January 27, 2012

Daily iPhone App: Vintage Radio

Vintage Radio is an interesting idea for an iPhone app: It’s a ton of various old-time radio recordings (more than 34,000 mystery, horror, comedy, and other old 1930s and 1940s radio shows), all accessible to stream on demand. The app allows you to browse and search shows, set up and save playlists or even share shows on Facebook and Twitter. The selection is really amazing. I like a lot of old-time radio, and this app does have pretty much everything you need. If you have a lot of long car trips or plane rides, it can really help fill the time.

Unfortunately, Vintage Radio’s biggest problem might be a dealbreaker. The app uses a very confusing subscription model to make money. Basically, you buy the app for $ 3.99, and get access to a certain amount of the shows for that price. After that, you have to pay a subscription to listen to more shows — about $ 1.99 a month, or a little cheaper if you subscribe for a longer period. I also ran into some issue with the app where I only got a certain number of plays on it, and it’s not entirely clear when you browse which shows are paid or free.

Even paying the subcription is probably cheaper than actually buying all of these shows. Even if you have to pay the subscription fee, if you actually spend a year listening to these recordings, it’s probably worth it. Vintage Radio is a nice idea that’s not implemented well, but if you’re a fan of old-time radio, it’s definitely worth a look.



TUAW – The Unofficial Apple Weblog

Daily Update for January 25, 2012

It’s the TUAW Daily Update, your source for Apple news in a convenient audio format. You’ll get all the top Apple stories of the day in three to five minutes for a quick review of what’s happening in the Apple world.

You can listen to today’s Apple stories by clicking the inline player (requires Flash) or the non-Flash link below. To subscribe to the podcast for daily listening through iTunes, click here.

No Flash? Click here to listen.



TUAW – The Unofficial Apple Weblog

Daily iPad App: Triple Town

Triple Town was originally a Facebook game, so it does have some weird freemium elements that are kind of annoying: There are some weird turn mechanics where you actually need to “buy” turns, either with in-game gold or real money, that can get annoying after a while. And the graphics themselves do look as though they were created with HTML 5 — they’re serviceable, but the game definitely doesn’t take advantage of all of the power of your iOS device.

All of that said, however, Triple Town still comes with this sparkling recommendation: I first fired it up late one night last week before going to bed at 3 am, and found myself still playing it two hours later. It is a really incredible take on the match-3 genre: instead of switching items around, you instead place them down on the board, and then three of any kind (in any direction) will automatically combine into one of the next kind up the hierarchy, so grass combines into bushes which combines into trees, then houses, and so on. Bears appear on the screen and need to be blocked out into tombstones, which then combine into churches, which combine into larger churches which can earn extra points.

The game is turn-based and simple to play, but very tough to master, and it has that extremely addictive “just one more turn” quality. Triple Town is really a great title — it doesn’t quite outgrow its Facebook roots, but there’s more than enough game here that it’s definitely worth the free, universal download. Just be careful starting it up late at night — you might find yourself losing as much sleep as I did.



TUAW – The Unofficial Apple Weblog

Daily iPhone app: Pocket Universe now lets you talk to it and it talks back too

Pocket Universe has been one of my favorite astronomy apps for the iPhone. Take it outside to easily identify what’s up using the charts and the built-in augmented reality features.

With an update that hit the app store yesterday, you can now talk to Pocket Universe, using Siri speech recognition by tapping on the microphone icon on the built-in keyboard. You can say things like “Where is Jupiter?” or “What is the phase of the moon?” and so forth.

I tried several queries like, “What time does Mars rise?” and “Find M42 in Orion.” It all worked very well, and certainly beats typing in a dark backyard. If the app needs to talk back to you, it does so in a synthesized voice. The voice quality is a little rough, but it’s slated to be improved.

Author John Kennedy says he hopes to add voice-driven weather forecasts and other astronomical tidbits soon. Without the new voice commands, the app has a lot of features, including a 10,000 star catalog, as well as lots of deep sky objects. You can track the International Space Station and contains updated news sections and links to topics via Wikipedia.

If you have the app, you’ll get a free update with the voice functionality. If not, the app is US$ 2.99 and well worth it. Pocket Universe requires iOS4.2 or later and is a 43 MB download.



TUAW – The Unofficial Apple Weblog

Daily Update for January 24, 2012

It’s the TUAW Daily Update, your source for Apple news in a convenient audio format. You’ll get all the top Apple stories of the day in three to five minutes for a quick review of what’s happening in the Apple world.

You can listen to today’s Apple stories by clicking the inline player (requires Flash) or the non-Flash link below. To subscribe to the podcast for daily listening through iTunes, click here.

No Flash? Click here to listen.



TUAW – The Unofficial Apple Weblog

Daily iPad App: The Bard’s Tale

The Bard’s Tale was originally released on Microsoft’s first Xbox console, and it was a sort of a side-make of the original point-and-click RPG adventure game from the 80s (which itself is represented on the App Store by an app called Silversword, if you’d rather go even more old school than this one). But the Xbox title has just recently appeared on iOS, and it’s a respectable port of the title that makes fun of a lot of fantasy and RPG video game tropes.

The Bard’s Tale features amazing voice work (including by the late great Tony Jay) and the hack-and-slash action isn’t half bad. Fans of bawdy humor and wacky stories (there’s a zombie dance-off hidden in the plotline) will definitely get a kick out of it.

