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Apple launches Billion App Countdown

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Apple has launched a new Billion App Countdown promotion to celebrate the one-billionth app downloaded from the App Store, with a single combined prize of a $10,000 iTunes Gift Card, a 32GB iPod touch, a Time Capsule, and a 17-inch MacBook Pro. The prize will be awarded for the entry (either through an app download or through a non-purchase online entry) sent immediately following the download of the 999,999,999th app. The winners will be listed online within 10 days following the one-billionth download. Regardless of which method of entry is used to enter the Promotion, only 25 entries per person and/or iTunes account and/or email address, per day will be granted; an entrant must be 13 years of age or older at the time of entry, and must also be a legal resident of the United States, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada (excluding the Province of Quebec), Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, or the United Kingdom. Apple held a similar promotion during the time leading up to the one billionth song sold via the iTunes Store in 2006.

Editors’ Note: At the current estimated rate of App Store downloads, roughly 5 million per day, the countdown would last for roughly 15 days before someone wins. However, the pace of downloads will likely continue to accelerate as it has throughout the Store’s growth, meaning that a winner should be picked in less than two weeks’ time.

Canada’s Fido now selling ‘refreshed’ iPhone 3G

Fido, the Canadian cellular provider owned by Rogers Wireless, has begun selling “refreshed” iPhone 3G units to eligible customers. According to MoblieSyrup, the “refreshed” phones differ from normal refurbished units in that they are not rebuilt or reconditioned by Apple, instead being brought back to Fido during the 15-day return/exchange window, and carry only a six month warranty. The refreshed units can only be purchased by existing Fido customers, who must currently be on a price plan dated before November 4th, 2008 or on a retention/loyalty plan. 8GB refreshed units sell for $149 on a three-year plan, while 16GB models sell for $249.

Apple, China Unicom iPhone talks stalled?

Talks between Apple and China Unicom to bring the iPhone to China have come to a halt over demands by Apple, according to a new report. SinoCast reports that Apple was said to have asked Unicom to help pay for the costs of building special Apple storefronts across the country, after China Unicom agreed to a profit-sharing plan proposed by the iPhone maker. Executives at China Unicom would say that negotiations were ongoing, but refused to give any specific details. China Unicom is expected to launch its 3G network on May 17, and is said to want the deal with Apple finalized by April 15.

Google updates Gmail, Calendar for iPhone

Google has launched significant upgrades to its Gmail and Calendar web applications for the iPhone, iPod touch, and Android-powered devices. According to the company’s Mobile blog, the team behind the apps has completely re-architected the code to offer more consistent performance, and refreshed the user interface to make it easier to perform batch actions, along with laying the groundwork for future improvements. Other improvements include easier to read labels that are more in-line with their desktop counterparts, a relocated search menu, and the ability to open recently read messages and to compose new emails over a “flaky, or non-existent, network connection.” The improved interface requires iPhone OS 2.2.1 or later, and can be accessed now by visiting gmail.com from an iPhone or iPod touch.

ComScore estimates top 25 iPhone apps

ComScore has released a new list of the top 25 iPhone and iPod touch applications, based on estimates of the installed base of applications downloaded via iTunes by February 2009. The company, which says that it monitors roughly one million computer users in the United States, looks at its monitored iTunes users to determine which applications they had installed, and removes duplicates to avoid double- or triple-counting updated apps. According to the report, Tapulous’ Tap Tap Revenge is the top app, with 32% of monitored App Store users having downloaded the rhythm game. It is followed by Backgrounds, with 27%, Touch Hockey: FS5 with 26%, Facebook, also with 26%, and Pac-Man with 24%. Other notable entries in the top 25 include MySpace Mobile with 23%, Google Earth with 22%, Pandora with 21%, AIM with 19%, and Shazam with 17%. While the numbers strike us as unusually high for given apps, they provide a general sense of genre and app popularity. Overall, 12 of the top 25 apps are gaming titles, with entertainment apps accounting for four of the top 25, and three social networking apps making the list.

iPhone OS 3.0 beta: record video, AF camera, compass, voice control [updated]

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A new screenshot discovered in the latest beta release of iPhone OS 3.0 shows a video recording interface for the Camera application, Mac Rumors reports. Accessed by changing configuration files to tell the OS that a video camera was present, the screenshot shows an interface similar to that of the current Camera app, but with a slider in the lower right hand corner for selecting between video and still capture modes, and a red recording dot in the center of the shutter button. In addition, other references to currently unavailable features were found in the configuration files, including text referring to an “auto-focus camera,” “magnetometer,” also known as a digital compass, and “Voice Control.”

