a new fighting adventure based on the upcoming film. Players can guide an impressively-animated Spider-Man through an open world, web-slinging and wall climbing while fighting many recognizable characters from the Spider-Man universe. While the game has been designed to encourage exploration, enabling Spider-Man to move throughout a giant and impressively populated city, the swinging, climbing, and jumping controls haven’t quite been perfected, nor have the camera controls, collectively making navigation and movement somewhat confusing. The non-linear design also leaves Spider-Man to fight minor crooks and take on side missions that feel both repetitive and not particularly meaningful, rather than tackling big villains. It’s not a bad game, but with a bit of extra polish, it could have been a great one.

Apple, Google seek exclusive game debuts

Both Apple and Google are approaching game developers to get top titles to debut first on their respective operating systems, the Wall Street Journal reports. The companies are both offering premium placement within their app stores in exchange for exclusivity.  It’s reported that Apple doesn’t offer money for exclusive game debuts, only “marketing or promotional assistance.”

Apple and EA reached a deal for the launch of Plants Vs. Zombies 2 last August — Apple got about two months of exclusivity for the game, and it was released on Android in October. ZeptoLab’s Cut the Rope 2 was also featured exclusively on Apple’s App Store for about three months. Gameloft has considered Apple exclusivity, but thus far has decided against it, opting for simultaneous iOS and Android launches.

iLounge Game Spotlight: Hitman GO

The Hitman game series has proven popular enough to spawn a number of sequels, as well as a feature film. And with the release of Hitman GO ($5), it’s clear Square Enix thinks the franchise still has legs, as Agent 47 makes a big move from stealth action/adventure to stealth strategy.

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It’s important for gamers to think of Hitman GO as a spinoff, rather than a proper continuation of the franchise. Perhaps Agent 47 will become the next Mario, popping into go-karts, onto tennis courts, and so forth. Or not. Hitman GO is a puzzler made to look like a board game, as Agent 47 is merely a piece to be moved strategically from space to space. The game’s most “violent” moments involve knocking over other pieces. This is way more fun than it initially sounds.

Apps: Baby Bundle, Breeze, Helpouts + iOOTP Baseball 2014

The recently released free Baby Bundle app from Nicab Inc claims to be “the first all-in-one parenting app developed by a pediatric expert.” The app offers a free daily activity monitor for sleeping, feeding, diaper changing, and pumping, a parenting guide, and an interactive forum for parents to offer questions and comments. In-app purchases include a photo journal, vaccination and check-up organizer, health reference feature, growth tracker, and a simple iOS-to-iOS device baby monitor. Data can be synchronized on up to four iOS devices.

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Breeze (free) is a fitness tracking app from FitnessKeeper, best known for the RunKeeper app. The new app only works on the iPhone 5s, using the phone’s M7 motion coprocessor to automatically track steps throughout the day. As soon as Breeze is downloaded, it asks the user if it can access motion data — it then gives users the last seven days of data, the very first time the app is used. A few quick jaunts around the house with the 5s in pocket showed us Breeze was capable of tracking steps with solid accuracy as it ran in the background. Users can choose to get status updates on their progress throughout the day, and Breeze claims to not be a battery hog. For many users who want to get an idea of their daily activity levels without committing to a fitness tracking accessory, Breeze is a great option.

Apps: A&E/History 2.0, Ally 3.0, Amazon Cloud Drive Photos 3.0 + Pandora 5.3

A&E Television Networks Mobile has updated two of its free apps — A&E and History — to version 2.0, bringing live streaming TV to both apps. Of course, as you may have suspected, both apps require signing in with a TV provider. A quick glance at the list shows that many major TV providers are supported.

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Ally Financial has released a major update to its Ally Mobile Banking (free) app. The app looks much cleaner and is easier to navigate after being redesigned for iOS 7 in version 3.0.0. A new graph shows a user’s total balance in all Ally accounts, and another new features shows all consolidated activity. Ally is also now offering more details on check holds within the app. Mobile check deposit also has a cleaner look when using the iOS device camera. A number of other UI tweaks make for a much better banking experience.

iLounge Game Spotlight: R.B.I. Baseball 14

The words “R.B.I. Baseball” instantly conjure up memories for gamers of a certain age and ilk. First released in Japan in 1986, R.B.I. Baseball has continued to attract a cult following over time, much like the Tecmo Bowl series. Now, the franchise has been updated and relaunched with R.B.I. Baseball 14 ($5) by MLB.com.

