Apple has released its “Best of 2013” list on iTunes. The annual best of list highlights Apple’s favorites and best-sellers in apps, music, movies, books, TV shows, and podcasts. In apps, Apple selected Duolingo, the free language learning app, as its iPhone App of the Year.
Apple’s iPad App of the Year was Disney Animated ($10). The iPhone Game of the Year and iPad Game of the Year are Vlambeer’s Ridiculous Fishing — A Tale of Redemption ($3) and Frogmind’s Badland ($4), respectively.
Apple has released iOS 7.1 beta 2 to developers. The update is available through Apple’s developer portal, as well as an over-the-air update for iOS 7.1 beta 1 devices. Initial discoveries within the beta include changes to the iPhone/iPod touch version of Calendar, plus some very small tweaks to settings, including the creation of a top-level settings menu for passcode management, the addition of a third color-modified version of a prior piece of background art, and an accessibility option to create underlines or shadowy boxes for text-format buttons.
Apple has also released an update to its Apple TV beta software, and a new Xcode beta as well.
Angry Birds Go! (free) takes Rovio’s furious fowl to a new realm — the racetrack. The fully 3-D cart racing game marks the first time the birds have moved beyond the traditional 2-D side-scrolling play environment, raising the prospect that we’ll see the now famous characters in all sorts of games as time goes on, a la Mario. Unfortunately, Angry Birds Go! is a pretty standard racing game with little to set it apart from the masses besides the graphics, which are really quite impressive; the gameplay is surprisingly limited and overly structured to gradually introduce new characters and upgrades at a plodding pace. Additionally, the freemium title is shameless in waving pay-to-play opportunities in your face, filling the tracks with coins rather than power ups and creating unnatural cart upgrade incentives to compel players to spend money.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas ($7) from Rockstar Games is the long-awaited iOS port of the popular PlayStation 2-vintage sandbox game, featuring all of the adult-themed content and impressive audio of the original title. The iOS version of GTA: San Andreas features dynamic lighting enhancements, improved character models, and enriched colors, in addition to the enhanced vehicle models originally introduced in the console game. Support for iOS game controllers is built-in, but the button labeling is a bit awkward during use. There are three different standard control schemes, and dual analog stick controls allow for full camera and movement control. Rockstar Social Club Members get cloud save support, as well. Unfortunately, the game appears unstable at this point, as we’ve experienced a lot of crashes; reset your device if you want to improve your chances of stability.
Apple has released its free 12 Days of Gifts app today — although it’s an annual release from apple, this will be the first year U.S. customers have access to the app. The app will allow users to download a free gift each day from Dec. 26 - Jan. 6. Those gifts could include “songs, apps, books, movies, and more.” Each gift will only be available for 24 hours.
The Animal Alphabet Singers ($4) from Think Smart teaches children the alphabet through hand-drawn animated animals. Four separate learning modes teach kids the alphabet in different ways. Developers of the app include people who have worked on Sesame Street, Avenue Q, Between the Lions, and other popular productions. The app seems very basic at first glance, with relatively flat hand-drawn artwork, but the audio portion is stronger and actually pretty charming. Young children will like the funny ways the animals talk and sing letters.
Several recent applications have been released to remedy issues users have discovered with iOS 7’s moving wallpapers — namely, unintuitive changes in the ways iOS 7 resizes and positions photographs when used as wallpapers. Michael Belanger’s Fix My Wallpaper ($1) lets users zoom in and out on wallpaper photos, customize colors, and more. Wallpaper Fix ($1) from Bernhard Obereder promises quick resizing and positioning; this app locked up repeatedly during brief testing on an iPad Air. Another wallpaper resizing app is Brijit Sheelia’s Wallax ($1). All of the apps enable you to get a better sense of how an image will appear on the iOS device’s Lock and/or Home Screens, but one may have specific features that appeal to you.
Apple has released iOS 7 adoption statistic on its developer website, unusually nestling the information within an App Store Distribution section of the site. The company claims that “74% of devices are using iOS 7,” though it’s interesting how Apple reached that number. It says that the 74% was “as measured by the App Store during a 7‑day period ending December 1, 2013,” which would rule out iOS users who didn’t visit the App Store in that given week, a different and less absolute metric than has been offered by the company in the past. By contrast, Apple suggests that 22 percent of devices are using iOS 6, with 4 percent of devices still using an older edition of iOS.
Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed Pirates ($5) is an Assassin’s Creed game in name only, with only the most modest link to the console games. Instead of tracking down human targets from a first-person perspective, Pirates puts players behind the wheel of a pirate ship. It’s a turn-based naval battle game with very modest need for quick interactions, and players can upgrade their weapons, crew, and ships as the game progresses. You might enjoy it as long as you can distance your expectations from the Assassin’s Creed name; the graphics are extremely impressive, apart from the odd juxtaposition of cutout-like 2-D art atop fully 3-D worlds and ships.
Doctor Who: Legacy from Tiny Rebel Games (free) has arrived, likely much to the delight of the multitudes of Whovians. A turn-based puzzle/strategy game, Doctor Who: Legacy lets players revisit old episodes from the TV series. Episodes from seasons six and seven are available at launch, with more episodes and characters to be added daily.
The Bluetooth Special Interest Group has announced the newest version of the Bluetooth specification, Bluetooth 4.1. Bluetooth 4.1 promises new features that will allow the spec to “work seamlessly” with LTE. Better connections will allow manufacturers to control the reconnection time interval — devices can reconnect automatically when in proximity to each other, and disconnect when apart, allowing for improved battery life and a better user experience. Bulk data transfer will allow for a more efficient transfer of data gathered away from one’s home computer — the example given by the Bluetooth SIG notes an efficient transfer of exercise data. A Bluetooth device can also now act as both a peripheral and a hub at the same time, allowing for greater interaction between devices. Most interestingly, Bluetooth 4.1 is an over-the-air update that won’t require the purchase of new devices — the Bluetooth SIG recommends that manufacturers “immediately” implement Bluetooth 4.1 in their devices.
Exact Editions, a British digital publishing startup, is using Apple’s iBeacon technology to allow readers to access its titles for free in certain locations. A report suggests the tech could be used within a coffee shop or waiting room, as the publisher could sell multi-magazine subscriptions to businesses and locations. Macy’s also disclosed that it will be using iBeacon to trigger offers in different parts of its stores as part of a pilot program, and a number of Major League Baseball teams have expressed interest in using the technology within their stadiums. [via TechCrunch]
Jetpack Joyride (free), the popular endless runner from Halfbrick Studios has updated to version 1.6 with a number of new features. Strong Arm Machine or S.A.M. mode turns the protagonist, Barry Steakfries, into a giant robot. Using S.A.M. five days in a row will unlock exclusive outfits — 16 new costumes in all. For a limited time, players can buy The Sleigh of Awesome, which is powered by rocket-powered robotic reindeer, as a $5 in-app purchase.
James Kelleher’s Lonely Beast is back in The Lonely Beast 123 ($2), a counting app for kids. The big beast spends his days counting everything in his house, from 1 to 12. Mildly interactive scenes await children, who can listen to a voiceover by The Lonely Beast author Chris Judge. The app promises no in-app purchases, no third-party advertising, and no social media, making it a safe experience for youngsters; light tapping on screens activates voices and small animations.
Apple has posted holiday shipping deadlines on its online store to inform customers of when orders must be placed to receive products by Dec. 24. The site shows when iPads, iPhones, iPods, Apple TVs, Macs, and other select accessories must be ordered to ensure delivery by Christmas Eve, for both standard and next day shipping. Notably, customers only have a few days left to receive an iPad mini with Retina display by Christmas Eve, with Dec. 5 being the deadline. The iPad Air can be ordered up until Dec. 9, and the iPhone 5s must be ordered by Dec. 12 for pre-Christmas delivery. Apple’s online store is offering free shipping on all products through Dec. 22.
City Letters is a free app from Frugoton designed to teach the alphabet to young children. Kids learn how to identify letter shapes and sounds through tracing, as the app introduces reading and writing concepts through words connected to city life. A $2 in-app purchase gets users the whole game after testing the demo.
Touch Press has released The Elements in Action ($4), a new app expanding the award-winning The Elements: A Visual Exploration. The Elements in Action features 79 video explorations of properties of the elements, offering a demonstration for almost every element. Though the new Elements works as a standalone app, it can also be used as a companion to the original — when both apps are installed, the two link together.
Rockstar Games announced Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas will be coming to iOS in December. Brand new touch controls and three different driving control schemes have been added to the mobile version of the classic game. GTA: San Andreas will also feature full iOS 7 controller support for Made for iOS controllers. No price information has been released at this time.