Update: Boy Genius Report has published yet another set of screenshots from iPhone OS 3.0 showing evidence of a video recording feature, along with a new status bar battery percentage indicator. The first screenshot shows a revised version of the Photos app with tabs at the top for “All,” “Photos,” and “Videos;” the screen also shows the videos section displaying a “No Videos” marker with the text “You can take videos using the camera.” Also visible in the screenshot is a battery percentage indicator, which can be toggled on/off in the General>Usage Settings app menu, and a Voice Control menu option, the specifics of which are not yet known.

Apple posts three new iPhone 3G ads

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Apple has posted three new iPhone 3G television advertisements to its website. Continuing the “there’s an app for that” theme, the three spots highlight three individual applications each. “Itchy” highlights the GPS compass app Compass Go, the interactive field guide app iBird Explorer Plus, and the video application Howcast, while “Office” features the transaction processing app Credit Card Terminal, the wireless printing app Print & Share, and the package tracking app FedEx Mobile. Finally, “Student” highlights the apartment finder Apartments, the product lookup app SnapTell, and the photo editing app Photogene. All three commercials are available for viewing on Apple’s website.

iPhone OS 3.0 video editing, FM transmission possible?

Based on a number of new reports, iPhone OS 3.0 may offer video editing and recording capabilities, while a next-generation iPhone may debut with 802.11n support, and potentially FM transmission capabilities, as well. Found in the latest beta version of iPhone OS 3.0 (Translated Link), new resource images appear to show graphics needed for video editing purposes: listed under the name “UIMovieScrubber,” the images include what appear to be controls for editing video, including in and out markers. The discovery follows an earlier report that the next-generation iPhone OS appeared set to support both video recording and sharing via MobileMe, the former most likely only on next-generation hardware. DigiTimes recently reported that Apple had placed orders for 3.2-megapixel CMOS image sensors to be used in the next iPhone, which may or may not be tied to the expected new video features.

A separate component specification file found in the new beta release of iPhone OS 3.0 suggests that the next-generation of iPhone and iPod touch hardware will offer not only low-power 802.11n support, but also possibly FM reception and transmission capabilities. Broadcom’s BCM4329 chip is listed in the beta OS along with specifications, which include 802.11 a/b/g/n support, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR, and a FM radio receiver and transmitter. Notably, the presence of these features in a new chip does not guarantee that Apple will actually support them with iPhone OS software. The second-generation iPod touch used Broadcom’s earlier BCM4325 chip, which also offered FM reception hardware capabilities, a feature that was never disclosed or enabled by Apple’s software. Whether Apple takes advantage of the BCM4329’s expanded functionality is therefore a question mark, but if so, next-generation iPhones could include 802.11n/a wireless support, the ability to receive FM radio stations, and the ability to broadcast iPod mode audio to in-car stereos—all without additional accessories. [via TUAW]

O’Reilly announces iPhone development workshops

O’Reilly has announced it will be holding four iPhone development workshops in locations across the U.S. this spring/summer. The O’Reilly Workshop: Build, Compile, and Run Your iPhone App in 2 Days will be helmed by iPhone app programmer Joe Heck, and is aimed at helping both experienced and novice programmers get up to speed on the basics of iPhone development, including the Cocoa programming environment, the Xcode suite of tools, the Objective-C language, and Instruments. Attendees will create two real iPhone applications by the end of the two-day session. The workshops will be held May 16-17 in San Francisco, June 27-28 in Chicago, August 8-9 in LA, and September 19-20 in Seattle; standard pricing is set at $1200, but those who book early may be eligible for a $200 “early bird” discount.

Microsoft exec hints at Office for iPhone

Speaking at the Web 2.0 Expo, Stephen Elop, president of Microsoft’s Business Division, hinted that the company may be planning to bring a version of its Office productivity suite to the iPhone. When asked whether Microsoft was committed to getting its major productivity applications onto the Web and on mobile devices, Elop said the company recognizes the growing demand from smartphone users, pointing out how many people now access their Facebook accounts with their iPhones because the device, and others like it, had made it practical to access on the go. After interviewer Tim O’Reilly asked Elop directly whether this meant the iPhone would get access to a mobile edition of Office, he said, “not yet, keep watching.” Elop also announced that Microsoft plans to launch an ad-supported online version of Office sometime after 2009; it is unclear whether an iPhone version of the software would be created as a web application or as a standalone app.

New iPhone SDK bans jailbreaking, non-Store app making

The latest version of the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement, which developers must agree to before downloading and/or using the iPhone SDK or beta versions of the iPhone OS, has added a clause forbidding developers from working on or assisting with jailbreak projects or jailbroken applications. According to Ars Technica, the clause also forbids developers from jailbreaking their own devices. The move follows comments filed by Apple with the U.S. Copyright Office arguing that that jailbreaking constitutes copyright infringement and a DMCA violation, and is therefore illegal.

