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EU criticizes Apple for in-app purchases (Update)

The European Commission said that Apple has “provided no concrete and immediate solutions” to in-app purchase problems, Reuters reports. Payment approvals within the App Store are still a sticking point for the EU. Google, on the other hand, was praised by the commission for taking measures to improve their in-app payment issues. “Over the last year we made sure any app which enables customers to make in-app purchases is clearly marked,” an Apple spokesman said. “We will continue to work with the EC member states to respond to their concerns.” Apple drew heat from Italian authorities in May for advertising free apps that required in-app purchases for continued use. The company could face legal action if the company is seen as breaking EU consumer protection law.

Update: Apple issued a response to Engadget, in which the company points out the strides it has made regarding clarifying in-app purchases. The statement concludes: “Our goal is to continue to provide the best experience for our customers and we will continue to work with the EC member states to respond to their concerns.”

Apps of the Week: Overcast, Ingress, Endless Numbers 1.2 + more

New Apps

Google Analytics (free) — Google has released a new Google Analytics app that allows users to access their web and app data from an iOS device. For those not in the know, Google Analytics is a popular service that offers website owners detailed site traffic statistics. The app offers Real Time reports, which lets users monitor recent changes.

Overcast: Podcast Player (free) — There is no shortage of thoughtfully designed podcast apps made to replace Apple’s own app, which has been through many ups and downs since it was released. The latest, and perhaps most hotly anticipated, is Marco Arment’s Overcast. The app is currently iPhone-only, available as a free download. It’s fully usable as-is, although a $5 in-app purchase unlocks a number of features that enhance the experience, such as cellular downloads, a sleep timer, and unlimited playlists. The key features that help differentiate this one from the others on the market, apart from aesthetic design, are both audio engineering tricks that get unlocked when you spend the money. Smart Speed is a really cool tool; rather than increasing the speed of the podcast and making the speakers sound like chipmunks, it’s able to detect gaps and edit out the silence, saving you time in listening. Voice Boost does just what its name says, making it easier to listen to podcasts in cars or other environments where there’s background noise, without having to pump up the volume. Both Smart Speed and Voice Boost can be used for five minutes at a time before you decide to buy.

New Games

daWindci Deluxe ($3) — Mimimi Productions has released a new version of its popular, Apple Design Award winning daWindci game with daWindci Deluxe. The upgraded game — in which players paint wind, hurricanes, and lightning on screen to guide a hot air balloon through levels — now features full Retina support and new wind drawing mechanics. All new particle effects, crisper textures, and post effect shaders have also been added to the game. Considering the original daWindci is still $4, this is the one you want.

Paul McCartney re-releases five classic albums as iPad apps

Five classic Paul McCartney albums have been re-released as standalone iPad apps by Concord Music Group. All five albums include remastered audio and extra content, including interviews, photos, and video clips. The albums are: McCartney’s first solo album, McCartney, and the follow-up Ram, which also credits Linda McCartney; two McCartney/Wings albums — Band on the Run and the live Wings over America; and McCartney’s second official solo album, 1980’s McCartney II. All of the apps are $8 — a less expensive price than all of the respective albums within the iTunes Store. [via The Guardian]

PayPal 5.5 app update scans, stores loyalty cards

PayPal’s most recent update of its free iOS app has notably added the ability to digitize and store loyalty cards. Version 5.5 lets users carry virtual versions of an impressive variety of loyalty cards within the app. After selecting the specific retailer from a long but easily searchable list of participating vendors, including regional supermarkets, restaurants, and shops, you simply scan your loyalty card’s barcode or punch in the ID number to add a card to the app. The app’s login process has also been sped up, as well. This new update goes head-to-head with Apple’s Passbook, and considering the collection of supported vendors, compares favorably to say the least.

Apple launches iTunes Pass credit system in Japan

Apple has launched a new Passbook feature in Japan called iTunes Pass, allowing iTunes Store customers to add purchasing credit at Apple’s retail Stores. Once the pass has been added to the user’s iPhone or iPod touch, a Specialist at the Store can scan a code on the screen, accept payment, then credit the payment toward the iTunes Store account—a process that seems rather challenging compared with just buying Store credit directly from the device. “Balance is updated on the fly, available immediately,” notes Apple. It’s rather unusual for Apple to launch a feature like this in only one country, so it’s not clear if it’ll be rolling out to other countries, or if its perhaps a test of a future mobile payment system. [via 9to5Mac]

National Federation of the Blind praises Apple, looks to improve app accessibility

Responding to the fallout from last week’s problematic Reuters article, Mark A. Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind, commented on Apple within a blog post. Riccobono called the original Reuters story “provocative and poorly reported,” and Reuters issued a partial correction for the story. He writes that “Apple has done more for accessibility than any other company to date,” suggesting that the company’s operating systems are indeed addressing the needs of sight-impaired users. But he also points out the federation is asking Apple “to do more,” as the federation recently issued a resolution in which the organization called upon Apple to work with them in order to “ensure the accessibility of all apps,” which may develop incompatibility issues, reducing their functionality and creating issues for some users.

iLounge Game Spotlight: Beyond Gravity

Qwiboo’s Beyond Gravity ($2) comes to iOS after debuting earlier on a number of other platforms. A simple platformer, Beyond Gravity is “procedurally generated,” so that each run through the game is a completely different experience. The title is currently on sale for $1, as a special launch price.

