Archive for November, 2012

Review: ‘Fantastical’ for iPhone

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

I’ve been a fan of Fantastical for Mac by Flexibits since it was released last year and I was very excited to hear it was coming to the iPhone. Despite this excitement, I was a little skeptical that Flexibits could duplicate the utility and ease of use present in the Mac version on the iPhone. But using Fantastical for iPhone over the past few days has done away with my doubts and Fantastical will be a strong contender for many to replace the iPhone’s built-in Calendar app.

To step back a little, Fantastical for Mac is a calendar utility that lets you use natural language (e.g., “Lunch with Arn on Friday at noon”) to create new calendar events and reminders, which is parsed pretty damn accurately into real items. Since it integrates with iCal (or BusyCal, Entourage, or Outlook), anything you do with Fantastical will be reflected in your primary calendar application automatically, and then synced to your iOS devices accordingly if you’re using iCloud. You can invoke Fantastical with a keyboard shortcut or click on its icon in your Mac’s menu bar, making it super easy to get to in order to create new calendar items instead of opening iCal.

On the iPhone, Fantastical works largely the same way. You can create new calendar events using natural language by typing or using voice dictation if you’ve got an iPhone 4S or iPhone 5. Fantastical parses your entry and transforms it into an event without requiring you to jump around to fill out bunch of different fields to specify the event’s name, time, location, and more as you would need to in the built-in Calendar app.

Here’s a video I recorded of Fantastical in action on my iPhone 5:

As you can see, the natural language feature works wonderfully and I’ve yet to see it bungle any of my calendar entries. It is far easier than creating a new entry in the built-in Calendar app with its multiple screens and fields you need to fill out to create even a simple event.

I know what you’re thinking. If you’ve got one of those new-fangled iPhones with Siri, why not just use that to create your events since Siri can pretty much do the same thing? Well, you’re right. Siri is how I create new calendar events and reminders these days most of the time. But, for those times when it’s not appropriate or feasible to talk out loud to your phone or if you have an older iPhone that doesn’t have Siri, Fantastical is a joy to use and beats the built-in Calendar hands down.

There is one feature that Fantastical for iPhone is missing and I feel bad for even mentioning it since it’s not something that Apple even allows: the ability to show the current date on the app’s icon on your home screen. Apple does this with its own Calendar app but won’t let anyone else do it, which is a bit of a cheap trick in my opinion. But, it’s something I’ve come to rely on and I didn’t exactly realize how much until I swapped Fantastical for Calendar on my iPhone’s home screen while testing it. A work-around here could be to imitate what several weather apps, like one of my favorites, Fahrenheit, have done–use a push notification number badge to show the current date. This isn’t the cleanest solution but it would still be incredibly useful for me and put Fantastical on my home page and relegate Calendar to my Apple-apps-I-never-use-but-can’t-delete folder.

Fantastical for iPhone is available now at a special introductory price of $1.99, which is 50% off its full price so get now before it goes up. Also, in celebration of the release of Fantastical for iPhone, the Mac version is also 50% off for a limited time, bringing its price down to $9.99 from $19.99, so now is a good time to snap it up if you want the Fantastical experience on your computer as well.

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Apple Releases iTunes 11 With Redesigned Interface

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

Apple has released a significant update today to iTunes, its media store and management app for Mac and Windows.