The relevant clause states, “(e)You will not, through use of the Apple Software, services or otherwise, create any Application or other program that would disable, hack or otherwise interfere with the Security Solution, or any security, digital signing, digital rights management, verification or authentication mechanisms implemented in or by the iPhone operating system software, iPod touch operating system software, this Apple Software, any services or other Apple software or technology, or enable others to do so; and (f) Applications developed using the Apple Software may only be distributed if selected by Apple (in its sole discretion) for distribution via the App Store or for limited distribution on Registered Devices (ad hoc distribution) as contemplated in this Agreement.”

Kojima talks Metal Gear Solid Touch, future iPhone plans

Hideo Kojima, creator of the Metal Gear franchise, discussed Konami’s recent Metal Gear Solid Touch release and future iPhone development plans in a recent interview with Spike TV’s Geoff Keighley, held at the San Francisco Apple Store. Kojima revealed that his team originally had the online group helm the development of MGST with Kojima studios overseeing production, but the resulting game was “crap.” After absorbing the existing assets, Kojima and his team realized developing the controls for a stealth game would prove difficult. “At first we thought this should be a stealth game… There were two parts a stealth and a shooting part ... We mocked up a sample but we thought it wouldn’t work,” Kojima said, adding that the short playing time of iPhone games would make it too difficult to manipulate the character through levels without being discovered by in-game foes. “So we changed the play style to touch shooting.” Kojima said that the final eight stages of the game, to be released later this year, will feature “touch fighting” gameplay as well as more “touch shooting.”

Kojima also revealed that he is a large Apple fan, and uses a Mac computer—one of the few employees at his studio to do so—as well as an iPod. Kojima went on to state that he would like to continue working on the iPhone, and hopes to do “something crazy” on the platform. Finally, he offered a glimmer of hope for those wishing for a true stealth-based iPhone game, saying he thought such a title might be possible as the platform develops and improves.

Apple releases iPhone OS 3.0 Beta 2 with push notifications

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Apple this evening released the second beta version of iPhone OS 3.0 to registered developers, adding bug fixes and several new feature updates and implementations. iPhone OS 3.0 beta 2 contains support for Apple’s push notification service, so that developers can begin testing their apps with push notification activated, a new “Store” menu item in the Settings app, and the ability to have up to 11 pages of applications, raising the app limit from 148 to 180. Screenshots of the new functionality have been added to our Complete Guide to iPhone OS 3.0 for iPhone and iPod touch.

Developers can download iPhone OS 3.0 Beta 2, and the accompanying updated SDK, from Apple’s iPhone Dev Center.

Phony App Store reviews expand to app-covering web sites

Despite attempts to reduce fraudulent App Store reviews, developers are continuing to use deceptive practices to boost the sales of their applications, and have expanded beyond the App Store by posting comments on online reviews. In an investigation of suspicious comments that began in early March of this year, iLounge has discovered foreign postings from India and Indonesia that illustrate how developers have been generating artificially positive feedback for their products. Additionally, reports indicate that “app review blogs” have been set up to offer developer-purchased positive reviews of iPhone and iPod touch software under the guise of independently generated content.

In one example, the Indonesian web site jauharimedia.com includes a number of “freelance” job requests for people to post positive reviews of iPhone apps on the App Store. A separate posting from username “timiphone”, found on iPhoneDevForums.com promises “4-5 star reviews” at a cost of $2 each, with a minimum order of 100 reviews. The same screen name “timiphone” was attached to a positive review on the App Store for the app FreeContact from DarkApples. Additionally, iPhone developer Brandon, author of the app gCalWall, claims that a site he contacted in hopes of getting his application reviewed responded with a $50 offer (warning: strong language) for an “expedited review,” with a promise that the review would only be published if the site’s reviewers “approve” the app, accompanied by a solicitation for advertising, which includes one “expedited review” for free. The site, identified elsewhere as “AppCraver,” claimed to be read by venture capitalists and journalists, and noted that “our readers are not interested in negative reviews.”

iLounge has continued to block astroturfing reviews and related comments from application developers, including Robosoft, an Indian company that has developed a number of iPhone apps, including 99Games Online’s WordsWorth, which posted multiple fake “fan” comments attacking a competing product called Bookworm. Other developers, such as the ones behind Voicebox and Westward, have also been blocked for posting policy-violating comments.

iPhone developer: App piracy more widespread than most realize

Speaking in an interview with Wired over the current state of App Store piracy, Kai Yu, president of BeeJive, said the situation was worse than most realize. “We think that current piracy of content from the App Store is much more widespread than most people realize,” Yu said. Yu added that after installing analytics software in the company’s BeeJive IM application, the company discovered 60 percent of activity coming from pirated copies; it has since taken measures to disable cracked copies. However, Yu remains optimistic that Apple will address the situation, saying, “This will hopefully be a temporary state, mostly due to the ‘newness’ of the App Store. It is like the Wild West.”

iPhone analytics company Medialets estimates at least 5,000 apps have been cracked thus far, according to the Wired report. There are multiple websites hosting pirated copies of apps, including one that currently offers roughly 3,200 cracked apps, and apps can also be found in Torrent files, including a 5.4 gigabyte file called the X-Mas iBrain Pack, which contains 808 cracked iPhone applications.