Beyond Gravity puts you in the jumpy shoes of a space explorer who’s trying to pick up the missing parts of his spaceship. To do so, he must jump between constantly rotating planets, nabbing floating pieces along the way. It’s a clean looking game with neat art. No in-app purchases are included, which is always nice.

Apps of the Week: Capo touch, Dino Dog, Minecraft 0.9 + more

New Apps

Capo touch ($10) — Capo touch is a new iOS app based on Capo, the app featured today in our Mac section. The app, from SuperMegaUltraGroovy, teaches users how to play the songs in an iTunes library through automatic chord detection. Capo touch is currently on sale for $5, half off the regular price.

Care Bears Love to Learn (free) — Care Bears Love to Learn is a new learning app from American Greetings. Made for ages 5 and under, the app includes a number of activities featuring popular Care Bears. Kids can count with Share Bear, build shapes with Grumpy Bear, make music with Harmony Bear, and so forth.

Apple launches iTunes U 2.0, as expected

As Apple previously announced, the company has updated its iTunes U app today. iTunes U 2.0 allows teachers to create courses within the free app on iPad. The iPad’s camera can be used to take photos or videos to be uploaded for course materials. It’s also possible for teachers to create materials in Pages, Numbers, Keynote or other apps and add them to a course by using the “Open in iTunes U” option, and teachers from qualified institutions can make their courses available on the iTunes U catalog. Additionally, the update makes it easier for students in private courses to pose questions and participate in discussion.

iOS 8 Health app adds step and caffeine tracking

Apple has updated its Health app in iOS 8 beta 3. The app now uses the M7 chip — currently only found in the iPhone 5s — to track steps, as pointed out by 9to5Mac. A full week of data is added to the app instantly from the M7, similarly to the step tracking app Breeze; users of non-M7 devices can manually input step data. Health can also now track caffeine intake, as caffeine has been added to the app’s nutritional categories, currently requiring manual entry of caffeine in milligrams. A number of already available App Store apps can track caffeine intake.

Apple ordered to change App Store terms, refunds in S. Korea

Apple and Google were both ordered to change “unfair provisions” in their app stores by the Korea Fair Trade Commission, the Korea Herald reports. Among those provisions to be revised is Apple’s App Store refund policy — currently, each refund request is reviewed before approval from Apple. ‘‘We expect the measure, aimed at protecting consumers, will have a ripple effect on similar cases throughout the world,” the KFTC said in a press release. The App Store must send a notice to consumers when changing its contract terms in the future. Apple “said it would consider applying the revised contract terms globally,” according to the KFTCs Hwang Won-chul.

Apps: 120 Sports, Civilization Revolution 2, Health Mate 2.2 + Monster Hunter Freedom Unite

The new 120 Sports app from the company of the same name is a new player in the world of sports coverage. A free app that requires no cable subscription, 120 Sports offers highlights and discussion of major sports leagues. 120 Sports claims to show “8+ hours of live programming every night — real-time, unfiltered, trending, unbiased coverage of the entire world of sports at the action happens.” The app also includes more than 100 on-demand videos. It’s an interesting idea, and though there are undoubtedly a few kinks to work out coverage-wise at the start of 120 Sports’ run, we’ll see if an iOS-based sports coverage network can make an impact. If you’re a sports fan, it’s definitely worth the free download.

Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution 2 ($15) from 2K is the first game in the acclaimed Civilization series to be developed exclusively for mobile devices. The game is similar to the first Civ Revolution, but features new 3D graphics. Also included are new military units, technology, buildings and wonders, and a scenario mode for reenacting historical events and battles. Keep in mind the original Civilization Revolution is only $3 — paying $15 for the new version will depend on how much you care about the redesigned graphics and other updates.

Apple to update iTunes U with course creation on iPad, student discussions

Apple has announced that it will be updating its iTunes U app on July 8, 2014, adding new features that allow teachers to “create, edit and manage entire courses directly on iPad for the first time,” while giving students the ability to begin discussions and pose questions from the iPad. Teachers will be able to use content from iWork, iBooks Author, and the App Store in creating their courses, as well as photos and videos taken with the iPad’s built-in cameras. Students, on the other hand, will be able maintain conversations on various topics, optionally receiving push notifications when there are replies.

iLounge Game Spotlight: Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake

Cartoon Network’s newest game is Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake ($5), a puzzle game with lots of RPG elements. The game has a cutesy art style, but don’t let that turn you away — this title has plenty of depth and charm.

While the title reminds us of the 16-bit classic Zombies Ate My Neighbors, the gameplay of Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake is like any other number of puzzle games that require players use the abilities of multiple characters to get through a level. The main protagonist is Niko, who leaves his village to find his dog and get back his birthday cake. But it soon becomes clear there’s more to the story.