The update was initially announced at the company’s media event in September along with the iPhone 5. At that event, the release timeframe for iTunes 11 was announced as late October but an Apple spokesperson stated late last month that it would be pushed back to the end of November.

iTunes 11 features a redesigned interface for the media library, a new look for the iTunes store, and additional iCloud features. The complete list of the changes is as follows:

  • Completely Redesigned. iTunes makes it more fun to explore and enjoy your music, movies, and TV shows. You’ll love the beautiful edge-to-edge design, custom designs for each album, movie, or TV show in your library, and getting personal recommendations any time you click In the Store.
  • A New Store. The iTunes Store has been completely redesigned and now features a clean look that makes it simpler than ever to see what’s hot and discover new favorites.
  • Play purchases from iCloud. Your music, movie, and TV show purchases in iCloud now appear inside your library. Just sign-in with your Apple ID to see them. Double-click to play them directly from iCloud or download a copy you can sync to a device or play while offline.
  • Up Next. It’s now simple to see which songs are playing next, all from a single place. Just click the Up Next icon in the center display and they’ll instantly appear. You can even reorder, add, or skip songs whenever you like.
  • New MiniPlayer. You can now do a whole lot more with a lot less space. In addition to showing what’s playing, MiniPlayer now includes album art, adds Up Next, and makes it easy to search for something new to play—all from a smaller and more elegant design.
  • Improved search. It’s never been easier to find what you’re looking for in iTunes. Just type in the search field and you’ll instantly see results from across your entire library. Select any result and iTunes takes you right to it.
  • Playback syncing. iCloud now remembers your place in a movie or TV show for you. Whenever you play the same movie or episode from your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, or Apple TV, it will continue right where you left off.

iTunes 11 is a free download available from Apple’s site for Mac and PC.

‘Gift Plan’ for iPhone Keeps Your Present Ideas in Order

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

The holiday shopping season is now in full force and if you’re buying a lot of gifts for a lot of different people, you can get help keeping track of everything with Gift Plan by Glasshouse Apps. Gift Plan is an app that will let you track all of your important occasions and holidays and the people in your life you need to buy gifts for.

Gift Plan’s key interface elements are presented in four tabs: a calendar, gift ideas, occasions, and a shopping list. The calendar tab shows you a month view and tapping on a date shows you all of the people you’ve tagged as a gift recipient for the selected occasion in the area below.

The Ideas tab is where you make up your gift shopping list, allowing you to quickly jot down something you see in a store or come across online, complete with snapping a photo of it, or copying and pasting a URL into the Notes field. If you already have a recipient in mind, you can “assign” it to a specific person or leave it unassigned to hold on to it as a general gift idea.

The Occasions tab is where you define all of those gift-buying-worthy occasions, like holidays and anniversaries. The Shopping tab shows all of the items you’ve marked as “to buy” in your Ideas list and provides a handy total in the top right corner so you know how much money you’re about to spend if you buy everything on your list.

You don’t have to do birthday and people entry manually – Gift Plan can import people (and their birthdays, if you’ve saved them) from your iPhone’s Contact list or from your Facebook friends list. For each person saved, you can even enter their likes/dislikes and clothing sizes. When it comes to getting reminders about upcoming occasions, you can get push notifications up to three weeks in advance to give you enough lead time to get to a store to get your shopping on.

Here’s a demo video prepared by Glasshouse Apps– it’s a couple of years old now but still shows the main features still present in the current version of Gift Plan:

There are a couple of things about Gift Plan that could be improved. While I love the calendar view to give me a visual representation that is the most meaningful to me when I need to do something by a certain date, I wish that the area below would automatically show the recipients for the next occasion on the calendar. As it stands, Gift Plan doesn’t make good use of the entire screen by showing me absolutely nothing below the month view unless I tap on an occasion date. And adding gift ideas takes a lot of tapping on a lot virtual buttons and different screens and looking at an app like Clear makes me believe that there could be a much more fluid and streamlined way to do this.

With all of its features to manage multiple gift-giving occasions and a large number of gift recipients, Gift Plan might be overkill if you’re looking for an app to help with just your Christmas shopping but at only $2.99, it’s likely to be one of the cheapest things you’ll buy within the next few weeks and can help you stay sane as the holiday shopping madness season continues.

