Archive for December, 2011

AppShopper Picks: 2011 Apps of the Year

Friday, December 30th, 2011

There are over 500,000 apps available for the iPhone and iPad in the App Store today and thousands of those debuted in the App Store this year. It can be overwhelming to stay on top of what’s new in the App Store (though our What’s New list can always help, of course) and we wanted to highlight the top new apps that caught our attention in 2011.

The popularity of Twitter, the micro-blogging social networking service, has exploded recently and there’s no shortage of Twitter apps in the App Store. Although Twitter has made several changes to its own official (and free) iOS app this year, Tweetbot by developer Tapbots continues to be one of the more popular alternatives. Tweetbot debuted to much acclaim in April and has an average rating of 4.5 stars in the App Store at the time of this post and it’s been a regular in the Top 200 Paid Social Networking iPhone apps.

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To appease aspiring DJs without the turntables and equipment to go pro, algoriddim released its djay app for the iPhone and iPod touch this year, complementing a version that had debuted in late 2010 for the iPad only. djay essentially turns your iPhone or iPod touch into a portable DJ system so you can become the life of the party at the drop of a hat.

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Flipboard is another developer that brought a winning app previously only available for the iPad to the iPhone and iPod touch. Flipboard is a personalized social magazine app that compiles articles, images and videos from your Twitter and Facebook feeds and other sources you select. A universal version that added compatibility for the iPhone debuted just a few weeks ago and it’s proving to be just as popular on the iPhone as it is on the iPad.

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If you’re making New Year’s resolutions to get in shape, you may want to check out the official P90X app that hit the App Store in November. P90X is a home exercise program that’s been around for several years and used by millions around the world. The app offers the popular program’s workouts in a format that’s easy to use on the iPhone.

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Though it’s been a while since I played the piano after years of lessons as a kid, an iPad app that debuted in September got me excited to get back on that hard, unforgiving bench to try it out again. Tonara is a sheet music display app that can actually hear what you’re playing and automatically turn to the next page, avoiding the need to free up a hand to make the transition. How cool is that? Tonara is free and has a in-app library of sheet music that can be purchased.

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Even though you’d think it’s a mundane topic, knowing the weather forecast is critical for iPhone users if the number of weather apps in the App Store is any indication. Unfortunately, this glut makes it hard for developers to stand out but ITWC Association managed it earlier this year with the release of Fahrenheit, an app that uses push notifications to show the current temperature right on your home screen through a badge on the app’s icon. (There’s a Celsius version as well.)

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We defer to the experts at our sister site, TouchArcade, for recommendations in this area since they live and breathe iOS games. This year, TouchArcade selected Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery by Capybara Games as the 2011 Game of the Year. The first runner up was Chillingo’s Anomaly Warzone Earth and honorable mentions included Infinity Blade II, Mage Gauntlet, and SpellTower. You can read the full Game of the Year article over at TouchArcade here and even hear our editors discuss these selections in their podcast here.

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I consider myself a casual gamer, dabbling in some Xbox 360 games here and there but spending most of my time playing games on my iPhone and iPad. In particular, I love shooting games and just about anything involving killing zombies and I’ve also found myself sucked into easy-to-play games with fun achievements and special in-game equipment to unlock. Given all of this, a couple of games stood out to me this year: Zombieville USA 2 and Jetpack Joyride.

Zombieville USA 2 by Mika Mobile is a cute zombie shooter with a ton of weapons, skills, and characters to choose from. It also has a great co-op mode where you can pair up with a partner to kill zombies galore over Bluetooth or through Game Center. You can read a full review of the game at TouchArcade here.

Jetpack Joyride by Halfbrick Studios (those brilliant folks who also made Fruit Ninja) is incredibly straightforward to play with a simple tap mechanic to make the main character, Barry Steakfries, jump. It may not sound like much but it’s absorbing and easy to play in short bursts and there are a ton of achievements that will compel you to jump through hoops in order to earn them. You can read a full review of Jetpack Joyride at TouchArcade here.

