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Apps of the Week: Caviar, Noda, Peggle Blast + More

New Apps + Games

Caviar (free) — Out of Square’s purchase of the online delivery service Caviar comes an iOS app by the same name, allowing you to order food from your favorite restaurants in an immersive experience that lets you browse photos of food, customize your meal, and track your delivery right in the app. While limited right now to only nine major urban areas, the app provides delivery from restaurants ranging from favorite little local places to high-end Michelin-rated venues, and the gallery of food includes stunning photography, all taken by Caviar’s team.

Noda (free) — Underneath the deceptive simplicity of this new puzzle game lies a more challenging experience than you’d expect. The objectives are simple: swipe numbered dots around to divide and combine values, with the goal of arranging them into the required results. Swipe an even number, and it splits into two equal numbers, while odd numbers split, well, oddly. Dragging dots together adds the two numbers, but no two dots can add up to more than 9. Working within this framework, with a limited number of moves, and two colors to work with, you’re challenged to create a required number of dots with the right number and color. The app features cool, flowing animations in a minimalist interface, and 120 levels to work through. There are no timers – only move limits, which you can undo and rework as often as you like, making this far more of a meditative puzzle experience than a fast-paced adventure. The app is a free download for the first 48 levels, so it’s definitely worth a look if you’re a fan of puzzlers like Threes, and once you’re addicted, you can unlock the remaining 72 levels – and apparently all future levels – for only $1.

Peggle Blast (free) — A new entry into Popcap’s well-known Peggle games, Peggle Blast takes players through another series of ball-and-peg smashing adventures, as the mystical Peggle Masters take you through multiple worlds and teach their special powers unique to each level. The free-to-play version provides access to at least the first 20 levels, and a collection of additional tricks and power-ups such as gem drops, time bombs, and rainbows, keeps the action fresh and exciting. New to Peggle Blast is the de-linking of those power-ups from Peggle Masters—you can use multiple powers kept in reserve, a la Bejeweled Blast—and the addition of a multi-ball end-of-level bonus point tally. The app is notably presented in portrait orientation rather than landscape.

Apple expanding into India with 500 ‘iOS’ stores

Apple is reportedly planning to open 500 ‘iOS’ retail stores in India, according to The Economic Times. While Apple has had a presence in India since 2011, it has not been a “mainline” brand there, and has relied exclusively on two major distributors and a collection of independent authorized resellers. This new initiative would see the company opening a large number of its own stores, albeit in the smaller 300-600-square foot range as compared to its usual 2,000-square foot Apple Stores. The new stores would be sited mostly in smaller towns and cities, the report says, and it seems likely that the focus would be on iPhones, iPads, and iPods, rather than Macs. The report notes that Apple also plans to increase direct advertising spending in the country.

Apple hiring to expand Maps crowdsourcing

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]

Apple to offer free programming workshops

In recognition of Computer Science Education Week, Apple will be running various free programming workshops and other events at its Retail Stores throughout the U.S. from Dec. 8-14, including a special one-hour introduction to the basics of computer programming on Dec. 11 for Code.org’s Hour of Code campaign. The annual campaign, sponsored by non-profit website Code.org, aims at teaching basic programming techniques to students around the world through free workshops. In addition to the programming workshops, a number of other individual special events are being held throughout the week at major Apple Retail Stores around the world, including Tokyo, Chicago, London, New York, Berlin, and Osaka. [via MacRumors]

Antitrust lawyers claim Apple deleted competing songs from users’ iPods

Apple has been accused of deleting music from users’ iPods that had been downloaded from competing music services, according to a new report in the Wall Street Journal. In the recently commenced class-action antitrust suit against Apple regarding iPod and iTunes Store lock-in, lawyers for the consumers told jurors that between 2007 and 2009, Apple knowingly had procedures in place to delete music found on iPods from competing music services without telling users. When users who had downloaded music from a rival service attempted to sync an iPod to their iTunes library, an error message would be displayed by iTunes instructing the user to restore to factory settings, a process that removes all content on the portable device and then reloads it from the user’s iTunes library. This process caused songs from rival services to disappear, the lawyers said, further alleging that Apple directed the system “not to tell users the problem.” The plaintiffs in the case claim that this demonstrates that Apple was stifling competition for music players and downloads from other services; they are seeking $350 million in damages based on the claim that Apple’s lock-in forced them to pay more for music players by being forced to keep buying iPods rather than being able to consider competing options.