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You Should Probably Check Out Walking Dead: The Game

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012

[The fifth episode of Walking Dead: The Game, “No Time Left,” is now out and available across iPhone and iPad. It’s a $4.99 download, and it’s the last episode of the first “season” of the series. It’s a heart wrenching, beautiful episode and a superb ending to a fantastic series of games that work extremely well on touch devices. If you haven’t seen any of the games yet, we’ve prepared something of a primer for you that explores what this series is and if it’s any good. Spoiler: it’s awesome.]

Walking Dead: The Game is a five-part episodic game series produced by Telltale Games, a studio that has a pretty good track record when it comes to adventure games like the Walking Dead is. You’d figure this series is just a cash-in on a super hot property, but it’s totally not. Instead, it’s an interesting and faithful take on the universe with superb writing bolstering otherwise solid production values. If you’ve ever wanted to experience the world of Walking Dead first-hand, this is how you should do it.

In the game, you play as a guy named Lee. He’s a convict who escapes a cop just as the zombie apocalypse begins outside of Atlanta, Georgia. In the lead episodes of the series, Lee is more of a vehicle than a defined character. The decisions you make as him are ultimately the ones you’d make. Later, Lee becomes unquestionably a decent guy who is interested in one thing: saving a curly haired, adorable little girl named Clementine. The two meet early on in the first episode and Lee keeps her close to his side throughout the series as he travels around the southern countryside.

The bond between Clementine and Lee grows as the series moves along and there’s a good chance you’ll develop one of those weird video game emotional bonds with her, too. She is written scarily well. She’s an innocent in a broken world, both curious and cautious, scared and excitable, but ultimately she’s just a kid: frail, naive, and accident prone.

In the Walking Dead comics, a common theme is the rapid-fire degeneration of people in a world that no longer has any rules. In violent bursts of viscera and noise, the people in the comics break. They flip-flop or do uncharacteristic things. In Walking Dead: The Game, this theme runs deep. The people in the game become fractured, miserable little things as the fractured, miserable little world they now inhabit feeds on them. It’s neat to watch unfold, as horrible as that sounds.

There’s no relationship in the games as intense as, say, Rick and Shane’s race to emotionally cripple each other in the comics or TV series, but no episode in the game backs away from people and their emotions. How Lee, Clementine, and the rest of the group Lee assembles react and cope are what these games are all about — and it’s the strongest point of overall design. This series also runs alongside the events of the comic books, so you’ll see familiar faces and places. This is pretty cool, too, as it’s just rare enough to feel special.

Choice is an important idea to Walking Dead: The Game and you’ll make a lot of them via menu and dialogue bubbles. When people speak to Lee or a situation that demands his attention comes up, you’ll get the option to respond as Lee. Sometimes, the choice is as simple as choosing to learn more about what is currently going on. Other times, you’ll have to choose between the life and death of a member of your party. The easiest decisions are directional: where should you go next or what do you think the group should do next?

The promise of Walking Dead: The Game is that all your choices — from the simplest to choosing to let a party member die or sacrifice himself — will have an impact on the overall story being told. Every episode remembers the choices you make and each new one takes that data into account. In some ways, your story in Walking Dead is unique, but only in the way that a Choose Your Own Adventure story feels unique. There are definite, in-stone narrative moments in this series, but you’ll take different branches to get to them. Stare too long or start over too much, and you’ll see the basic structure of how each episode will ultimately pan out. It’s of note though that the illusion is strong and satisfying if you turn your brain off.

There are also adventure game-y sections, often presented awkwardly. You’ll search for levers or a critical object to progress the plot. You’ll also have to shoot zombies in some sections. These often hurt the pacing, and, for the most part, the implementation is poor. As far as video game flaws go, this is pretty fundamental however these sections are easily forgivable because the writing is so strong and the scenarios are so short.

On iPad and iPhone, you’ll swipe and tap for both dialogue and action. The visuals are good, but not as nice as what you’ll see from Walking Dead: The Game on XBLA, PSN, PC, or even Macintosh. The coolest thing about the iOS version of the game is that it’s a much more intimate and convenient way to play the game for those of us who don’t have the time or desire to sit at a keyboard and play.

