A new job posting on Apple’s web site suggests that the company is looking to expand upon certain features in the iOS Maps application for “crowdsourcing improvements to the Maps experience.” The job opening, for a “Maps Community Client Software Engineer,” appears to be primarily focused on the user interface and architecture for the “Report a Problem” feature in the iOS Maps app, but also interestingly notes that the position will involve work on frameworks and plugins to integrate Maps with Siri and Passbook to “extend and enhance the feedback experience.” Apple has struggled with data accuracy since the inception of its own Maps app in iOS 6, and although the company has become much more responsive to user reports in recent months, it appears to also be seeking to streamline the reporting process itself. [via 9to5Mac]
A version of Mozilla’s Firefox for iOS looks to be in the works, according to a new tweet from Mozilla Release Manager Lukas Blakk. Mozilla had previously stated that Firefox would not be coming to iOS unless Apple permitted its web engine to be used, rather than the WebKit engine currently required by Apple. But with a new CEO at the helm, Mozilla’s position in this regard may be softening.
We need to be where our users are so we're going to get Firefox on iOS #mozlandia— Lukas Blakk (@lsblakk) December 2, 2014
Although Mozilla released Firefox Home four years ago, this was designed simply to provide a more seamless experience for iOS users who preferred to use the Firefox browser on their Mac or PC and keep information such as bookmarks in sync with their iOS device; Firefox Home did not provide its own browser, but instead simply synced bookmarks between Firefox on the desktop and the iOS app, allowing users to access them using the built-in Safari browser. While it’s unclear how Firefox will approach porting its browser to iOS, it seems most likely that they will have to play by Apple’s rules and simply develop a version based on the WebKit engine, wrapping a Firefox user experience around it. [via TechCrunch]
New Apps + Games
The Longest Journey Remastered ($7) — Funcom’s critically acclaimed PC adventure game comes to the iPhone and iPad in a new “Remastered” version that provides touchscreen optimized controls and a new introduction narrated by original series creator Ragnar Tørnquist. With its iOS release, the epic adventure game puts a new generation of players into the shoes of the young art student who discovers that she can travel between dimensions, and must then set out on a quest to restore the balance between the twin worlds of magic and science. The iOS version remains true to the original with over 150 locations to travel to across the two different worlds, a compelling and extensive cast of characters and a gripping, detailed storyline that provides over 50 hours of gameplay.
Facebook Groups (free) — Users who spent a lot of time hanging out in Facebook’s multi-user discussion groups will appreciate the company’s latest new iOS app. Facebook Groups, as the name implies, puts the focus on participating in, creating, and managing groups on the popular social media service. Users can post information and photos, keep track of what’s going on in each group, and more easily control per-group notification settings. A discovery tool helps users find new groups that they might want to participate in based on their Facebook profile.
The popular open-source video conversion tool Handbrake has been updated to version 0.10.0, incremented from 0.9.9. Long the tool of choice for converting videos to iPhone, iPad, iPod, and Apple TV formats, the latest update adds several new general-purpose encoders such as H.265 and VP8, allowing Handbrake to be used to convert DVDs and other source videos to a wider variety of target formats and devices. A number of improvements have also been made to filters and scalers, including higher quality denoising and experimental Bicubic scaling through OpenCL. The graphical user interfaces are also now more unified across platforms than they have been in the past, and audio and subtitle settings can now be stored in presets to simplify batch encoding workflows. A complete list of changes can be found here. Handbrake 0.10.0 is available as a free download for Mac OS X 10.6 or later, Windows Vista or later, and Linux.
To mark World AIDS Day 2014, Apple has announced that a collection of (PRODUCT)RED apps will be appearing in the App Store over the next two weeks to generate donations for the (RED) Global Fund to fight AIDS. Updates to popular apps such as GarageBand, Monument Valley, Star Walk, and Threes began appearing on the App Store yesterday, and Apple has now created a special “Apps for (RED)” section of the App Store offering 25 apps containing special new in-app content, in which all proceeds from the purchase will go directly to the (RED) Global Fund. In addition, Apple will be donating a portion of all of its sales at its retail and online stores on Black Friday (Friday, November 28th), and Cyber Monday (Monday, December 1st).
Examples of new (PRODUCT)RED content include an exclusive “(GarageBand)RED” loop pack in Apple’s iOS GarageBand app, an Ida’s (RED) Dream chapter in Monument Valley, a free (PRODUCT)RED theme in Threes, and an in-app purchase of detailed information on the RED Planet: Mars in Star Walk 2. Many of the special (RED) edition features are only available until the end of the promotion.