Apple responded by stating the moves were legitimate security measures, with the company’s security director, Augustin Farrugia, testifying that Apple did not provide detailed information as the company doesn’t “need to give users too much information,” and doesn’t “want to confuse users” – an approach that is typical in the software designed by the company. Farrugia noted that Apple was “very paranoid” about protecting iTunes in light of hackers that were working to crack the FairPlay copy protection used by iTunes and the iPod, and that updates which removed non-Apple music files were intended to protect customers. “The system was totally hacked,” Farrugia said. E-mails from Steve Jobs presented in evidence revealed similar security concerns.

Iovine told Apple it had ‘a hole in music’ prior to Beats acquisition

Beats co-founder Jimmy Iovine was recently profiled in GQ as one of the publication’s “Men of the Year,” where he provided some additional commentary on Apple’s acquisition of his company. Iovine explains that he approached Apple more than two years ago, telling them that he wanted to work for “Steve’s company” and nobody else, as he believed them to be a company capable of of understanding popular culture.

I convinced them that they had to buy this company. I said, ‘I don’t want to work for anybody else. I want to do this at Apple. I know I can achieve this at Apple. I don’t want to shop it. I wanna come here, to Steve’s company. I know you guys; I know what you’re capable of; I know you get popular culture. I know you have a hole in music right now; let me plug it.’ I think it was two years before they said yeah.

Iovine describes the “hole” in music as Apple’s need to do something “after Steve died” to respond to the rise in streaming services, and that he felt Beats Music was the right fit for Apple to get into the streaming business. The article also goes on to note that he spends time at Apple headquarters each week working on “this music service we’re doing.”

Bluetooth SIG announces Bluetooth 4.2

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) has officially announced the adoption of Bluetooth 4.2. The new specification provides privacy, security, speed, and reliability improvements, with data transfer rates up to 2.5 times faster than previous versions, and reduced battery consumption. The new specification also includes an upcoming Internet Protocol Smart Profile (IPSP), expected to be ratified by year-end, which will extend Bluetooth to provide direct Internet access capabilities for smart devices via IPv6, allowing existing network infrastructure to be used to manage Bluetooth Smart devices rather than relying on proprietary protocols and gateway devices.

Mozilla planning to release Firefox for iOS

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.

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]

Apple SVP Cue on iBookstore conspiracy appeal: “I’d do it again”

An interview published by Fortune today suggests that Apple is unrepentant over the allegedly conspiratorial launch of the iBookstore in 2010, as Apple Senior VP Eddy Cue and CEO Tim Cook “feel we have to fight for the truth” by appealing a 2013 ruling that Apple had illegally fixed digital book prices in violation of the Sherman Act. According to Cue, who led Apple’s negotiations with publishers, Apple wrestled with a number of potential antitrust legal issues before opening the iBookstore, legally negotiating from a standard contract, using an agency rather than a wholesale pricing model, and setting price tiers and caps for books. The company also attempted to act legally by using a “Most Favored Nation” (MFN) clause, providing that publishers’ iBookstore prices would be no higher than competing digital bookstore prices—normally not an issue.

However, U.S. District Judge Denise Cote ruled that the publishers and Apple had colluded to raise prices, based on evidence of deliberately-deleted emails between publishers, as well as an admission by then-Apple CEO Steve Jobs that $14.99 book “prices will be the same” between Apple and its competitor Amazon, which was then routinely selling books for $9.99. Cote found that Apple had effectively pressured the publishers to switch en masse from wholesale to agency pricing models with Amazon, including an initial contract clause requiring such a switch, which was removed in writing but lived on as “never rescinded,” according to Cote. Cue told Fortune that Apple worked with each of the publishers individually, effectively seeking to avoid a major issue—“windowing” or holding back a digital release until after the more expensive printed book’s release—by bringing the digital and print prices closer together. Apple hadn’t actually conspired with the publishers collectively to raise prices, Cue said, but rather had freed them to offer digital books at price tiers that weren’t artificially low as Amazon’s, though not as unrealistically high as they had originally wanted. At the time, Amazon was actually selling books at major losses to build the Kindle business. “If I had it to do all over again,” Cue said. “I’d do it again, I’d just take better notes.”