The app itself is $4.99 and comes with the first episode. Subsequent episodes can be purchased via the “episodes” menu in the game for $4.99 or as a whole for $15. You’ll save a few dollars the latter way.

If you’re a huge fan of Walking Dead, this is an ideal way to experience this universe outside of its other two mediums, TV and comics. Telltale nails what’s important, and isn’t afraid to present the gritty, horribleness of Walking Dead. And the conclusion of the series provides some of the most touching moments in video game history. No joke.

Just a note: Telltale is known for slashing the prices of its App Store games often, so make sure add it to your Wish List if you’re still on the fence.

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Brad Nicholson is a full-time editor at TouchArcade and has been published at other gaming-centric web sites like Giant Bomb and MTV Multiplayer. When he’s not writing about games, he’s usually at the gym lifting heavy things. He’s cool with typing in ALL CAPS.

Cyber Monday Mac and iOS App Sales

Monday, November 26th, 2012

Today is the day when online retailers get their turn to drop prices drastically to entice you to spend your hard-earned money in a wild holiday shopping spree all while sitting comfortably at your computer. And it’s also a day that app developers use as an excuse to reduce app prices since you’re already at your computer and buying stuff anyway so, why not?

A few of the app deals we mentioned on Black Friday are still going but a few new deals have popped up, so hop to it if any of these sales look good to you.

For Mac, the fantastic Fantastical calendar utility is down 50% to just $9.99 from $19.99 while Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing is down 25% to $29.99 from $39.99. And Apple’s subsidiary, Filemaker, has joined in on the app sale fun by bumping down Bento to $29.99 from $49.99.

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For the iPhone, the location-aware reminders app Checkmark and the daily diary/journaling app Momento are both down to $.99 from $2.99 while Ultralingua has knocked 20% off the prices of several of its foreign language dictionary apps (here’s a full list of all of Ultralingua’s apps).

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If you’ll be traveling over the holidays, Cynapse’s Localscope is just $.99, down from $1.99 (our review) and it’s a great resource for finding businesses and other local information while you’re traveling.

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If digital magazines are your thing, Future has reduced the price of back issues for several of its magazines down to $.99 for the post-Thanksgiving shopping bonanza. Future publishes Mac Life Magazine and Mac Format, among many others. While the apps themselves are free, the back issues can only be obtained via in-app purchase. Here’s a full list of all of Future’s magazine apps.

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If you’re looking for accessories for your Mac, iPhone, or iPad, check out this post over at MacRumors that highlights several online deals available today only.

Happy online shopping!

Black Friday: iPhone and iPad App Deals

Friday, November 23rd, 2012

Today is Black Friday and retail stores aren’t the only ones offering massive discounts for you to get your holiday shopping started with a bang– app developers are also using this as an excuse to offer deals on iPhone, iPad, and Mac apps.

I wanted to highlight a few of these sales for you but first, here a few links for you to check out now and bookmark since they can be used at any time to find the biggest deals–when developers lose their minds and make their paid apps completely free:

You just bookmarked those links, right? Also, don’t forget about our Wish List feature so you can mark those apps you want to buy when they go on sale. Our Wish List feature can automatically notify you by email when this happens (or you can get a push notification through our official AppShopper app for iPhone and iPad).

Navigation apps are often the most expensive ones in the App Store because of the map data they requires (getting and updating map data for the millions of miles of roads in countries around the world is not a cheap endeavor) but many of the big name brands in this category have reduced app prices this weekend. TomTom has knocked $20 off of many of its offerings and Garmin/Navigon has gone big by knocking 50% off its iPhone apps for today only.