Sago Mini Road Trip ($3) — Sago Sago’s latest game, Sago Mini Road Trip, lets children take an adventurous — but leisurely-paced — drive with Sago’s Jinja the cat. Sago Mini Road Trip slightly expands on the usual concept of Sago Sago’s games, letting kids pack a suitcase and pick which vehicle they want to drive across a road filled with bridges, puddle, mud holes, and more. You can stop and fill your gas tank or get your car washed on the way, as well. After a short trip, you’ve reached a friend, and it’s time to start the journey again, if you wish. It’s simple stuff, but the variety of cars — and the unexpected ability to make your car fly — could keep younger children coming back for more play.
Football Manager Handheld 2015 ($10) — Sega’s Football Manager returns for the 2015 season, allowing users to take on the role of managing their favorite real-life club. Players must manage transfers and tactics, and take charge from the touchline on match days, and this year’s version provides a new 2D Match Engine with improved realism, a new Scouting Agency to monitor the top-ranked players, more detailed club stats, world rankings, and a manager achievements page that lets you keep track of your trophies and accolades. A new in-game editor is also available as an optional in-app purchase that lets users change game parameters in mid-career to simulate different scenarios.
New Apps + Games
Auxy (free) — Users with even a passing interest in making their own creative music will definitely want to check out Auxy. A recently released free modern beat making app, Auxy focuses on providing an incredibly simple, fun, and intuitive interface for laying down beats, bass lines, loops, melodies, and more. Everything gets selected and adjusted with intuitive tap, touch, and swipe gestures, and the final compositions can be recorded and shared/saved via all of the usual iOS 8 export methods, from e-mail to AirDrop and across any supported third-party apps you have installed.
Golfinity (free) — Nimblebits’ latest offering is a deceptively simple golf game, but don’t let the basic graphics of the courses fool you—there’s a lot more going on here than you’d expect, with three-dimensional ball physics that can actually allow you to jump over obstacles and even send the ball flying off the course and into the void. As the name suggests, there is seemingly no end to the number and variation of courses available. Reviews suggest that the ad-supported nature of the game might be a concern, but oddly we’ve played through a couple dozen levels and have yet to see an ad.
Space Age ($4) — A nice throwback to the classic adventure games of yesteryear, Space Age takes you back to the retro-futuristic sci-fi world of 1976, when a group of intrepid explorers have landed on a seemingly uninhabited planet. With charming retro graphics that will appeal to anybody who came of age in the Space Quest generation, the game features an engaging and amusing storyline and a great orchestral score. Best of all, it’s a classic “pay-once-to-play” game—a pricing model that’s becoming increasingly rare in the App Store’s modern era of freemium offerings.
Julius Jr.‘s Playhouse ($3) — StoryToys brings the popular Paul Frank character to life in this new kids’ app. The game provides four fun activities, including Tea Party, Garage Band, Friends Quiz, and Get Puzzling, that allow kids to decorate cakes, play along with songs, identify characters and put together colourful puzzles. The app features eight jigsaw puzzles, over 100 quiz questions, three Julius Jr. songs, professional narration, and more, all in an intuitive and child-friendly package.
Nighty Night Circus ($4) — The sequel to Fox and Sheep’s popular “Nighty Night!”, Nighty Night Circus brings a new magical setting with a bedtime atmosphere full of colourful animations. Children are presented with a circus setting with eight animals that they can put to bed with various actions. Each animal performs various tricks before going to sleep, and the app features designs and animations by Oscar-nominated artist Heidi Wittlinger. The cute animals, calming lullaby music and narration make this a great app for a daily go-to-sleep ritual for young children.
Microsoft announced the expansion of its Office suite for iOS, adding iPhone and iPod touch support to its Word, Excel, and PowerPoint apps. Users can now view, create, and edit documents for free within all three universal apps — a free Microsoft account is all that’s needed. Documents can also be opened, edited, and saved from Dropbox in the updated apps.
SimCity BuildIt (free) — The venerable city-building simulation returns as a freemium game that adds a whole new dimension in the form of managing supply chains and new economic trade interactions. SimCity BuildIt takes a more resource-focused approach to building your city, starting out by constructing residential zones, factories, and stores that are used to produce raw materials and manufactured goods that are needed to construct and upgrade residential buildings that range from trailer parks to sprawling condos. The game is presented in a nice and very detailed 360-degree 3D view that allows users to zoom in and out, tilt up and down, and pan around their city.