Animal Band — Nursery Rhymes ($1) is a new music app for young children from Storytoys. Kids can interact with eight animal characters to get them to join into a song, with each animal acting as a separate instrument. The four initial songs are classic nursery rhymes, including Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, and The Itsy Bitsy Spider. It’s a simple concept, and a section with a third background for extra songs is shown as “coming soon,” but younger kids might find it entertaining.
ESPN’s ScoreCenter has just become ESPN SportsCenter (free) in an update to version 4.0.0. The popular sports scores app has a whole new clean look. It’s also easier to navigate through the app and access the scores of your favorite teams. A news section is still intact, as well as a new “now” section, which is really just a curated ESPN-centric Twitter feed. Though there are other sports scores apps out there, this is probably still your best bet, especially if you’re into more obscure sports and leagues.
Clumsy Ninja, which was featured in last year’s Apple media event for the fifth-generation iPod touch and iPhone 5, has finally made its way to the App Store as a free download. One of two high-profile game demos from Apple last year — the other being Infinity Blade Dungeons, which was shown at the third-generation iPad event in March 2012 and later canceled — Clumsy Ninja’s release was delayed for more than a year without explanation.
The freemium game lets users interact with a kid ninja, letting you teach him a variety of tasks. He improves, learning new tricks and moves through his training. Impressive kinematic animation and cartoony graphics add to the fun factor of the universal release.
An anticipated sequel, Epoch 2 ($3) from Uppercut Games offers more Terminator apocalypse-inspired robot battles. The third-person shooter will likely appeal mostly to fans of the first Epoch, but it may not expand the audience much more than that. New weapons and features have been added, most notably including moving backgrounds and varied types of simultaneous attackers to fight against, all within an Unreal Engine 3-generated environment. But the gameplay remains relatively shallow and repetitive.
Apple has finally updated its free Find My Friends app for iOS 7 with version 3.0. The new design is more iOS 7-esque, of course, losing the skeuomorphic leather stitching, and switching to a lighter, orange-accented design. Friends are now seen on the map in tiny picture circles, as opposed to just dots, and the prior version’s font excesses are gone.
A number of iOS users have noted that some of the photos they’ve taken with iOS 7’s Camera application have disappeared without a trace, an issue that we’ve confirmed firsthand. Posts in Apple’s number of Apple discussion forums show how some users are experiencing the issue, while struggling to explain why it’s happening. Based on what we’ve seen, the problem appears to be sporadic, affecting only a small number of photos shot over a period of time; the photos are taken as indicated by a snap of the device’s shutter, but then do not appear in the Photos application’s Camera Roll. An Apple community specialist suggested closing all apps and restarting the device to fix the problem, a solution that has not worked for us, with backing up and restoring the device as a next possible option.
Apple has released iOS 7.1 beta to developers. The download is available within Apple’s developer portal. Initial indications are that the software addresses bugs in the original iOS 7 release, however, additional features may have been quietly added.
All prior iOS 7 device models can run 7.1, however, the release is not yet intended for general consumption.
A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving ($6) from Loud Crow Interactive features everyone’s favorite sad sack, Charlie Brown, and the rest of the Peanuts crew for this interactive book. Dialogue, music, and sound effects all come straight from the 1973 animated special, and the iOS interface has been substantially improved from prior Charlie Brown holiday apps. Three reading modes are available, and word highlighting and touch-to-speak technology are also included in the app.
SNK Playmore has brought its classic fighting game The King of Fighters ‘97 ($4) to iOS. The fourth game in the classic KOF series, the ‘97 edition features 35 characters and new teams — hidden characters Orochi Iori and Orochi Leona are included from the get-go. Both the extra and advanced fighting modes are available, as in the original game. Both a four-button and six-button control scheme are available, and it’s possible to move the controls around the screen, and change the joystick/button sizes as well. Due to a bug in the control-moving system, it’s harder to set the buttons up properly on an iPad, but hopefully SNK Playmore will fix the issue.
Google has released its Google Play Music app for iOS. The free app provides access to a standard music streaming service and All Access service, which costs $10/month. Google’s standard service lets users add up to 20,000 of their own songs, and listen to the music from all iOS devices and Google’s web player.
All Access lets users listen to unlimited songs, and includes an ad-free radio service. Radio stations are customizable, and there are no skip limits on listening. The app was originally expected to launch much earlier this year.