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Staying true to its roots, R.B.I. Baseball 14 is focused on quick, arcade-style baseball gameplay. Gamers searching for advanced management strategies and deep gameplay should look elsewhere. R.B.I. Baseball is a throwback to old baseball games — controls are very simple. While pitching, users can control the speed and direction of their pitches, and that’s it. You won’t find four separate buttons for separate pitches here. You want to throw a changeup? Hold up on the onscreen joystick. Fastball? Hold down. It’s old school. The graphics aren’t flashy, but they do the trick, and the animations are smooth enough. A nine-inning game of R.B.I. takes about a half hour to play, and games can also be set for three or six innings.

Apps: Carousel, Delivery Status touch 5.1, Family Guy + RollerCoaster Tycoon 4 Mobile

Carousel by Dropbox is the new free app from Dropbox built solely to manage and provide quick access to photos and videos. All photos and videos are backed up to Dropbox. Photos and videos can also be shared instantly within private conversations. It’s notable that Carousel won’t connect with Dropbox for Business accounts — only personal accounts.

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Junecloud’s package tracking app, Delivery Status touch ($5), has updated to version 5.1. The new update introduces a wide array of new features, including improved background notifications — unnecessary notifications are gone, and updates only become more frequent when necessary. Keyboard shortcuts have been added for Bluetooth keyboards. Among other improvements are tweaks to the map, the clear passwords function, and the return of manual sorting. A bunch of bug fixes are also included in this major update.

Facebook to pull messaging from main app

Facebook will soon be taking the messaging function out of its main mobile app, The Verge reports. The separate Facebook Messenger app will be required to chat; users who click the messages button in Facebook will be transferred to the Messenger app. Facebook is already notifying users in some European countries that the changes will be made in a few weeks. The company confirmed the functionality will be removed in every country.

There are a few exceptions to the change: users of Facebook Paper will still be able to message from within the app, and those accessing Facebook through its mobile site will still have messaging functionality.

Apps: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, NBC 2.5.1, Sago Mini Monsters + Square Cash 1.3

Games based upon movies have a reputation for mediocrity, but Gameloft’s past track record with superhero movie games was solid enough that we didn’t expect Captain America: The Winter Soldier - The Official Game ($3) to stink. The movie-inspired title suffers from a variety of bad decisions, ranging from a boring overhead camera angle to confusing controls, repetitive action and an in-app purchase-heavy upgrade push, all taking away from what should have been a slam dunk companion to the well-regarded film. Captain America and a small team of AI-controlled S.H.I.E.L.D. agents walk — generally upwards from the bottom of the screen — through environments populated with groups of enemies, and you’re supposed to use an overly complex combination of virtual buttons, taps, and swipes to dispatch them. Swiping on things throws a shield at them, while tapping on them or on-screen buttons will throw punches and special attacks, including grenades, sniper rounds, and other support from the agents you choose. Too much of an emphasis is placed on managing and upgrading the team, and too little on making the levels fun rather than just a series of nearly mindless brawls with too little visual pizzazz. We’d advise skipping this one.

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NBC Universal has added a few things to its free NBC app in version 2.5.1. Most notably, the app now features Airplay Mirroring, letting users watch NBC shows on a television using Apple TV. Considering that Apple TV doesn’t have an NBC channel, most users would previously have had to sign up for Hulu Plus to watch NBC shows. The update also offers “trending clips,” which includes clips from NBC late night shows including The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Late Night with Seth Meyers, and Saturday Night Live.

Adobe debuts Lightroom mobile for iPad

Adobe has officially introduced Lightroom mobile for iPad, a subscription-required tablet version of its photo editing and management software. Lightroom mobile lets users enhance smartphone photos and RAW images from DSLR cameras, as the new app can handle “virtually any image format.” The new app will also be coming to iPhone “within the next year.”