Players earn gold by trading resources, upgrading residential zones, collecting taxes and completing challenges, which are used to provide necessary city services including water, power, sewage, waste management, fire, police, health, transit, education, and more. As in the original SimCity, new buildings and challenges are unlocked as players grow their city, leveling up and increasing population, although the game adds a new twist in the form of civic awards that you receive for keeping your population happy, which are required to expand your land area. While a freemium model allows users to speed through the game, the gameplay moves at a reasonable enough pace that only the most impatient will be tempted to do so. For everybody else, SimCity BuildIt actually makes a nice casual game that you can pop into and out of throughout the day to gradually build up your city, and with the number of resource and building options available, progressing slowly through the game is definitely a much better approach to gradually become accustomed to all of the myriad options available.
Run Sackboy! Run! (free) — LittleBigPlanet’s knitted hero, Sackboy, comes to your iOS device in this new endless platformer, featuring a world that fans will find familiar and endearing. Players run Sackboy through an ever-changing handcrafted world and must dash to escape the goo and the grumpy Negativitron. Players and customize Sackboy with exclusive costumes, collect stickers and unlock prizes, power-ups, and upgrades, and challenge and compete with friends.
Star Wars: Galactic Defense (free) — Star Wars excitement returns in this new tower defense game. Players choose their allegiance to the Light or Dark sides of The Force and then deploy an arsenal of specialized towers and Star Wars characters to defend key locations. The game features diverse locations from the Star Wars universe across all eras of the series, with more than 100 different battle scenarios. As players level up, they must tailor their upgrades to match their preferred approach to the game, and a plethora of different unit styles allow for a wide variety of gameplay strategies. A collection of Champions are available for each side: Luke Skywalker, Yoda, and Obi-Wan Kenobi for the Light side, and Darth Vader, Boba Fett, and Darth Sidious on the Dark side of the Force, each with special powers and abilities, and players can call the big guns with things like orbital bombardments if things get really bad. An immersive Star Wars soundtrack adds a great extra dimension to the game that fans of the saga will appreciate.
Following Wednesday reports that Apple would be removing apps from the App Store that make improper use of the new iOS 8 Today screen extensions, TechCrunch reports that the company appears to have softened the policy somewhat, at least concerning calculator widgets. James Thomson, developer of the popular iOS calculator app PCalc, had been one of the first to add new extension features when iOS 8 was released. However, despite his app being approved in time for the initial iOS 8 launch — and featured as an Editors Choice in the App Store — Thomson was advised by Apple earlier this week that PCalc would be pulled from the App Store as “widgets on iOS cannot perform any calculations.”
Now, however, an Apple spokesperson has confirmed to TechCrunch that it is reversing course, allowing the PCalc app to remain in the App Store, with the widget intact, and permitting calculator-type widgets in other apps in the future. The calculator use case was supposedly not one that Apple had anticipated—despite including its own calculator widget in the OS X Yosemite Today screen—and the restriction was originally intended to prohibit developers from creating more complex widgets with functionality that should be placed in a standalone app. Apple’s developer documentation specifically notes that Today widgets are designed to “give users quick updates or enable very simple tasks.”
This is all news to me! Trying to get confirmation from Apple…— James Thomson (@jamesthomson) October 30, 2014
Thomson tweeted that the policy reversal actually came as a surprise to him, and that he is now trying to get confirmation from Apple that this is indeed the case. But it appears that PCalc will remain in the App Store in its current form, allowing iOS 8 users to continue to take advantage of the handy calculator widget that it provides. While calculator widgets have now received a green light, it remains unclear what this means for other apps making more advanced use of Today widgets; it seems that with any major new iOS 8 feature, Apple still has to sort out a few blurred lines within its App Store Review Guidelines.
Inbox by Gmail (Free*) — A new app by Google has been getting a lot of buzz this week for its approach to reinventing the way that e-mail is managed. The key benefit here is Google using its algorithmic magic to try and group your incoming e-mails into bundles based on categories like Travel, Finance, Purchases, Social, and so forth to make it easier to manage your incoming flow. You can pin individual items to mark them as important, and then sweep the rest away into your archive or trash at the push of a button. Each bundle gets its own notification settings, and you can create your own and automatically file messages based on the usual search criteria. Inbox also borrows a page from Dropbox’s Mailbox app, allowing you to snooze individual items to return to your inbox later, but takes it a step further with location-based snoozes, so you can file away that e-mail about getting that TPS report done until you actually get back to work on Monday.