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Here are links where you can find all apps for each respective developer in a single list so you can more easily find the location you need:

If you’ll be documenting your holiday adventures with friends and family photographically, there is no shortage of camera apps for the iPhone and iPad and several popular ones are on sale today and this weekend. Hipstamatic is now 50% off, and both Blux Camera and ProCamera are currently down to $.99 from their regular price of $2.99,

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Bad weather can wreak havoc on your holiday travel plans and a few app developers out there are making it less expensive for you to get comprehensive weather information on your iPhone or iPad. Weather Alert USA, an app we’ve recommended before that provides NOAA weather forecasts and a bajillion severe weather alert options, is down to $2.99 from $3.99. And the recently-released Check the Weather, which gives you forecast information plus short-term precipitation forecasts powered by Dark Sky, is down to $.99 from $1.99 through tomorrow only.

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While any time off from work you have during the holidays will probably be spent with friends and family, you’ll probably have some time to kill (or need to escape from said friends and family) here and there and games are a perfect way to while away those minutes. Chair Entertainment has reduced the prices of both Infinity Blade and Infinity Blade II by 50% while Electronic Arts has knocked down a boatload of its games to just $.99 (click here for a full list of all of EA’s offerings).

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For an extensive list of sales going on now among the biggest iOS game developers, see this article over at TouchArcade.

We hope you’re recovering well from any tryptophan-induced lethargy triggered by Thanksgiving turkey consumption and that any holiday shopping you’re doing this weekend is safe and filled with the best bargains!

Experience the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on Your iPhone

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

As a kid, I got to see Macy’s Thanksgiving parade in New York City once when visiting family there. I don’t remember much of it. It was very, very cold. And very crowded. And I was too short to see much of the parade through the crowd. Parents, if you’re taking your kids to see see this famous spectacle in the Big Apple tomorrow, you’ll want to check out the official Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade app to make sure your children’s experiences are more memorable than mine.

Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade 2012 hit the App Store earlier this month and it will provide you with a ton of useful information like the parade route map, participant list and order, and even live traffic cams so you can see other portions of the parade in real-time.

If you’re not going to be in NYC for the parade but will be watching it on TV, you can still use the app as a live companion to track the parade’s progress, see float and balloon information, and even track specific parade participants if you know someone who’ll be in it and want to catch them while they’re on camera.

A lot of the app’s information is pulled from the web, so it’s not the speediest to use and I’d expect that some parts may work slowly if you’re actually in New York during the parade given the crowds and resultant stress on the cellular networks. Also, it’s not optimized for the iPhone 5’s larger screen. However, it’s still a nice one-stop source of information for the parade that can be easier to reference than any paper-based maps or guides you might bring with you and it’s free.

We here at AppShopper wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving!

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Nokia Joins the Map App Fray with ‘HERE Maps’

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

If you, like many others, have not been pleased with Apple’s Maps app in iOS 6, you’ll be happy to know that Nokia is getting in on the maps action. Late last night, Nokia released its HERE Maps app for iPhone and iPad, bringing Navteq-based map and POI data to the App Store.

HERE Maps provides most of the basics if you’re a fan of the pre-iOS 6 Maps app that used Google’s data, including a satellite map view, live traffic information, step-by-step navigation directions, and public transportation guidance. Going beyond this, HERE Maps lets you save map sections for offline use later, which could be handy if you’re traveling internationally and don’t want to incur data roaming charges. Turn-by-turn voice navigation is also on board, though only for walking directions.

As a former Nokia smartphone user, HERE feels familiar with the standard Nokia font and color palette to me. The map images and text aren’t very crisp on the iPhone 5’s retina display though the offline feature is certainly a boon. It’s definitely a contender if you’re looking for an alternative to the built-in Maps app in iOS 6 (in addition to several other apps listed in our round-up).

HERE Maps is a free download and requires iOS 4.3 or later. It’s compatible with the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad and is optimized for the iPhone 5’s larger screen to boot.