Lightroom mobile syncs seamlessly with Adobe’s Lightroom 5 on the desktop — in fact, Lightroom 5 is required to use Lightroom mobile. A Creative Cloud service membership is also required to use the app, with the least expensive option at $10 per month.

iLounge Game Spotlight: FTL: Faster Than Light

Although it’s not a brand-new game, FTL: Faster Than Light ($10) has just been released for iPad by Subset Games. The winner of several awards and accolades, FTL is a space-based RPG that encourages quick thinking, and punishes failure. It’s the kind of game that allows players to get further and further as they put more time into it.

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Once installed, FTL encourages going through a five-minute tutorial, which is a smart idea. With controls and information spread all along the top and bottom borders of the screen, this walkthrough does a good job of explaining what’s where, and how to play the game. Your task is to control a spaceship, viewed from a top-down perspective set against the expanse of space; this is the main action screen. You must hop from location to location, avoiding the rebels that are tailing you.

Apps: AmpliTube Orange, Fantastical 2, IFTTT 2.0 + Monument Valley

IK Multimedia’s AmpliTube Orange ($15) is a new version of the studio recording app, featuring the look and sound of the legendary Orange amplifiers. Like the standard AmpliTube app, AmpliTube Orange is a guitar/bass multi-FX processor and recording studio that connects a guitar to an iOS device using various IK Multimedia products. But IK says the new app was “developed with careful guidance from the tone gurus at Orange to ensure the authenticity of the sound.” The app lets users pick from six amp models and three stompbox models. Users of the original AmpliTube app can get Orange gear models through in-app purchase.

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Flexibits’ popular Fantastical 2 calendar app has launched for iPad with Fantastical 2 for iPad ($15). Fantastical 2 features a dashboard with multiple views, background app updates, and TextExpander support, in addition to plenty of other features. Users can set dates, times and geofences on reminders. Notably, Fantastical 2 supports other calendar services, including Apple’s built-in Calendar app. The app even offers dictation for making events; dictation isn’t supported on iPad 2, however. Fantastical 2 for iPad is currently on sale for $10.

Apps: Comedy Central, Endless Numbers, Shazam 7.5 + Tabular Mobile

Comedy Central has released an all new free app. The app features full episodes available the day after airing — generally provided that you sign in with a television provider. There are, however, a number of shows which don’t require a sign-in. Some of the network’s most popular programs, including The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, South Park, and @midnight, are all available for free viewing. The Comedy Central app also includes some archived shows and stand-up specials.

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Following Endless Alphabet and Endless Reader, leading childrens’ app developer Originator has debuted Endless Numbers (Free*), and it’s even better than its predecessors — something that we wouldn’t have thought possible. While the focus is seemingly on a specific number your child selects, the app uses each number as a chance to teach sequences, rather than just matching one number to its outline. You pick a number from a ferris wheel filled with different characters, then do several activities for each number. Pick 5 and the numbers 1 through 5 need to be matched on screen, followed by matching the numbers to a simple addition problem, then by interacting with an animated character or set of characters representing the number. As was the case with the past titles, the animation and audio are both fantastic enough that it’s hard to object to the $4 in-app asking price for numbers 6-25; 1-5 are included in the initial free download.

iLounge Game Spotlight: Sometimes You Die

Sometimes You Die ($2) is a new minimalist puzzler/side scroller from Philipp Stollenmayer. Unlike most games, in which a player’s death is usually a setback, Sometimes You Die lets players benefit from dying. Many of the puzzles seem to require such sacrifices.

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It’s clear from the very beginning that Sometimes You Die is a different kind of side scroller. Players use onscreen controls to move a simple boxed cursor — a greater-than/less-than symbol — through dark levels with ominous music, voiceovers, and omnipresent typography. You can move left, right, and jump. Some players may linger on the words in the background longer than others, as Sometimes You Die attempts to make you question basic tenants of gaming as you’re zipping and jumping around. The animation is sparse but smooth.

