Ninth in a series. This week Google updated its Gmail app, adding background refresh, so it can now fetch new mail even when it’s not open. This is a great addition, and stops you having to manually refresh to check for new messages. Google also added simplified sign-in. Log in to any Google app -- Gmail, Maps, Google+ or Chrome, for example -- and your account details will be used to log you in to all other Google apps automatically.
Of the new apps that have arrived in the store this week, there's a great, easy to use file transfer tool, an app that will help you monitor and (maybe) manage your caffeine consumption, a social local discovery tool, a dance game, and a cartoon racer that will let you go head to head against Top Gear's The Stig.
Market intelligence specialist IDC has released the latest results from its quarterly tablet tracker. It predicts that the sales growth of tablets (including 2-in-1 devices) will be 19.4 percent in 2014, down from 51.6 percent last year.
There are a number of reasons for this predicted reduction, partly the number of new releases has slowed, and in mature markets the sales pattern will switch to replacement of older devices rather than first time buys.
This is a personal account of the way I have noticed the technology markets changing over the years. It is not gospel, and you are welcome (encouraged, if you like) to disagree… It's not all that long ago that brand loyalty was a given; it was almost the default setting for many people. If you got into computing -- and it was something you "got into" rather than just having as part of your life -- you stuck loyally to whatever brand you chose at the start. We could go back to the 70s and look at the birth of personal computing, but as this is my personal account, we'll have to start in the 80s.
I did just manage to sneak into the 70s -- being born in 1979 puts me in the difficult-to-comprehend position of being 34 years old but having seen five decades -- but an interest in computing didn't emerge until some time in the late 80s. I remember there being several computing camps: BBC, Amstrad, Spectrum, Vic and Commodore to name a few. My decision was made for me at an early age when my dad decided to invest in a Commodore 16 Plus 4 (the Plus 4 referring to the fact that the OS featured four built-in applications including a spreadsheet tool, the absurd simplicity of which was not lost on me even at a young age).
I went for a 5k run before starting work this morning, and as always Zombies, Run! provided me with the motivation required to not come to a stop, bored, after ten minutes. I’ve covered the immersive app several times in the past, but if you’re not familiar with it, Zombies, Run! basically turns a real-world jog into a journey through the zombie apocalypse. Episodic stories unfold in between tracks from your playlist as you run.
There are plenty of episodes on offer for regular runners, and a radio mode will give you something to listen to once you’ve finished with the main story and side quests. However, sooner or later you’ll have listened to everything and be ready for new tales, and the good news is they’re on their way.
The tablet market is showing strong, continuous growth year-over-year. Research firm Gartner today announces that slate sales in 2013 increased by 68 percent compared to the year before. Android takes the market share crown after more than doubling its sales, iOS came second and Windows follows in third place.
Of the three, iOS was the only platform that did not post tremendous year-over-year growth. Android increased its sales, and lead over Apple's iPads, to 120.96 million units in 2013, up from the 53.34 million units sold in 2012. Meanwhile, Windows grew to 4 million units, which is, again, considerably higher than in the previous year when sales topped 1.16 million units. In contrast, iPad sales came in at 70.4 million units, marginally more than the 61.45 million units sold in the year before.
Webcam porn! Spying! Cell phones! Bitcoin controversy! Just another normal week in the world of tech news! Bitcoin exchange Mt Gox disappeared offline amid concern about missing millions and then filed for bankruptcy. After panic spread through Mac users following the discovery of a serious SSL bug in Mavericks, Apple released an update that plugged the hole -- but it was also discovered that iOS 7 has a keylogging vulnerability. Microsoft released Service Pack 1 for Office 2013, but anyone using Office 365 will need to force the installation of newer updates in order to reap the benefits.
Security updates are all well and good for operating systems and applications, but it will do little to protect you against the wandering eyes of government agencies. As if everything we have already learned about the activities of the NSA et al, this week's revelations about what the UK's GCHQ has been getting up to is sure to raise ire. Not content with logging emails and web searches, the UK intelligence agency apparently spent a number of years tapping into the webcam chats of millions of Yahoo users. There may be little good news in this revelation, but it was at least slightly amusing to find that the surveillers were rather taken aback by the amount of pornographic content they encountered. It makes ya proud!
Once dismissed as little more than a hobby for Apple, Apple TV seems to have quietly gathered momentum. Talking at a shareholder meeting in Cupertino, CEO Tim Cook revealed that the company has managed to net over $1 billion through the devices, leading him to quip "it's a little more difficult to call it a hobby these days." It's difficult to tell just how many sales this translates into as the figure includes content sales as well as device sales.