Apple ceasing development for Aperture, iPhoto in favor of Photos

Apple has told The Loop that it will be ceasing development of both Aperture and iPhoto for Mac in favor of its new iCloud-based Photos app that will be coming in iOS 8 and Yosemite. “With the introduction of the new Photos app and iCloud Photo Library, enabling you to safely store all of your photos in iCloud and access them from anywhere, there will be no new development of Aperture,” Apple told The Loop. “When Photos for OS X ships next year, users will be able to migrate their existing Aperture libraries to Photos for OS.” It seems likely that Apple’s iPhoto for iOS will suffer a similar fate; iPhoto will not launch in current iOS 8 betas, and developers have been told to “edit and organize [their] photos in the Photos app” instead.

This change clearly marks a major shift in Apple’s photo management strategy for iOS devices, and it is unclear at this point what this will mean for other features such as the original iCloud Photo Stream and iTunes-based synchronization of photos onto iOS devices. Apple first introduced photo synchronization in iTunes 4.7 with the release of the iPod photo in 2004, and the feature has remained largely unchanged since, with iPhoto and Aperture commonly used as photo management apps for organizing photos to be transferred onto iPods and iOS devices. The deprecation of these two apps suggests that Apple is moving more strongly toward a cloud-based photo management solution, while also ceding the “pro” photo management space to applications such as Lightroom, which recently introduced its own cloud-based sync along with feature-rich mobile editing apps for the iPhone and iPad.

Apple adds Best New Game Updates section to App Store

Apple has added a new section to its App Store for Best New Game Updates. The section reveals a list of newly updated titles, which often were previously featured in the Best New Games section — that section should now only feature brand new titles. Titles in the new updates section include Plants vs. Zombies 2, Zen Pinball, and Injustice: Gods Among Us, among others. Apple has slowly been introducing features that make it easier to find desired apps; the “related” App Store search feature first popped up months ago.

Apps: Opera Mini 8.0, The Rhythm of Fighters, Supernauts + The Weather Channel for iPad 4.0

Opera Software’s free Opera Mini Web browser has been updated to version 8.0. The UI for the speedy browser has been given an overhaul with new themes and a new compression mode. A QR reader has also been added. Opera boasts that Opera Mini allows web pages to load faster, which is especially beneficial when not connected to a Wi-Fi network. The speed and its new features make it worth a look, at least as a possible backup browser.

The Rhythm of Fighters ($1) is a curious new release from SNK Playmore. Featuring a number of characters and music tracks from various SNK games, TRoF is a tapping rhythm game. It features a terribly slow in-game download before you can even play, which took longer than 20 minutes for us. Though the game claims to have simplistic controls, the tutorial isn’t very clear, and the experience doesn’t improve much even when the controls become a bit more understandable. All but the biggest SNK fans should probably skip this one.

Report: Apple relaxes app rejections for ad viewing, social sharing

Apple is reportedly “rolling back” a new policy in which the company rejected apps for including rewards for watching video ads or sharing socially, TechCrunch reports. Rejections are now “being undone,” with some offending apps allowed back into the App Store. This follows a report from two weeks ago noting that developers were receiving rejection notices for such apps. The Cupertino company is apparently still cracking down on apps that incentivize giving that app a review or rating; Apple is also reportedly removing fake reviews from the App Store.

Apps: Air Stylus, Amazon Instant Video 2.7, Assassin’s Creed Pirates 1.4 + Transformers: AoE

Avatron Software’s Air Stylus ($20) enables the use of an iPad as a pressure-sensitive, wireless drawing surface for your Mac. Users can draw or paint directly onto the iPad screen using one of many popular graphics programs, and the screen becomes an extension of the computer desktop through the free Air Display host software. Air Stylus has garnered mixed reviews from users thus far, but digital artists may want to take a closer look.

Amazon Mobile’s free Amazon Instant Video has updated to version 2.7. The app also now gives users the ability to stream the first episode of some TV shows for free, and Prime customers also have access to a number of full seasons of certain popular HBO shows, including The Sopranos and The Wire. Video playback controls have also been tweaked, allowing for one-touch play/pause and 10-second skip forward/backward, as well as an episode-skipping feature for TV shows.

iLounge Game Spotlight: LEGO Marvel Super Heroes: Universe in Peril

Harry Potter. Star Wars. Lord of the Rings. LEGO has firmly established a successful pattern of obtaining the rights to popular properties, building toys out of them, and then turning them into truly fun games. Its latest title, produced by Warner Bros., is no different. LEGO Marvel Super Heroes: Universe in Peril ($5) is exactly what we’d expect from the collaboration, and that’s a good thing.

The game starts with — and is full of — fully-animated, voice-acted, cut scenes featuring characters from across the Marvel universe. Starting with Iron Man and the Hulk, you’re thrown into a beautifully rendered 3D world viewed from a three-quarter angle. As in the other LEGO games, you’re presented with a choice of controls. You can either tap around the screen to move and attack, or use a virtual joystick and action buttons; MFi controller support isn’t listed for this one. And then, in the famous words of one of your playable characters, Hulk smash!

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