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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.

iLounge Game Spotlight: Star Horizon

Star Horizon ($4) is a new space shooter from Tabasco Interactive. A graphically impressive game, Star Horizon puts players into the ship of space fighter pilot. The on-rails shooter supports iOS controllers.

 

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Star Horizon certainly looks like a premium title. With nice, clear graphics and an impressive frame rate, it looks like everything you’d want out of a space shooter. Your ship dips and turns on a predetermined track as you pass by larger ships and fire upon enemies — sometimes you’ll take one out and zoom by the wreckage.

Golden State first NBA team to use iBeacons

The Golden State Warriors are the first NBA team to roll out iBeacons in their home arena, Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports. Oracle Arena in Oakland uses iBeacons to push seat upgrades, as fans with the team’s smartphone app — and cheaper seats — are prompted to upgrade when in the arena. The article notes issues with the plan, including a lack of extra tickets, and an estimate that the majority of users don’t leave Bluetooth LE on regularly, preventing them from receiving the notifications. A January report noted that 20 MLB teams plan on having iBeacons installed in their parks by Opening Day later this month.

Apps: Cosmos, NCAA March Madness Live, NFB StopMo Studio + The Very Hungry Caterpillar

FOX Broadcasting Company’s Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey (free) is a companion app to the new 13-part FOX series, Cosmos. The app offers a full view of an interactive cosmic calendar which visualizes the history of the universe throughout the year. Episode sneak peeks and synopses are included along with additional videos, as well as a production diary and bios of those involved with the production. The visually impressive app stands on its own, but it’ll be of more use to fans of the show.

 

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NCAA March Madness Live from NCAA Digital (free) has upgraded to version 4.0 for the 2014 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. The app has been redesigned for iOS 7. March Madness Live lets users log in with their television provider to watch live streaming tournament games on TBS, TNT, and TruTV. CBS games don’t need a paid TV subscription. Live radio broadcasts, game alerts, live scores, and an interactive tournament bracket are featured in the app. Video highlights are also included, as users can track “unbelievable moments” in real-time from each game.

Hacked EA game site phishing for Apple IDs

An EA Games server is hosting a phishing site that’s asking for Apple IDs, passwords, and credit card information, according to anti-fraud Internet services company Netcraft. Two websites in the ea.com domain use the compromised server, which redirects users to the actual Apple ID website after entering their confidential information. It’s possible that hackers accessed the site using vulnerabilities in an outdated version of WebCalendar 1.2.0 software. Netcraft notes that it informed EA of the hack, but the server and content is still online. [via CNET UK]

Apps: Angry Birds Epic, Bears vs. Art, Facebook 8.0 + Sphero 3.3.37

In Angry Birds Epic (Free), just soft launched in the Australian, Canadian, and New Zealand App Stores, Rovio has brought its most famous characters into an unusual new genre: a tactical RPG where the birds navigate through a fantasy world, battling bad piggies along the way. Combat is handled in typical turn-based RPG style, and players can obtain various items to equip their bird warriors and rescue new characters to add to their party along the way—Epic’s goal is to incentivize upgrades, using in-app purchased Lucky Coins to speed along the process. Unfortunately, while the game tries to provide in-game clues to guide the player through various new UI elements, the gameplay is somewhat confusing—even fans of the tactical RPG genre may feel a little bit lost, say nothing of Rovio’s core group of casual gamers. That said, the game still provides some basic playing enjoyment even if you’re just forging ahead blindly and not really paying attention to specs and equipment.

 

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Also soft-launched only in Australia and Canada, Bears vs. Art (Free) by long-time App Store favorite Halfbrick Studios is a casual puzzle game with a simple and somewhat charming premise. You take on the role of a bear whose peaceful wilderness habitat has been invaded by a series of art museums. The goal is to go on a rampage and take out as much of the art as you can, moving through a series of individual levels representing different small museums. In each case, you guide the bear to smash a specified number of pieces of art with limited turns or time to do so. The trick: your controls can move the bear in any direction, but the bear will always move all the way to the nearest wall, with force. Make contact with a piece of art, and you’re given the opportunity to slash it with a bear claw before moving on to the next piece. Bears vs. Art is a fun and addictive little casual game that will likely provide hours of enjoyment; you needn’t cough up real-world currency to enjoy playing it.