Right now the iOS version of Inbox is available for the iPhone only, and you’ll need a golden ticket in the form of an invite to play. However, Google employees have been given stacks of invites to hand out, and those who have been invited already should get more to share, so it should only be a matter of days before anybody who really wants access can get it. Google is no stranger to this game, of course, pioneering an arguably revolutionary new approach to e-mail when it first debuted Gmail ten years ago. While only time will tell whether Inbox has the same impact, what Google has done here is definitely a very interesting approach to handling a decades-old technology.
Pixelmator ($5) — When Pixelmator debuted on the Mac a few years ago, it turned out to be a very popular choice for many users who might have otherwise defaulted to simply going with the considerably more expensive Photoshop, providing almost all of the functionality that most users really needed in an image editor in a seriously inexpensive package. The Pixelmator Team has now brought that same power to the iPad version in a $5 app that provides a plethora of image editing tools in a user-friendly app that feels right at home on iOS. Right out of the box, Pixelmator provides a nice collection of templates to get you started, and then takes you into an intuitive collection of tools for doing everything from adding effects to painting, color-correcting, retouching, and repairing.
As with its Mac counterpart, Pixelmator also provides full support for layer-based editing on the iPad, allowing you to select any part of an image and apply corrections or effects to it, or remove it entirely. You can also cut and paste objects between different images, and add non-destructive layer styles and change them any time. A huge collection of effects is also included to help you give your images that extra artistic punch, from vintage effects to bokeh lights. All of the typical image file formats are supported, including opening PSD files with layers intact. Best of all, Pixelmator is built specifically to take advantage of the latest-generation iPads for high performance, and it integrates nicely into the iOS environment, providing full iCloud Drive support rather than trying to get you to use its own cloud service, syncing your work across your Macs and iPads.
Following yesterday’s release of OS X Yosemite, Apple has released updates to its three iOS iWork apps—Pages, Numbers, and Keynote—adding support for iCloud Drive and the new iOS 8 and Yosemite Handoff feature. The updates also include support for third-party storage providers in iOS 8 and note “updated file formats” that make it easier to send documents via services such as Drobox and Gmail. Additional new features have also been added such as more color options with a custom color mixer in the iPad versions, the ability to take photos and videos directly from within the apps, and accessibility, usability, and language improvements. Keynote also introduces a feature that allows users to pair with nearby iOS devices using Multipeer Connectivity.
Autodesk SketchBook Mobile (Free) — A new follow-up app to Autodesk’s highly popular original SketchBook app, this entirely new version is a complete from-the-ground up rewrite designed to unite the mobile experience across both the iPhone and iPad, allowing digital artists to capture inspiration on the go. The new SketchBook Mobile features an enhanced drawing toolkit including new layer blending modes, improved selection tools for manipulating, transforming and drawing ins specific parts of an image, and a whole new set of synthetic and smudge brushes along with great new fill tools including advanced gradients. In addition, the app has also been optimized for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus.
TeleStory ($3) — From LaunchPad Toys, the creators of Toontastic, this new app is designed to allow kids to use their iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch to easily create and broadcast their own TV show. Kids can choose from a wide variety of themes such as music, space, or reality TV and then mix and match over 30 animated scenes and 50 digital costumes that track the user’s face to record their own TV show, and even add special effects along the way. Users can craft their own script either from scratch or using a provided collection of TV tropes, and then broadcast their final creation to LaunchPad’s “ToonTube” network to share with other kids around the world.
Adobe has introduced its Creative Cloud mobile apps, a suite of nine apps in four categories now available in the App Store. Many of the apps work in tandem, while Adobe’s Creative Profile connects users to their works, whether in mobile or desktop apps. Some of the apps have been updated from past versions, while others are completely new. All of the iOS apps require a Creative Cloud membership — the free membership offers 2GB of Creative Cloud storage.
Adobe’s Creative Cloud Capture apps include: Adobe Brush CC, Adobe Shape CC, and Adobe Color CC. The design and illustration category features Adobe Illustrator Draw and Adobe Illustrator Line. Adobe Premiere Clip can be found in the video category, and the photography and creative imaging category contains Adobe Lightroom Mobile, Adobe Photoshop Mix, and Adobe Photoshop Sketch.
Post-it Plus (free) — This is a clever little app developed directly by 3M, maker of the iconic Post-it notes, designed to take your Post-its into the digital realm. With this app you can simply take a snapshot of a board filled with up to 50 Post-it notes and then individually rearrange and organize them in any way — you can group them into categories, or even combine notes from multiple sessions. The organized board can be shared with other users on your team who can work with the notes collaboratively, or you can export your board to apps such as Powerpoint, Excel, Dropbox, or PDF.