Report: MacBook-sized “iPad Air Plus” planned for mid-2015, iPad mini 4 to follow?

Speculation as to the actual size of a larger next-generation iPad is continuing, as a report from Japanese magazine Mac Fan (via MacOtakara) purports to offer specifics as to the device’s dimensions and features. A schematic suggests a design nearly identical to the iPad Air 2, only with a larger 12.2” screen and a total of four speakers spread across the top and bottom of the tablet for orientation-agnostic stereo sound. Mac Fan claims that the device, referred to as the “iPad Air Plus,” will measure 305.31mm by 220.8mm by 7mm, include an A9 processor, and arrive between April and June of 2015. A fan-made video shows how Mac Fan’s claimed tablet would compare in size to the current iPad and iPhone lineup, with notably nearly the same footprint as a 13” MacBook Air — but markedly thinner and under an inch narrower.

Additionally, Mac Fan claims that the next-generation iPad mini, dubbed iPad mini 4, will be a smaller version of the iPad Air 2 — presumably with the moved microphone, removed side switch, and thinner profile — with an A8X processor inside. Confusingly, it’s suggested that Apple will remove the iPad mini and iPad mini 3 from the family when the mini 4 is released, apparently leaving the iPad mini 2 as a lower-priced option. It’s unclear why Apple would discontinue the nearly identical iPad mini 3, with its Touch ID sensor and gold color option, in favor of the older model.

Class action on iPod, iTunes Store lock-in nears trial

A decade-old series of lawsuits regarding iPod and iTunes Store lock-in is nearing trial, according to the New York Times. Having circulated in various Bay Area federal courts for years, the collection of lawsuits was amalgamated, accusing Apple of using Digital Rights Management (DRM) on iTunes Store purchases to lock customers into continuing to purchase iPods from Apple, rather than cheaper alternatives. The report notes that previously-unreleased e-mails from Steve Jobs during that timeframe will likely factor into the evidence, revealing anticompetitive statements made by Jobs regarding ensuring that the iPod could not be used with competitors’ music stores. While Apple dropped DRM completely from iTunes music purchases in 2009, the class-action lawsuit dates back to when the alleged lock-in was occurring, and could result in damages being awarded to customers who purchased iPods during that time.

Apps of the Week: The Longest Journey Remastered, Facebook Groups, Dropbox 3.5.2 + Runkeeper 5.1

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.

Apple highlights more Apple Watch info

Apple has quietly updated its Apple Watch pages with some new details on the upcoming device along with some interactive images. The previous “Features” page has been broken out into separate pages with more in-depth descriptions and images of the Watch’s features, with specific pages for Timekeeping, New Ways to Connect, and Health and Fitness.

The Timekeeping page provides more information on the included Watch faces, along with a brief description of several faces, and information on how they can be extensively customized. The New Ways to Connect page shows more about the social and interactivity features of the Watch, including new animations for the various communication apps, and the Health and Fitness page provides new interactive animations for the various health and fitness monitoring functions. A new feature dubbed “complications” is also highlighted, comprised of several utilities that can appear on watch faces as shortcuts to open specific related apps, such as setting alarms, checking the weather, and getting stock quotes. [via 9to5Mac]

Happy Thanksgiving 2014 from iLounge!

It’s Thanksgiving Day here in the U.S., and we at iLounge would like to wish you a happy holiday and express how grateful we are for your readership and support. We will be on a limited posting schedule today and Friday; we will return to normal updates on Monday, December 1st. Happy Thanksgiving!