 

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Microsoft Office to make iPad debut March 27

Microsoft will unveil Office for iPad at a March 27 event, The Verge reports. The iPhone and iPod versions of Office were released last June. Apparently, the iPad version will be similar, requiring an Office 365 subscription for editing. Document creation and editing will reportedly be supported in full for Word, Excel, and Powerpoint apps.

Healthbook app may monitor heart rate, hydration, blood sugar, more

Apple’s upcoming Healthbook app may track users’ heart rate, hydration, blood pressure, blood sugar, sleep, and more, according to a new in-depth look from 9to5Mac. The article offers “complete recreations of screenshots” which appear to answer numerous questions as to what Apple is testing in health and fitness tracking. Bloodwork, oxygen saturation, and blood sugar sections of the app will monitor a user’s blood. Apple could also track hydration and respiratory rate using Healthbook, as well as sleep cycles.

 

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As one might expect, Healthbook will also be used in fitness tracking, to examine weight, activity, and nutrition. An Emergency Card section would store vital health information that can be used be a doctor or emergency technician in times of health crisis. It’s unknown how Healthbook will acquire the data, though the iPhone, iWatch, and third-party apps or devices could all contribute information. Healthbook could be released with iOS 8, but the report notes—likely for cautionary purposes only—that the app “could be pushed back to a future operating system version or cancelled entirely.”

iLounge Game Spotlight: Glorkian Warrior: Trials Of Glork

Glorkian Warrior: Trials Of Glork ($3) is a collaboration between developer Pixeljam and prolific comic book artist James Kochalka. A Glorkian Warrior graphic novel, The Glorkian Warrior Delivers a Pizza, will be released in a few weeks. The game is a colorful Galaga-esque shooter with a light dose of platforming, and a heavy dose of humor.

 

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The game’s graphics are the first thing gamers will notice. While fans of James Kochalka’s work will recognize Glorkian Warrior’s art instantly, the game’s look should be a breath of fresh air to everyone else when compared to most games in the App Store. It’s bright and colorful, and every character design is a fun treat, even when you’re shooting at them.

Apple may remove Game Center app in iOS 8

Apple is thinking about removing the Game Center app from iOS 8, while leaving the Game Center functionality intact within games, 9to5Mac reports. Recent alleged leaked screenshots from iOS 8 do feature the Game Center icon. Apple may also simplify alerts within Notification Center and add the ability to automatically delete Messages threads. Inter-app communication may be improved in iOS 8, and Apple also plans on tweaking controls in its Voice Memos app. Some versions of iOS 8 in testing include WiFi-enabled CarPlay, though it’s unclear if this functionality will be delayed until a future release.

Apps: Fantastical 2 2.05, Paper 1.61, Ridge Racer Slipstream 2.0 + Speedtest 3.2

Fantastical 2 ($5), the calendar and reminders app from Flexibits Inc., has updated to version 2.0.5. The update adds support for opening links in 1Password and Mercury web browsers, and creating events with floating time zones. An update to the week view makes events and invitations easier to read. A host of other fixes and changes have been made, including improvements to accessibility and search speed. Fantastical 2 is currently on sale for a limited time.

 

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FiftyThree’s Paper (free) has updated to version 1.6.1. The drawing and creation app has been updated for iOS 7 — menu components have been refreshed and controls are billed as simpler and cleaner. Eraser, Color, and Blend tools now make smaller strokes, and ink speed dynamics have been tweaked to better fit their zoom level. Another new feature — holding down Draw and Eraser makes dots.

Healthbook, Preview, and TextEdit iOS 8 icons leaked

A few alleged iOS 8 screenshots including icons for Healthbook, Preview, and TextEdit have been posted on a Weibo account. The shots are legitimate, according to 9to5Mac. Healthbook’s icon is very similar to the Passbook icon, and Preview and TextEdit’s icons match the Mac versions.