But while $1 billion may sound impressive, it is a drop in the ocean compared to the billions that Apple rakes in from its other product lines. The last figure released suggested that over 13 million apple TV boxes had been sold by May last year, but the sales figures released today relate to the fiscal year that ended in September. For anyone thinking about jumping on the bandwagon, Apple has a new incentive -- a $25 iTunes gift card for anyone who buys a set-top box by 5 March.
Eighth in a series. The app that’s got me most excited this week isn’t even out yet. Audio Defence: Zombie Arena, from the makers of Papa Sangre II, is an audio-only first person zombie shooter that promises to be awesome. If it can hit its Kickstarter target that is.
Of the new and updated apps that have arrived in the store this week, the Professor Layton inspired The Voyage is a great puzzler, and God of Light will similarly tax your gray matter. Parents worried about what their children get up to on the web while using an iPad (or iPhone), will be interested in the MetaCert browser. Google has improved its Hangouts messenger apps, and a chunk of the world's knowledge has been curated into Learnist.
I was a beta tester for Papa Sangre II, the excellent audio-only game for iOS (if you’ve yet to try it I can whole-heartedly recommend it -- Sean Bean stars) and am a massive fan of Zombies Run, an audio fitness app, that you listen to while running and which takes place following a zombie apocalypse.
So naturally, the news that Papa Sangre’s creators Somethin' Else are working on a zombie-based audio-only first person shooter has me in a heightened state of excitement.
The increasing trend towards using mobile devices has opened up users to a whole range of new threats. On mobiles insecure apps present a greater risk than traditional malware and viruses.
Announced at the RSA Conference, viaProtect allows consumers to take control of and protect the personal data on their devices.
Nokia's underwhelming Lumia sales from Q4 2013 had a negative impact on Windows Phone's momentum in the most important part of last year. The disappointing performance continues as, sadly, the growth of the platform's market share stalled in the three months ending January 2014, according to a new report issued by Kantar Worldpanel ComTech, compared to Q4 2013.
Compared to the three months ending January 2013, Windows Phone actually posted higher year-over-year market shares in most major markets. But, its performance is more or less flat when we take into account the Q4 2013 results. The exception to the rule is US, where the tiled smartphone operating system managed to increase its share, albeit slightly, in the three months ending January 2014, when compared to the same period of last year and Q4 2013.
Seventh in a series. There was no round-up of iOS apps last week, not because there weren’t any worthy releases -- this is iOS, there are always great apps to cover -- but because I was away. I’m back now though, and so normal service is resumed.
This week there were some great new apps and games released, including a stunning adventure set inside a pop-up book, a 3D tour through some of nature's wonders, and a game that aims to improve your listening skills (something my wife says I need to do -- or at least I think that's what she says).
Laplink Software has released Laplink Sync for iOS 7.0, the latest release in Laplink's new Sync family, a collection of tools designed to allow users to manually sync media and other files across multiple platforms.
The app allows users to sync photos and videos between iPads, iPhones and iPod touches, and -- for an extra fee -- can also be used to sync with Android mobiles and Windows PCs running Laplink Sync for desktop. A Mac version is currently in development.
The world of VoIP services is one packed with various names bustling for attention. One of the biggest names in the game is Viber, which started small but grew impressively as it spread across platforms -- now it has grown to the point that it is deemed worthy of handing over $900 million. At least that is the view of Rakuten, the Japanese firm behind Play.com and the Kobo eReader that agreed to part with this not insubstantial sum of money for an outright purchase of Viber Media Ltd.
With around 280 million registered users, Viber could be quite a money-maker for Rakuten who explained that the service has a "rapidly growing numbers of users, especially in emerging countries". With its fingers already in various online pies -- ebooks, shopping and streaming media through Wuaki.tv -- Viber represents yet another string to Rakuten's bow as the company "aims to be the global number one internet services" provider.
Plex, if you aren't familiar with it, comes in two parts. There's a server that you install on a, preferably, always-on computer. Then there are the end-user apps, which are available for multiple mobile devices and set-top boxes. The server is free, but the apps will set you back $5 (OK, $4.99 if you want to be technical).
However, now through tomorrow, Valentine's Day, the service is offering a discount to its potential customers. "Until Valentine’s Day, we’re offering all our mobile apps for 50% off: iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and Windows 8. Not enough sale for you? We’re also offering 3 bonus months on a yearly Plex Pass bought with PayPal (that’s 15 months for the price of 12)", the company announces.