Apple getting 30 percent of Office 365 in-app sales

Microsoft’s Office for iPad apps went on sale Thursday, and it’s been revealed that a cut of the Office 365 subscriptions sold within the apps are going to Apple. Apple confirmed that Microsoft is paying the customary 30 percent cut to Apple for in-app sales of the subscriptions, Re/code reports. Apple previously rejected a Microsoft SkyDrive update which offered storage subscriptions due to Microsoft’s disagreement on the 30 percent cut. Microsoft has now apparently acquiesced to Apple’s demands.

Microsoft also announced that it is offering free Office 365 subscriptions to the first 50 people who bring their iPad into Microsoft retail stores, starting today. The free subscriptions will last for one year. As noted in the fine print, customers must participate in Microsoft’s “Put My iPad to Work” social campaign to be eligible — whatever that is.

Apps: Game of Thrones Ascent, iTunes Movie Trailers 1.4, Star Wars: Assault Team + Twitter 6.3

The strategy game Game of Thrones Ascent has come to iPad from developer Kongregate. Based on the wildly popular George R.R. Martin novels and HBO show, Game of Thrones Ascent already has 2.5 million online players. The game will be updated with new quests each Monday following new Sunday episodes on HBO — season 4 of the show starts April 6. While free to play, Game of Thrones Ascent does feature a number of in-app purchases.

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Apple’s free iTunes Movie Trailers app has added a number of features in version 1.4. iTunes Movie Trailers now allows users to read Rotten Tomatoes critic reviews directly in the app. Users can also add a movie to the Favorites section to be notified when the film is released in theaters or on the iTunes Store, and links to trailers can be shared using AirDrop. The customary bug fixes and performance improvements are also included in the update.

Microsoft announces Office for iPad

As expected, Microsoft officially announced Office for iPad today at an event featuring new CEO Satya Nadella. Office for iPad will go live at 2 p.m. EST today with Microsoft Word, Excel, and Powerpoint in the App Store. For free, users can download the apps to read and present documents. With an Office 365 subscription, users will get to create and edit documents.

Update: Microsoft Word, Excel, and Powerpoint for iPad are all live in the App Store.

Apps: FireChat, Photowall for Chromecast, Second Canvas Museo del Prado + Starbucks 3.0

FireChat is a new free app from Open Garden that lets users send messages to other nearby users without an Internet connection or mobile coverage, using iOS 7’s Multipeer Connectivity Framework to link users together. Users can see what FireChat users everywhere are talking about, or they have the option of creating conversations for just nearby users. The nearby chat function works best within 30 feet and may be ideal for events or private conversations between friends in a larger group. FireChat has limitations — it’s not possible to create private conversations, for one thing — but it’s an interesting idea with lots of potential.

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Google’s new Photowall for Chromecast is a free photo app described as a “Chrome Experiment.” Photowall lets users send photos from phones or tablets to a TV using Chromecast. The app takes users to a browser, where they can add pics one at a time. Anyone can participate using the provided link and code to make a live scrapbook of sorts. After the Photowall is finished, the app auto-generates a YouTube video of the experience. Google has some kinks to work out with the concept, but it’s a cool addition for Chromecast users.

Apple ‘related’ search spotted in App Store

Apple is apparently testing a new feature in the App Store that offers users related term suggestions when doing a search. A number of reports have noted the new feature, though it appears it was first spotted by developer Olga Osadcha. Osadcha found the feature while using iOS 7.1.

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It’s noted that not everyone is seeing the new feature as of yet — iLounge’s editors have yet to see the function pop up when using our devices. It’s possible that Apple is rolling out the feature gradually.

UK digital download taxes could increase in 2015

Digital downloads including App Store and iTunes purchases are due to see a tax increase in the U.K. under new laws next year, The Guardian reports. A new budget would force Apple and others to charge a 20 percent tax rate on such downloads. The budget closes a tax loophole that currently allows digital downloads to be taxed through other countries, with the tax rate sometimes dropping as low as three percent. Barring any changes, the new law is set to go into effect January 1, 2015.

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