Despite the seemingly widespread problem of app piracy, some developers feel it has not made a significant impact on sales. Brian Greenstone, owner of Pangea Software, said the company actively tracked piracy of its game Enigmo, only to see a 5 percent piracy rate in the app’s first week on the store, a figure which fell to nearly zero percent afterwards. “Like any piracy scheme, it’s just a matter of time until hackers find their way around,” Greenstone said. “There are things we can do as developers, but since the piracy rate is so low, my thought is ‘Who cares? It’s not even worth the trouble.’”

AT&T stores offer early upgrades to iPhone 3G

AT&T stores have begun to offer fully subsidized pricing on the iPhone 3G to select early upgrade customers. According to Apple Insider, the company is waiving the upgrade clause for customers who are approximately 14 months into their 24-month contract and want to purchase an iPhone 3G. Previously, users who were not yet eligible for upgrade pricing were forced to pay $399 for the 8GB model and $499 for the 16GB. The move comes closely after the launch of contract-free iPhone 3G sales by both AT&T and Apple, suggesting the companies may be trying to clear inventory ahead of a new model.

ComScore releases data on UK iPhone users

Internet metrics firm comScore has released its first data on iPhone use in the U.K. Based on a three-month average ending in January, iPhone users lead traditional smartphone users in all measured online activity, with 93 percent of iPhone users accessing mobile media in January. Nearly 80% of iPhone users accessed news or information via the Safari browser, compared to 48% of smartphone users, and 75.4% accessed e-mail, compared to just 35.4% of smartphone users. 65.6% listened to mobile music, while 55.6% accessed news or info via a downloaded application, compared to percentages of 40.5 and 22.1, respectively, for traditional smartphone users. 54.8 percent accessed a social networking site, 55.5% accessed weather information, and 55.1% used web search, with 29.6%, 26.1%, and 31.9% of smartphone users accessing the same services, respectively.

“The iPhone is indeed an early adopter phenomenon in the United Kingdom,” said comScore analyst Alistair Hill. “While the device’s ease of use is certainly contributing to the lift we see in mobile media consumption, the fact that the device requires a subscription package that includes an unlimited data plan is also a contributing factor. However, it is also important to note that while nearly all iPhone owners are consuming mobile media, the device is in the hands of only two percent of mobile phone users in the UK.”

Apple begins sales of no-contract iPhone 3G

Apple has begun to offer the iPhone 3G without a contract in its own retail stores, according to a new report. The move comes just one week after AT&T confirmed that it would offer the handset without a contract. Apple Insider reports that the two companies differ on the terms of sale, with AT&T restricting units to one per customer, who must have an existing AT&T contract, while Apple is not requiring either pre-requisite. The no-contract iPhone 3Gs are priced at $599 for the 8GB model and $699 for 16GB units.

iPhone OS 3.0 to offer improved Javascript performance

The early beta release of iPhone OS 3.0 offers Javascript performance improvements ranging from three to ten times faster than that of iPhone OS 2.2, according to numbers provided by AdMob employee Wayne Pan. Using iPhone developer Craig Hockenberry’s iPhone benchmarks page,  Pan tested the new beta OS and saw large gains when running Javascript, suggesting the new build of MobileSafari is based on an advanced WebKit Javascript engine introduced last year. Originally dubbed SquirrelFish, it has since been renamed Nitro. The improved engine should provide faster performance when using Javascript-based web applications. [via DF]

China Unicom to launch iPhone 3G on May 17?

China Unicom has reached a deal with Apple to offer the iPhone in China and may be planning to launch the handset on May 17, According to a new report. Citing Chinese-language Sita, JLM Pacific Epoch reports that the Shanghai subsidiary of China Unicom — the same subsidiary that yesterday posted a page for the iPhone 3G online — has confirmed an agreement between the two companies. A “related employee” said that the Shanghai office heard the news today, and has begun prepping for the launch, which could come on May 17.

Citing a second report from Communications Weekly based on an unnamed insider, Unicom plans to announce the agreement on May 17, and that the company has begun testing in Hebei province’s Lanfang, Baoding, Tangshan and Qinhuangdao cities. The insider indicated that the agreement involves Unicom subsidizing the iPhone hardware, purchasing a designated number of units, and sharing revenue from value-added wireless services with Apple. Apple will be responsible for localizing the software, testing iPhone compatibility with Unicom’s WCDMA network, and has agreed to lock the phones to Unicom’s network.

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