Plex, the media management software for the Mac, now has a complementary app that will stream content to an iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. The universal app hit the App Store this morning and costs $4.99. Plex Media Center for Mac can play a wide range of video and audio formats as well as display photos, and can connect to online content sources as well, including Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, and many more. The Plex software for the Mac is freeware and can be downloaded from Plex’s site.
While at home, the app can also act as a remote to control playback on your home theater system. To stream content to your iPhone or iPad, the Plex Media Server software be installed on the Mac where the content is stored. The app’s description notes that it’s possible to stream content over a cellular data connection while you’re away from home, but port forwarding must be configured on your router to do this.
Madcap Studios has completed a major update of its Digital Comics app, bringing iPad-specific compatibility to the free comic viewer app. We’ve had our eye on Digital Comics since it was released earlier this year for the iPhone and iPod touch and have been anxiously awaiting a universal version to better enjoy it on the iPad’s larger screen and after getting an exclusive look at it before its release, we’ve found it to be worth the wait.
The unique feature of Digital Comics is its automated panel view that will “play” comics for you by automatically panning and zooming through a comic so it’s a movie-like experience. This feature works particularly well on the iPhone version since its smaller screen can make getting through a comic a bit cumbersome with the amount of manual zooming and panning required. With the current standard size of a comic book page of 6.625 inches by 10. 25 inches in the U.S., it’s hard to have an authentic comic book reading experience on a device like the iPhone or iPod touch and the iPad brings it a little closer to what it’s like to read a paper comic book.
Of course, a good reading mechanism is nothing without content and Digital Comics currently offers a library of 41 books from Top Cow Productions, Antarctic Press, and independent artist Joe Phillips, with more added regularly. [UPDATE: Madcap Studios has let us know that more books have been added for today's release and more are on the way later today as well.] There are a handful of free books so you can use the app fully as intended without spending any money at all. If you get hooked on any of the full comic books available for free (mostly #1 issues of series to entice you to download the next installments), more issues can be purchased for $.99 each and can be downloaded over Wi-Fi or 3G.
Outside of the actual comic book reader function, Digital Comics offers three tabs to manage your comics and adjust how the app works: Get Comics, My Comics, and Settings. In the Get Comics section, you can browse the virtual comic store with multiple sorting options to see new titles, only free or paid books, and more. You can navigate using the coverflow view in the top half or scroll through the panes at the bottom. The App Store’s in-app purchase method is used to buy comics with charges going straight to your iTunes account.
In the My Comics section, you can easily go through your comic library to view details for each book and jump right to reading one. Comics will open at the last page read so you don’t need to worry about paging through to find out where you left off.
Tapping on the Settings tab brings up a menu where you can control the reading and transition speeds and other navigation and viewing elements.
Getting back to the panel view reading mechanism that put this app on our radar to begin with, this feature works superbly on the iPad, moving smoothly from section to section. We found the default reading and transition speeds to be a little slow for our liking, but this is easily remedied in the Settings. If you like to use the panel mode at your own pace, you can elect to use the playback control buttons that appear with a tap at the bottom of the screen to pause and move forward and backward as you’d like. Or, as previously mentioned, you can navigate manually using the iPad’s standard touch gestures of swiping and pinching to get around in a comic book.
A written description of how the panel mode works doesn’t quite do it justice and Madcap Studios has posted a video to more clearly demonstrate how it works (note that this video demo was made when the app was named Art Book prior to the iPad’s release):
Digital Comics has developed a fantastic comic book reading experience for the iPad and iPhone but we can see one area where hardcore comic book readers will be let down: content. While Madcap Studios works very hard to add new content regularly (Eric Reedy, Madcap’s president, states they’re aiming to add 5 to 10 every week), many of the most popular comic book series are not available in the Digital Comics store (nor can your own comic book files be side-loaded for viewing on an iPad or iPhone), so you won’t be able to enjoy Superman, Iron Man, Captain America, The Avengers, or any other classic series within Digital Comics. To get these on your iPad or iPhone, you’ll need to download the Marvel Comics or DC Comics apps, which don’t offer a reading experience as good as Digital Comics and you’ll pay twice as much to purchase issues in those apps. This is one area where we wish comic book publishers would be more open to allow other apps to sell their content though if the ebook market is any indicator, this isn’t likely to happen soon.
Version 1.5 of Digital Comics will be released later today. Digital Comics is a free app so you can get it now to try out and look for the update, which will also be free.