 

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Earlier today, it was reported that Apple was working on iOS versions of Preview and TextEdit. Also, a lightbulb icon for an apparent app named Tips is included in the screenshots — it’s unknown at this point what Tips is, or what it does, but it may be some kind of iOS 8 user guide. A settings screenshot was also spotted on Weibo, noting version 8.0.

Report: Apple developing versions of TextEdit, Preview for iOS

Apple is working to develop versions of its TextEdit and Preview Mac applications for iOS, 9to5Mac reports. The iOS versions of the apps would reportedly only be used to view TextEdit and Preview files stored in iCloud; users would have to edit documents using Pages. It’s “currently uncertain, but still possible” that the new versions of the apps will end up in iOS 8. The new applications come from the restructuring of Apple’s iOS and OS X development teams, sources said, as engineers now work together on both operating systems. Apple is also researching new iCloud storage tools to simplify the development of server-integrated App Store applications for iOS as the company pushes to make iCloud a larger part of the iOS file system in the future.

iTunes Radio could be standalone app in iOS 8

Apple is currently testing iTunes Radio as a standalone app within iOS 8, 9to5Mac reports. At this point, the streaming service is accessible through the iOS Music app. iTunes Radio app functionality would resemble the Music app, allowing users to browse history, purchase streamed tracks, and create stations. Though the report notes the change might not happen this year, moving iTunes Radio into its own app makes sense for a number of reasons — it would be more accessible, and could increase its user base simply by having its own pre-installed icon.

Apps: Duolingo 3.3, Marvel Unlimited 2.0, Smash Hit + Wave Wave

Duolingo (free) has updated its app to version 3.3. The update offers more language classes for native speakers of a variety of languages — Romanian and Polish speakers now have access to an English course, while Portuguese speakers can now take a Spanish class, and vice-versa. Duolingo also lists bug fixes and performance improvements, in addition to a “few surprises” within the update.

 

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Marvel Entertainment’s Marvel Unlimited comics app has upgraded to version 2.0. The update offers native reading of digital comics in both iOS 7 and iOS 6. The new Smart Panel experience lets users read comics panel by panel, which may be ideal for smaller mobile devices, such as the iPhone or iPod touch. Marvel claims it will announce new features soon. The free app requires a paid subscription to access Marvel’s complete digital comics subscription program, but some free comics are available.

Report: iOS 8 Maps to gain public transit directions

Apple’s Maps application will boast improved data and public transit directions in its iOS 8 incarnation, 9to5Mac reports. It is expected that public transportation options will be “deeply integrated” into iOS 8 Maps, with train, subway, and bus data, and will first be introduced for major cities, with other locations added over time. Enhanced data will also introduce new points of interest and new map labels, while improving reliability. Apple’s 2013 acquisitions of HopStop, Embark, and BroadMap have likely aided the addition of the new data.

The report also claims that Apple is working on augmented reality for future versions of iOS, to appear in “the coming years.” This feature would use the iPhone’s compass to see nearby points of interest onscreen.

Apple updates Remote app with improved Apple TV integration

Apple has updated its free Remote app today to version 4.2. The app now boasts greater integration with Apple TV — users can now control iTunes Radio through the set-top box using the app, and you are now shown your iTunes Match music and iTunes in the Cloud music/TV show/movie content within the app, merely tapping on the screen to play it through the currently selected Apple TV.

 

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In addition to these changes, the update features bug fixes and stability improvements.

iLounge Game Spotlight: Doggins

Doggins ($4) from Brain & Brain is billed as a quiet adventure. Starring a dreaming dog, the iPad-only adventure game has been nominated for a SXSW Gamer’s Voice Award for best indie game, along with a number of other titles, including recently reviewed Tengami — a game which shares some similarities with Doggins.

 

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Doggins centers around a dreaming terrier of the same name who finds himself facing off with a villainous squirrel on the moon. The devious squirrel sports a monocle, and his name is Fitzwilliam. It’s tough for some games to stand out, especially during a crowded week of new releases, but Doggins certainly does its best to stand out from the crowd. Essentially a point-and-click adventure, it’s nice that Doggins features a quiet dog and squirrel, as you lose the often tiresome exposition of similar games.

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