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That’s it for our 2011 selections! We here at AppShopper wish everyone a fun and safe New Year’s Eve celebration and a fantastic 2012!

Happy Holidays! (Also, iTunes Connect is Closed for the Holidays)

Friday, December 23rd, 2011

Happy holidays! We here at AppShopper wish everyone a safe, joy-filled holiday season! We plan to spend the Christmas holiday quietly with friends and family and we’ve still got our fingers crossed that we’ll get some snow to make it feel a little more complete.

Apple is also taking a break around the holidays and they’ve let developers know that iTunes Connect, the portal through which developers upload and manage apps in the App Store, will be closed from December 22 through December 29. Since AppShopper gets its information straight from Apple, many of our lists and feeds will show little to no changes during this period as well. So don’t be alarmed – we’re still here and providing you with the latest on app deals and updates but we’re forced to take a little break when Apple does as well.

Amazon Adds Magazine, Newspaper Access to Kindle App

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

Amazon updated its Kindle reader app yesterday, adding the ability to access magazines, newspapers and documents. The app’s description notes that this makes over 400 magazines and newspapers that are already available for the Kindle Fire, Amazon’s 7-inch color multi-touch tablet, to iPad users.

While iPhone and iPod touch users won’t be able to view magazines and newspapers, they still benefit from the new document viewing features. PDF files within other apps can now be viewed within the Kindle app, or transferred from your computer to your iOS device via iTunes. You can also store documents in the Amazon Cloud by sending them to your designated Kindle email address (go to your Amazon account online and see the Personal Document Settings under Manage Your Kindle to find this address for each of your registered devices) and read them in the Kindle app.

This update brings a new navigation element to make finding the different types of content available easier. A selection bar at the top lets you choose to see your ebooks, newsstand items (magazines and newspapers) and your documents.

Kindle magazines aren’t interactive like you’ll find in many of the stand-alone magazine apps in the App Store like Wired Magazine, for example. However, they’re still very readable and Amazon offers decent prices for these digital subscriptions compared to print versions.

Though Amazon is now producing tablet devices that compete more directly with the iPad, it’s nice to see that the company’s apps for other device platforms aren’t falling behind. Of course, Amazon still stands to make money from selling media accessible on other platforms, so this isn’t altruistic behavior on its part, but it’s still heartening to see iOS users continue to get more access to additional content.

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Tango Brings Video Voicemails to iPhone

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

Tango, a small California-based start-up, has released an update for its calling app that adds video messaging and animation effects. Tango Video Calls, which debuted in the App Store last year, offers free voice and video calls over Wi-Fi and 3G and uses the front-facing camera on the latest iOS devices.

The new video messages feature lets you leave a video voicemail for other Tango users who don’t answer your call. After the person you’re calling doesn’t answer, you’re offered the ability to leave a video message. If you select yes, you press record when you’re ready (thankfully, it doesn’t start recording right away so you have a few moments to primp if needed), record your message, and then send it when you’re done.

Tango has created a video highlighting the new feature:

Tango’s online support center states that you can send and receive an unlimited number of video messages at no charge. However, you can only play the five most recent messages you’ve received. To access more, you must pay $.99 via in-app purchase to increase your storage by five more messages.

The other new feature, Tango Surprises, adds animations to your video calls. Available animations include floating balloons and hearts. These animations cost $1.99 via in-app purchase to use.

Of these two new features, video messaging is the most useful since there’s no other way to leave a message for another Tango user if they don’t answer your call. Tango Surprises are cute but not necessary, though I could see them being appreciated if the person you’re calling is under the age of 10.

Tango Video Calls requires iOS 4.0 or higher and works with the iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, 3rd- and 4th-generation iPod touch and the iPad and iPad 2.