It’s been nearly three months since it was first announced at Apple’s WWDC in early June but Netflix is finally available for the iPhone. Early this morning, the Netflix app was updated to universal format to add compatibility with the iPhone and iPod touch. Previously, the app had worked on the iPad only.
No additional features come with this update though unlike the iPad version, the app offers no way to manage your DVD Queue on the iPhone. Movies can be streamed over Wi-Fi and 3G and will resume playing at the point they were last viewed on your iPad or computer.
While the Netflix app is free, it requires a monthly plan with Netflix of at least $8.99 per month. There is a less expensive plan but it includes only physical DVD rentals and does not include streaming.
AisleBuyer, a start-up company located in Boston, is partnering with retailers to bring the ability for consumers to scan and pay for items in brick and mortar stores to the iPhone, negating the need for shoppers to stand in line to make purchases. AisleBuyer’s first retail partner is Magic Beans, a small chain store that sells children’s toys and accessories in the Boston area and the Magic Beans app hit the App Store earlier this month.
With the Magic Beans app shoppers can use the iPhone’s camera to read barcodes and see production information for the scanned item. Scanned items can be added to the shopper’s virtual shopping cart.
When you’re done shopping, you can check-out virtually by entering your credit card information in the app and completing the purchase, which will generate a virtual receipt. A store employee will review your purchases against your virtual receipt when you leave the store.
AisleBuyer has created a demo video showing how the app works:
AisleBuyer states that national retail store partners are in the works though the names of these retail partners have not been announced yet. Currently, AisleBuyer retail partners can offer special deals to users through the app, as well as provide coupons and push notifications for upcoming sales and deals. In a future app update to be submitted soon, Magic Beans will offer access to reviews and UPC manual entry. The ability to scan and save items for future/review purchase is also planned.
An Android version is also under development with a release planned for October.
One of our favorite apps to use when shopping in brick and mortar stores is RedLaser that shows prices for scanned items in nearby physical stores as well as online. While AisleBuyer won’t provide comparison shopping like this, it could make shopping for items that aren’t practical to buy online, like groceries, office supplies, and toiletries more easily purchased at a local store, far more efficient and enjoyable for the tech geeks out there. We’d be thrilled to see AisleBuyer apps for stores like Target and grocery chains to make shopping that much easier and look forward to seeing more retailers partner up with AisleBuyer.
An update to the Google Mobile app was released today that adds push notifications for Gmail and Google Calendar events, a boon for users who rely on Google’s free email and personal information services. Google Mobile is a veteran of the App Store, having arrived shortly after the App Store opened in 2008 and is a regular in the Top 100 list for Reference apps.
When you first open the latest version of Google Mobile on an iPhone or iPad, you’ll be notified of the new push notification feature immediately and offered a way to set up your Google account, choose to receive notifications for new mail and/or new calendar events. You’re also able to select the times during which it will be acceptable to receive notifications, a convenient feature to prevent notifications from sounding off when you’re sleeping or at work. The app also lets you add multiple accounts, so you’re in luck if you have more than one Google account and want a way to receive push notifications for all of them.
While we do our best to record and remember the birthdays of our friends and family, we could still use some help to know about upcoming birthdays in time to send a card or plan an event. Enter Birthdays by Giorgio Calderolla, a straightforward and useful app that will remind you of upcoming birthdays via local push notifications (no internet connection required).
Birthdays is particularly useful if you already store birth dates in the Contacts app, whether these were entered manually or sync’ed over from your computer, since it pulls these dates automatically and will notify you of birthdays using local push notifications on the day of, by default.
If you’re the type to call friends and family on their birthdays, this default set-up will work perfectly for you without the need to make any changes to the app’s settings – all you’ll need to do is open the app once to let it pull in birth date information and you’re done.
If you want a little more advance notice, you can change the default notification timing to as far as 30 days before a birthday, as well as set the time of day the notification should show up. If you don’t want to be notified of a birthday for a specific contact, you can easily turn this off for individual contacts as well.
You can also enter birthdays manually within the app. Entering a birthday for someone who isn’t already in your Contacts will add a new Contacts entry for that person. You can also add a birthday for someone already in your Contacts within the app by scrolling down to the Unknown section where people without birthdays saved are listed, and the birthday you enter will automatically update the Contacts entry for that person as well.
While we find the Unknown list to be very helpful, there’s no way to search for a specific name, requiring you to scroll through it which can be tedious if you have a lot of contacts.