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Butterball Brings You Thanksgiving Recipes Galore in ‘Butterball Cookbook Plus’

Monday, November 19th, 2012

Are you gearing up to cook a Thanksgiving feast and need some recipes to add to your kitchen repertoire? Or are you looking for a fancy new dish to impress those in-laws? Whatever the case, Butterball (yes, that fine purveyor of turkeys and other poultry products) has your back with Butterball Cookbook Plus for iPad and iPhone.

Butterball Cookbook Plus has 250 recipes to guide your preparation of bite-sized appetizers to a whole turkey all the way through to dessert. You can also download new virtual recipe bundles every month for free or purchase new recipe packs through the app’s virtual store.

Butterball Cookbook Plus comes from the same developers who brought you iCookbook Plus, and that means it includes an excellent feature that can be super handy while you’re putting your cooking skills to the test: voice commands. You can enable the voice command function while looking at any recipe and then simply say “next” to go to the next page of the recipe, “back” to go back a page, and other commands to control the app’s timer functions and scroll up and down through ingredients lists. I don’t know about you, but I am one messy cook and the ability to avoid touching my iPad to turn virtual pages while I have assorted foodstuffs all over my hands is a total bonus.

Beyond the voice command feature, Butterball Cookbook Plus can also generate a shopping list for you based on the recipes you select, hold on to your favorites in your own virtual recipe box, and even plan an entire meal by marking several recipes at once with the Meal Builder feature.

Butterball Cookbook Plus hit the App Store late last month and costs $4.99. It’s definitely a good purchase to give you some new ideas for holiday meals. Or to keep you from embarrassing yourself in front of your mother-in-law with a green bean casserole dish that didn’t taste quite right and may or may not have made some dinner guests sick. Not that I’d know anything about that personally. That totally happened to a, um, friend of mine. Yeah. That’s it.

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Algoriddim Releases ‘vjay’ for iPhone

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

Algoriddim, the developer of djay for iPhone, iPad, and Mac, has released an iPhone version of its video and music mash-up creation app today. vjay for iPhone joins its sibling for Apple’s tablet, vjay for iPad, in the App Store at a special introductory price of $.99, bringing video and music mixing and scratching to the latest iOS devices.

Our goal at Algoriddim is to create a world where every single person can be an artist and bring their favorite memories to life by creating and sharing music and video mash-ups on the fly,” said Karim Morsy, CEO and co-founder of Algoriddim. “For the first time, we’re giving everyday users the ability to capture and express themselves through video content using their smartphones. With built-in Facebook and YouTube support for vjay, users can instantly share their creations while on the go from anywhere.”

With vjay, you can combine music and video to create a new version of your favorite music video or jazz up your videos of friends and family with a cool soundtrack. You can access music stored in your iPhone’s music library and when it comes to video, you can use any of the several built-in clips, access videos in your iPhone’s video library, or create your own using the iPhone’s camera or import existing videos from your Camera Roll. Editing tools include audio-visual and transition effects, looping tools, and real-time VideoScratch™ to add that well-known DJ effect to your creations.

Here’s a demo video showing vjay in action on the iPhone:

There are no tutorials presented when you first open vjay nor are there any found elsewhere within the app. I’m not terribly at ease with multi-paned music or video editing interfaces and vjay’s feels a little awkward to me but it’s not too hard to muddle through with a little experimentation. All in all, it feels like a high-quality app (just like Algoriddim’s other iOS offerings) and it can be a powerful mobile tool if you’re the creative type.

vjay for iPhone requires iOS 5.1 or higher and works only on the latest iOS devices: the iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, and the 5th-generation iPod touch. The app is currently on sale for a special introductory price of $.99 and my guess is that the full price will be around $5 when this sale ends (the regular price of the iPad version is $9.99), so get it now if you want to be ready to create some awesome mash-ups of those winter holiday visits with your friends and family.

(Now would also be a good time to pick up djay for iPhone, which is completely free for today only to celebrate the release of vjay.)

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