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The Onion Releases ‘Magic Answer Ball’ for iPhone

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

The Onion, the entertainment company that provides satirical news coverage of real and fictional events, has released the Onion Magic Answer Ball app for the iPhone. As you’d expect from its name, the app answers your questions in typical snarky Onion fashion like a virtual Magic 8-Ball.

Truth. Philosophers, kings, and philosopher-kings have searched for it since the dawn of time. Now, the official iPhone Magic Answer Ball App by The Onion puts the truth in the palm of your hand. In a world dominated by superficiality and mediocrity, only The Onion can be trusted to tell you what lies ahead with scathing accuracy and cool indifference.

In addition to asking your own questions, you can see the Onion’s own Question of the Day for the current day and the last several days. The answers provided are not always kid-friendly and the app has an age rating of 12+ or higher despite the fact that it’s modeled after a toy targeted at children.

Onion Magic Answer Ball was released today and costs $.99, joining the organization’s official The Onion app (which is free and worthy of a download if you’re a fan of the publication) in the App Store.

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‘Jetpack Joyride’ Free for Today Only

Monday, December 19th, 2011

Halfbrick Studios, the maker of Fruit Ninja, has made Jetpack Joyride free for today only. Jetpack Joyride features Barry Steakfries, a down-on-his-luck salesman who breaks into a top secret jetpack laboratory. You control Barry as he joyrides a stolen jetpack, scattering scientists and avoiding obstacles set by the lab’s security system. It’s one of my favorite games and I definitely recommend you download it ASAP and give it a whirl.

Here’s the official game trailer:

If you still want more information, check out the Jetpack Joyride review at our sister site, TouchArcade.

What are you waiting for? Go ahead and download it now!

(If you’re reading this post after Jetpack Joyride goes back to its regular price, it’s only $.99 and well worth the money, particularly if you own both an iPad and iPhone since it’s a universal app.)

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Notable App Updates: Netflix Gets Revised iPad Interface, Gmail Gets “Scribbles” and NBC Comes to iPhone

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

Though the holidays are approaching quickly, app developers aren’t resting on their laurels if our New Apps and App Updates lists are any indication.  Some well-known apps received some notable updates this week, improving functionality and adding features for users to enjoy over their holiday vacations.

First up, Netflix overhauled the interface on the iPad, providing a browsing experience that feels a little more like a native iPad app and less like Netflix’s website. Though you still can’t access your DVD queue, browsing movies available for streaming is a little more fluid and functional. Note that this new interface is available only on iPads running iOS 5.

To stream video, you’ll need an account with Netflix – streaming-only accounts start at $7.99 per month.

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Google updated its Gmail app to fix some bugs and add a few new features, of which the most notable the new scribbles function. A new button in the new message composition dialogue opens up a virtual notepad where you can draw or write anything by hand. This document will be sent as an attachment to your email.

This is a cute new function and I’m sure it will be useful to many. However, I’m still waiting for the Gmail app to work with Google Apps accounts before it will become really useful to me.

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NBC has updated its iOS app to add compatibility with the iPhone and iPod touch. Users can now watch video clips and even full episodes of many of the network’s popular series on the more portable of Apple’s iOS devices.

NBC recommends iOS 4.3 or higher for the best video playback.

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Mac App Store Surpasses 100 Million Downloads

Monday, December 12th, 2011

Apple announced this morning that more than 100 million apps have been downloaded from its Mac App Store. The Mac App store, which debuted less than a year ago, currently offers more than 8,000 applications for Macintosh computers running Mac OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard) or higher.

In just three years the App Store changed how people get mobile apps, and now the Mac App Store is changing the traditional PC software industry,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing. “With more than 100 million downloads in less than a year, the Mac App Store is the largest and fastest growing PC software store in the world.”

An Apple PR spokesperson pointed out that this download milestone makes the Mac App Store the #1 PC software channel in the world, exceeding all sales of the shrink wrap software market according to sales information from market research firm NPD.