If you rely on Facebook for your birthday information, the app can also import birthdays directly from Facebook. This feature offers two settings to simply pull all of your contacts from Facebook, though this could create duplicates in your Contacts. Or, if you have more confidence in the birthday information on Facebook, you can let the app simply overwrite the birthdays you have already stored.
We use Facebook but we have friends who haven’t entered their birthdays or who intentionally put an incorrect date to avoid sharing too much personal information and a more selective Facebook import function would be nice, though we’re not sure if Facebook allows this sort of interaction with 3rd-party apps.
At $.99, Birthdays is an inexpensive and easy-to-use app that will keep you on top of every single birthday. Our wish list is fairly short – we’d like a little more customizability to set different notification alert timing for certain people to allow for special situations like longer delivery times for a birthday card to make it to someone in another country and for a search function to more easily find a specific person. The app’s description indicates that Calderolla already has a number of feature additions planned for the next version, including the ability to add notes to each birthday to record gift ideas or other items, and a “today” section with shortcuts to quickly contact someone to say happy birthday and we look forward to these new features.
The People Magazine app for the iPad debuted today and brought evidence of an agreement between Apple and Time Inc. that allows publishers to offer free access to content in iOS apps. Fortune reports that this ends a months-long deadlock between Apple and publishers wishing to have more flexibility with in-app offerings for subscribers to paper editions of magazines.
Subscribers to People Magazine can log in to the app and download issues for free while non-subscribers can purchase individual issues à la carte. Similar options should be accessible soon for other Time Inc. publications available for the iPad and iPhone, including Time Magazine, Fortune, and Sports Illustrated.
This is exciting news for magazine lovers with iPads and iPhones since print subscriptions can often be had for much less than digital editions made available so far (we’re looking at you, Wired). For example, a print subscription to People Magazine costs just over $50 for 26 issues, which beats the in-app purchase price of $3.99 per issue (over $100 for 26 issues) by a large margin.
Facebook, the massive social networking service, announced a new feature yesterday called Places and released an update to its iPhone app that incorporates the new feature. Places allows Facebook users to check in to a location to announce where they currently are, à la Foursquare. In fact, Foursquare along with Gowalla, Yelp, and Booyah are partnering with Facebook to use the new Places API to augment their own services and exchange information with Facebook.
Facebook’s privacy practices have been under a lot of scrutiny recently and the company is offering users control over how much Places information is shared with others. If you’re concerned about who sees your Facebook check-ins, you need to go to the Facebook web site to adjust these settings since they can’t be changed in the iPhone app. The settings on Facebook allow you to choose who can see when you check in somewhere and if your location can be shown along with others after you’ve checked in.
You can also control whether or not your friends can check you in without your input.
Places isn’t fully active everywhere yet and reports across the internet indicate that many are still seeing a message indicating that the feature has not yet been rolled out in their locations yet.
Unfortunately, this app update does not add specific compatibility with the iPad to take advantage of the device’s larger screen.
VEVO, the online video and entertainment service, has released an app that brings 20,000 music videos available for streaming to the iPhone and iPod touch. VEVO hit the App Store this morning and is free. The app will stream content over Wi-Fi or 3G though videos will be of higher quality while on a Wi-Fi network.
The app presents 5 tabs to highlight new and popular content along with a search function and the ability to create video playlists and view playlists created by VEVO staff. A Nearby Videos feature also provides a list of videos being viewed around you using the iPhone’s GPS capabilities.
While it’s certainly possible to find many music videos on YouTube or other sites, VEVO offers a convenient way to find them all in one place without having to sift through home-made versions, parodies, and low-quality copies that often pop up in YouTube search results. The VEVO app is for the iPhone and iPod touch specifically and while it will work on an iPad, it’s not optimized for the device’s larger screen, unfortunately.
Wiredreports that Grooveshark, an iPhone app that allowed users to access the online music streaming service of the same name, was removed from the App Store following a complaint made by Universal Music Group. The free app was released on August 5 and was removed from the store yesterday. Apple confirmed the removal to Wired:
As an IP holder ourselves, we understand the importance of protecting intellectual property,” said Apple spokeswoman Trudy Muller. “Due to objections by rightsholders, the Grooveshark app has been removed until resolution is reached by both parties.
Grooveshark allows users to search for and stream just about any song or album, as well as upload their own music and create playlists. The service is free and ad-supported or a VIP subscription that costs $3 per month will remove all ads. Grooveshark apps are still available for other smartphone platforms, including Blackberry, Android, Palm, and Nokia devices and the service is accessible to anyone worldwide at Grooveshark.com and it is unclear why only the iPhone version of the app has been targeted so far.