The app is Game Center-enabled and uses iCloud across a universal version, so you can trade saves between your iOS devices. Some iTunes users have reported a few bugs, unfortunately, but there are updates coming (driven by a few in-app purchases that are optional but definitely not required), so hopefully if you hit an issue, it should be fixed before long. To sweeten the pot even further, the app’s on sale this week, down to US$ 2.99. The Bard’s Tale is definitely worth a play through, especially if you missed it during the original run on the Xbox.



TUAW – The Unofficial Apple Weblog

Daily Update for January 23, 2012

It’s the TUAW Daily Update, your source for Apple news in a convenient audio format. You’ll get all the top Apple stories of the day in three to five minutes for a quick review of what’s happening in the Apple world.

You can listen to today’s Apple stories by clicking the inline player (requires Flash) or the non-Flash link below. To subscribe to the podcast for daily listening through iTunes, click here.

No Flash? Click here to listen.



TUAW – The Unofficial Apple Weblog

Daily Mac App: AirBeam

If you have an iPhone and iPad or Mac, you can set up an indoor surveillance system. All you need to get it going is AirBeam, which is software that turns your iPhone into a spy cam and your Mac desktop into a remote viewing station. Setup is simple — just install AirBeam on all your hardware and the software will do the rest.

There’s a universal iOS version for your iPad, iPhone or iPod touch and a desktop version that’ll run on your Mac. The desktop version is the viewer which will let you watch video and listen to audio streamed from your iOS device(s). You’ll need a camera-enabled device if you want video; otherwise, you will only receive audio stream. Once you fire up the software on all your iOS devices, the desktop software will automatically detect their streams. You can watch one stream or multiple streams at the same time. The app keeps the iOS device running so you will have a stream as long as you have battery power.

No worries if you don’t have a Mac, as the iOS version of the software can work as a monitor, too. This handy feature lets you use your iPhone/iPod touch as a camera and your iPad as the monitor (or vice versa). This is perfect if you have a little one napping upstairs and you want to watch him or her while you’re sitting at your desk. The only catch with this setup is that the iOS devices and the Mac must be on the same Wi-Fi network.

AirBeam is more than just a novelty; it’s sophisticated surveillance software that’ll let you set up a motion alarm, an audio alarm and even off-network monitoring so you can monitor your house while you’re out running errands. You’ll have to know your external IP (the one assigned to your modem) and set up port forwarding on the router for this remote viewing to work. AirBeam also has a recording feature that’ll capture up to 30 seconds of video when the software detects motion or sound. You can watch that video remotely using the IP address and port assigned by the AirBeam software. Though you can’t pan the remote iOS device, you can toggle both the LED and the camera on and off.

In my time using AirBeam, the software’s performance was flawless and provided a far better experience than any remote camera I’ve owned. There was zero configuration, and the video quality was excellent. The only surveillance camera feature I missed was movement. Most security cameras include a swiveling mount which lets you control the position of the camera. You lose that control with AirBeam, but you get almost every other surveillance feature at a fraction of the cost of a dedicated camera. You can grab the Mac version of AirBeam for free, while the iOS version will cost you US$ 3.99.



TUAW – The Unofficial Apple Weblog

Daily iPhone App: Boogieman Radar

Boogieman Radar is a cute iPhone app for parents whose young children are afraid of a boogieman in their closet or under their bed. For parents, it’s a virtual reality app with an overlay radar that you use to scan a room for boogiemen. For small children, it’s a lifesaver that’ll help them fall asleep.

The app lets you choose a girl guide or a boy guide to help your child scan the room. After you make your selection, the girl or boy guide then walks your child through the scanning process. The radar uses the camera to display the room on the screen and overlays a green radar screen with a line scanner. The app also makes the common blip and beep noises you’d expect with a radar. After about 10 seconds of scanning, the guide will announce that the room is safe, and the child can rest easy.

Boogieman Radar is definitely for younger child. My older kids (five to ten-years-old) enjoyed running around with the radar, but they were hoping to find a Boogieman lurking around the corner. My younger kids (two to four-years-old), though, enjoyed scanning and seem reassured when the app announced the room was safe. If you have a young child who’s afraid of a boogeyman, then Boogieman Radar may be a solution that’ll help reassure him or her that everything is fine. It’s available for 99-cents from the iOS App Store.



TUAW – The Unofficial Apple Weblog

Daily iPad App: Puzzlejuice

Puzzlejuice is an inventive new game from the creators of Solipskier. Mike and Greg have created a hardcore puzzle game that spans the genre and lets you sort it all out.

The basic mechanic of Puzzlejuice is more or less that of Tetris. Blocks fall from the top of the screen which you must arrange into complete lines. Once you do, however, they don’t disappear. Instead, the blocks become a row of letters, which you must arrange to complete words (similar to the great Spelltower) for points.

Tapping on colored blocks in matched rows of three or more turns them into letters too, and depending on which mode you’re in, matched words will also explode other blocks, and powerups may even drop in the blocks you’re matching. Acheivements like spelling a word of a certain length also keep you on your toes, as does powerup management. If that sounds confusing, you’re right, especially since it all happens at once.

I imagine Mike and Greg wanted to create a mild panic in their players. Puzzlejuice is not for the faint of puzzle heart. Even the game’s Zen mode is called “Zen mode Extreme,” because you can only play it for the highest score in just 90 seconds. The game’s tone even pushes that line a little bit, prompting you to increase the difficulty and then rating your performance as “average.”

If that appeals to you (and as a puzzle game aficionado, I sure like it), go and find it. Puzzlejuice is available on the App Store in a universal version for just 99 cents. It’s a solid game, but bring your brain, because you’ll need it.



TUAW – The Unofficial Apple Weblog