Microsoft Releases Official Xbox Live App

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

Microsoft has released an official Xbox Live app for the iPhone and iPad. My Xbox Live hit the App Store yesterday and offers access to user achievements, friends, messages and more. The app is free and joins several other Microsoft apps in the App Store including Bing, Windows Live Messenger, and Photosynth.

Take your Xbox LIVE experience wherever you go with the My Xbox LIVE app. Track and compare your achievements, connect with your Xbox LIVE friends, and change up your 3D Avatar. Review all your recent great games you and your friends love to play and compare achievements with them. Jump into our games hub to learn about the latest LIVE games and apps. Access Xbox Spotlight feeds, get breaking news from Xbox LIVE, game tips and tricks, gamer spotlight and much more.

My Xbox Live requires an existing Xbox Live account since there’s no way to create an account in the app. If you’re having trouble logging in, you may need to update your Xbox to the slick new interface that was rolled out yesterday – this update includes a new terms of service agreement that must be accepted before you’re allowed to log in from the app.

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Notable Updates and New Apps: iBooks Gets Nighttime Reading Theme, Flipboard Comes to the iPhone, Evernote Releases Two Apps

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

Apple has updated its iBooks app, adding several new features including a nighttime reading theme and full-screen mode on the iPad. The update to the free app hit the App Store this morning, bringing it to version 1.5.

The full list of what’s new is as follows:

  • Nighttime reading theme makes reading books in the dark easier on the eyes.
  • Full-screen layout lets you focus on the words without distraction.
  • iBooks now features an improved selection of fonts, including Athelas, Charter, Iowan, and Seravek.
  • Beautiful new classic covers for public domain books.
  • A redesigned annotation palette makes it easier to choose a color for your highlighted text.

The full-screen mode removes the elements that imitate a paper book, including the virtual page edges and book cover. This mode is available on the iPad only. On both the iPad and iPhone, iBooks now features a night theme that turns the background black and the text white to make for easier reading in dark environments. This is a feature I’ve been waiting for – Amazon’s Kindle app has had it for ages.

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Evernote, the California-based company that provides services and tools to save and archive notes, has released two new iPhone apps today. Evernote Hello and Evernote Food are intended to help users remember people and memorable meals, respectively. Both apps are free and require iOS 5.

Evernote Hello is a tool to help you remember new people you meet. In its description, Evernote prompts you to open the app and hand your iPhone to the person you just met so they can enter their name and snap a self-portrait. Its use is highlighted in this promotional video:

Since I barely let even family or friends touch my iPhone, I won’t be using Hello as Evernote intends, but it can clearly be useful for those who meet a lot of new people and aren’t so protective of their mobile devices (or you can just enter information yourself, of course). Once the details for a new contact have been entered, an export function lets you save it to your iPhone’s Contacts list.

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Evernote Food lets you take pictures of memorable meals, as well as capturing their locations, ingredients, and more. You can also share these meals directly in the app via Twitter, Facebook or email.

Both Hello and Food integrate with Evernote’s service that lets you save, organize, and archive notes and just about any other bit of information you want to hold on to. You’ll need an Evernote account to use these apps and the service, which is free for a basic account.

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Popular social magazine app Flipboard is now available for the iPhone. The app, which debuted last year exclusively for the iPad, is now universal in version 1.7 to bring the unique digital magazine browsing experience to the iPhone. Unlike the iPad version where you flick from left to right to navigate, you flick upward from the bottom of the iPhone’s screen to flip between pages, a gesture that feels more natural on the device’s smaller screen.

A new feature available only on the iPhone for the moment is Cover Stories, which offers a smaller selection of the stories and photos available in your stream for quick browsing. Cover Stories can be customized so you see pieces from your favorite sources only to make it easier to catch up on the topics that interest you most in quick hits throughout the day.

According to my Twitter stream, it appears that Flipboard is having a little trouble keeping up with the increased traffic following the release of version 1.7, so keep in mind your browsing experience today may not optimal.

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