FitPort ($2) — If you’ve spent any time in the iOS 8 HealthKit app, you’ve probably discovered that while it’s a nice way to collect your health and fitness information in one place, it doesn’t offer a lot of flexibility for displaying that info. FitPort is a new app that aims to fill in some of those gaps by providing a “fitness dashboard” that will give you a straightforward and beautifully presented overview of your stats, taken right from the iOS Health app and iPhone sensors. Categories of information include steps, walking and running distance, cycling distance, calories, weight, and more, and iPhone 6 and 6 Plus users can even see data on flights of stairs climbed courtesy of the new barometric pressure sensor.
OmniFocus 2 for iPad ($40)—A long-awaited iPad refresh of the popular power-user productivity app. While OmniGroup came out with an updated, iOS 7-ified version of OmniFocus 2 for iPhone last year, the already more feature-rich iPad app lagged a bit, retaining its iOS 6 style UI, but remaining compatible with the OmniFocus suite of products. The new update features a meticulously revamped UI similar to that found in the iPhone and Mac versions, unifying the design language across the entire collection of apps. The iOS 8 extensions introduced to the iPhone version earlier this month are also here, allowing access to your OmniFocus tasks from the Today view, and the ability to create new entries from other apps like Safari using the iOS 8 Sharing extension. Users of the iPad version can now also create custom perspectives right on their iPad without having to rely on the Mac version, with combinations of view settings, searches, and filters to layout tasks in the most efficient manner for your own individual workflow.
Transmit ($10)—The highly acclaimed Mac FTP client comes to iOS, with an elegant UI design and support for the latest iOS 8 features such as Touch ID security, and the ability to share data to Transmit from other iOS apps, such as uploading your photos directly to your SFTP server. Even cooler, users with Transmit installed can open and use files directly from Transmit sources like FTP and WebDAV servers when using other compatible apps like Apple’s Pages, Numbers, or Keynote; files will automatically and silently be uploaded back to the original server when saved. All of the important file management features are here as well: you can transfer files, create folders, rename files, delete files, and even set permissions.
Manual - Custom Exposure Camera ($2)—This is a cool new little app that shows off—as the name implies—the manual camera controls now available in iOS 8. The app provides full independent control of settings such as shutter speed, ISO, white balance, focus, and exposure compensation in a quick and easy-to-use UI. Two grids are available—Rule of Thirds and square—and you can also monitor exposure values in real-time, toggle the LED flash on for “fill” purposes, and save photos directly to your Camera Roll.
Other than the new Health and Tips apps from Apple — check out our recent iOS 8 Instant Expert article for more details — the most notable new apps this week are third-party keyboards which can be used in iOS 8. We’ve started testing the keyboards, but we’ve run into a number of bugs early on. Look for a more detailed piece later.
Epic Zen Garden (free) — Epic Zen Garden from Epic Games was first seen at Apple’s WWDC in June, meant to show off Unreal Engine 4 and Apple’s Metal, a new system designed to improve graphics and processing in iOS games. We tried Epic Zen Garden on an iPhone 5s, and it did look nice, and the effects were impressive enough, but it’s barely a game. Download it just to get a hint of what Metal might have to offer down the line, but don’t feel bad about deleting it from your iPhone or iPad after 10 minutes or so.
Apple’s iLife and iWork iOS apps will come pre-installed on the 64GB and 128GB iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, 9to5Mac has discovered. The apps include iMovie, GarageBand, Keynote, Pages, Numbers, and iTunes U. iPhoto isn’t included, as Apple is getting rid of it — the app won’t even load on iOS 8 devices. New 16GB iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus units won’t come with the apps, but they can be downloaded from the App Store for free, as usual. It’s unclear whether users will be able to delete the pre-installed apps if they do not want them.
The Met (free) — The country’s largest art museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, has released its own official app — The Met. A great starting point for visiting the museum, the app lets users browse listings of current exhibitions and daily events. Museum admission, membership, and event tickets can all be purchased from the app, as well. Though it’s best for visitors, The Met will likely be of interest to many art fans, as the attractive app lets users learn about highlighted works. Now it just needs a museum map.
Star Walk Kids ($3) — Following the recent release of Star Walk 2, Vito Technology has released Star Walk Kids, a new version of the astronomy guide just for kids. You can tell the difference from the get-go, as his version has a simpler, cartoonish style. The children’s app also comes with short animated films and voice narration.