Verizon sponsoring ad-free listening to all U.S. iTunes Radio users

As part of its “Connection Day” promotion, Verizon is sponsoring a virtually ad-free iTunes Radio experience today. Featuring “limited interruptions,” instead of seeing normal ads on the service, iTunes Radio listeners will instead just see the message “Enjoy with limited interruptions courtesy of Verizon.” A banner ad will also occasionally appear, offering lucky listeners a $5 iTunes Store credit. The promotion is available today only and applies to all iTunes Radio listeners in the U.S., not just Verizon customers. iTunes Match users, who already have an ad-free listening experience, are not eligible to access the $5 iTunes credit promotion. [via 9to5Mac]

Microsoft, Yahoo hope to replace Google for Safari default search?

With Apple’s contract with Google for default search placement in Safari scheduled to end next year, both Yahoo and Microsoft are now actively courting Apple to be the next default search provider, according to a new report from The Information (subscription required). Google and Apple last renewed the contract in 2010, a deal that reportedly nets Apple around $100m per year. Yahoo and Microsoft both have existing relationships providing data for Apple’s built-in iOS apps, such as stock data and Bing search results, and executives from both have apparently approached Eddy Cue, Apple’s SVP of Internet Software and Services to attempt to woo Apple into considering one of them as the default search engine for iOS devices and Macs.

Apple had discussions with Microsoft about having Bing replace Google Search back in 2010, and a report last spring suggested that Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer was already attempting to influence Apple in Yahoo’s direction for some time as well; iOS 8 notably switched away from Yahoo for weather data, opting to get its data from The Weather Channel instead. There is no other indication that Apple is considering making any changes to its current arrangements at this time, and the company is likely to focus on whichever company can provide the best user experience. [via MacRumors]

T-Mobile required to fully disclose throttled data speeds

T-Mobile has agreed to provide more accurate information to help customers determine when their mobile data speeds are being throttled, according to a new FCC release. T-Mobile provides “capped” data plans, however unlike competing carriers, the company simply slows down data speeds when users exceed their plan thresholds, rather than billing for overages. Although T-Mobile makes no secret about this throttling process, it was discovered that the company was exempting certain speed testing services from the throttling, incorrectly reporting faster data speeds than customers were actually getting.

Under the new agreement with the FCC, T-Mobile will now send users a text message once they’ve hit their high-speed data allotment, providing a link to an accurate speed test that will show customers their actual reduced speeds. T-Mobile will also apparently provide a “button” on smartphones linking to an accurate speed test, as well as providing more disclosures both on its web site and its customer communications as to which speed tests will provide accurate results.

Steve Jobs biopic picked up by Universal, Fassbender to star

Following news last week that Sony Pictures had decided to drop Aaron Sorkin’s Steve Jobs biopic, sources have told The Wrap that Universal Pictures will now be picking it up. Sony reportedly dropped the movie due to shooting scheduling issues around director Danny Boyle and newly attached star Michael Fassbender, however the picture now appears to be back on track with Universal’s involvement. The film is expected to highlight Jobs’ key role in three of Apple’s most high-profile product launches, including the first Macintosh, and the 2001 debut of the original iPod. Recent reports have suggested that Jobs’ oldest daughter Lisa will have a major role in the film, helping to tie the segments together. A script was written by Aaron Sorkin and based on Walter Isaacson’s authorized biography of Steve Jobs. [via MacRumors]

Handbrake updated to 0.10, adds new encoders + more

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.

Report: ‘Deep Organizational Issues’ at Apple affecting iCloud progress

A new report from The Information (subscription required) as summarized by MacRumors provides some insight on internal issues that Apple has apparently been experiencing in developing new cloud-based features and services. The report specifically alleges that “deep organizational issues” are holding up development on new features for iCloud such as iCloud Drive and iCloud Photo Library. New iCloud features introduced with iOS 8 got off to a somewhat rocky start, with the promised iCloud Photo Library feature basically removed from the iOS 8 release, later to return as a “public beta” in iOS 8.1, whilst a companion desktop app is not expected to be introduced until sometime next year. The report cites interviews “with nearly a dozen current and former Apple employees” that “paint a different picture” from the progress that Apple executives repeatedly claim the company is making in this area. This latest report of problems in the iCloud team resembles recent reports of Apple’s struggles in other areas, including CarPlay delays and problems with iOS 8.0.1 and Apple Maps.

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