Apple Bytes: Free Apps, Reviews, Fitness Gadgets & 2014…

Lots of Free Apps, reviews of Black Jack and Star Trek Trexels, i-based fitness gadgets and what does 2014 hold…

So I just want to start the year on a few high points, and my own little wish list.

Free Apps: in case you had missed it, we had the traditional festive 12 Days Of iTunes: this year we had a few songs, a couple of games and a couple of books, and a free full copy of Home Alone (not bad). But in my opinion it’s been a pretty meager offering from Apple UK – in the US they got Hugo! Other noteworthy apps that you might want to check out are an interactive DC multi-verse graphic novel Batman: Arkham Origins, which is set just prior to the game of the same name. The globally renown GarageBand is also available as a free-of-charge app, with an adequate selection of instruments to get you started (the rest are in-app purchases). Also worthy of note are Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga, and Star Wars: Tiny Death Star, both of which my children will attest to as being “great wastes of time”…

App Reviews: we were also privileged to be given a couple apps to review:

Black Jack: A Moving Novel – a while ago I read Around The World in 8o Days, which two years ago, was leading edge as an interactive reading experience (just an FYI, it was actually devised by Suzi Perry from The Gadget Show as one of their weekly challenges!). I am happy to say that the concept of an interactive reading experience has evolved, and Black Jack, by Emmy®-winning author AR Witham, is proof of that. Created exclusively for iPad readers, Black Jack is the World’s First Moving Novel, an original sci-fi adventure novel that tells the story of Jack Swift, a lost teenage boy forced to find his way back home. This original interactive manuscript that comes to life over 600+ pages of 350+ groundbreaking animations, sound cues and visual effects, exclusively on the iPad. And the interactivity doesn’t end there, as you can chat with other readers & the author, share the book with your friends to earn free bonus art, and follow an interactive map that changes as the story progresses. “It is an awesome experience to create something for the first time,” says Witham, a veteran of film, books, television, radio & advertising and the creator of the app.  “If I had this book when I was fifteen years old, nothing would have been able to drag me away from it.  That’s what young people need right now – something amazing to make reading fun.”

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The Official Blurb: “Jack Swift killed his father. It was an accident, but Jack was responsible.  Now he lives a life shuffled between filthy foster homes, moved from family to family like a half-forgotten shadow.   Blessed with a photographic memory, cursed by the murder he cannot forget, Jack Swift is trapped in a nightmare of his own making. Until one night…a mysterious figure kidnaps him to a world he does not know, demanding skills he does not have.  Now Jack Swift is on the run from monsters, hounded for his blood, swindled, stabbed and Shanghaied, searching for the way to reach the one place he never thought he’d want to be… back home.

Star Trek Trexels – I didn’t quite know what to expect when I got given a copy of Star Trek Trexels to review… it’s sort of a cross between Minecraft & Sim City. Basically, the USS Valiant has been destroyed by an unknown attacker, and Starfleet has chosen you the player, to continue its mission deep within a mysterious area of space known as the Trexelian Expanse. You get to build your ship (choosing from dozens of different room types and modifications), choose your crew, discover the fate of the Valiant, and explore the Expanse in the name of the Federation. Additionally, a temporal rift in the Expanse has caused old foes and surprising new allies to find their way into this unexplored region of space. Featuring narration by the one and only George Takei, the game also includes the original music from Star Trek™: The Original Series. I have to tell you that neither I nor my children (who love MineCraft) really like this. It lacks the creativity of Minecraft, and I personally don’t like to play a build-an-environment-type game like this with such basic graphics. But of course, if you’re a harden Trekkie, then you may forgive these shortcomings and enjoy this simple game as a yarn, with some nice touches such as the music and Takei’s dulcet tones.

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Gadgets: this Christmas I spoiled myself with a Jawbone UP and a Withings WS-30 Body Weight Scales. I cannot fault the Withings scales; they are a bit pricy at @£90, but they will track your weight and BMI daily on an app and show your progress as you attempt to lose weight this January after the season’s festivities. It hooks up to five users and will keep your progress (or lack of it) a secret from the rest of your friends or families members, or if you are feeling more confident, the app will broadcast your progress via Twitter / FaceBook.

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The Jawbone UP, which is also around £90, I’m a little more critical about. It’s basically a wrist band that tracks your daily step-rate (pedometer) and sleep pattern. It’s pretty rugged, can survive a shower, and reliably runs for about 10 days on a single charge. It will vibrate if you sit still too long (for a user configured time period) and also has a daily alarm (vibration only) . The only downside is that coming from Jawbone, a company most famous for its range of BlueTooth enable hands-free products, the UP has to be physically plugged into the iPhone’s or iPad’s audio socket to sync its readings to the app. Solve this little oversight with BTLE (BlueTooth Low Energy), and Jawbone, you will be onto a winner!

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However, if you already own an iPhone 5S, and it never leaves your person, you might want to eliminate the hardware altogether, and get FitBit app (FitBit also do their own fitness tracking accessories), which uses the handset itself to accumulate all the necessary readings. Thanks to the iPhone’s motion coprocessor, you can yield some of the benefits fitness accessories without actually going out and buying one, and you can keep tabs on how many calories you’re burning. The app is fairly bog-standard, and will not offer all of the features of the dedicated FitBit tracker. But it does provide a taster, is absolutely free, and it does also work with the new iPads and their M7 motion co-processors.

And so to 2014…? I passed on an iPad Air, but an iPad Mini with Retina Display is on my shopping list for my next US trip in March, but what I am really hoping out for is the iWatch. Following in the wake of Samsung’s Gear, Apple will be releasing their iWatch (also watch out for Qualcomm’s Toq, and other wearable devices from Sony, Pebble, Casio, Nike, Adidas, Epson and LG in 2014). Unfortunately, several of these wearable devices are reportedly seeing less than 50% yield rates due to difficulties applying surface treatments on their metal injection molded (MIM) chassis. The MIM process is often used in the mass production of high-precision products with complicated industrial designs as it allows components to feature special shapes, but still maintain rigidness. MIM-made components used to be used inside products, but as the components are now becoming part of the external design, surface treatments have become an important process for the look of products. Fingers crossed they can work it out for the summer!!!

Source: iTunes, EDN, Black Jack Novel,

GS Rating: Black Jack: A Moving Novel 4/5     Star Trek Trexels 3/5

GS Reporter: SilverFox

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