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MSN

Who knew that the tech community would be buzzing excitedly about the things Microsoft was up to these days –but it’s happening. This time, it is because they have released a suite of MSN-branded mobile apps designed to run on Android and iOS devices. Timing for the launch makes good sense when you consider that Microsoft recently remodeled their MSN.com portal site (which serves to point users to their other services like Outlook.com, Skype, and Bing).

Some of the apps are particularly impressive, with the ports adding platform-specific tie-ins (like MSN Health and Fitness on iOS working directly with Apple’s HealthKit platform); unfortunately some obvious opportunities were missed, with many reviews already pointing out that there isn’t a weather widget to work with the Android version of the MSN Weather app.

Many features are ready to be enjoyed, including: synchronization across platforms (so you can maintain state between your various devices) and full customization options (so you can identify and organize the information provided by each app according to your personal interests).

Curious to see what Microsoft has been up to? Download any or all of these new (and free!) Android apps:

Are you impressed by Microsoft’s efforts to carve out their piece of the mobile marketplace? Do you think their mobile apps are good enough to compete (and dominate) against the competition?

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hearthstone

Even if you have never played a game in your life (mobile or otherwise), chances are good that you have heard about Blizzard. Maintaining their position as crowned kings of the video game world, Blizzard has hit another home-run with Hearthstone Heroes of Warcraft (their their free-to-play trading card game).

With an invitation to pick up your cards and thrown down the gauntlet, Hearthstone Heroes of Warcraft promises fast-paced (and whimsical) game play that requires deliberate and calculated scheming to succeed. Powers found within your deck enable you to “sling spells, summon minions, and seize control of an ever-shifting battlefield,” no matter whether you are a novice or experienced player (thanks to intuitive and engaging introductory missions, though I should also be including words like addictive in this list).

Like most other Blizzard games, your assets will be tied to your Battle.net account –so you can play Hearthstone Heroes of Warcraft on any of your devices interchangeably.

If you haven’t yet watched the official trailer for Hearthstone Heroes of Warcraft that was released earlier this year, take a few minutes to watch it [linked below] and whet your appetite.

Unfortunately for some of you, this release is limited for the time being –but those of you in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand should download Hearthstone Heroes of Warcraft for Android (which include access to an additional 120 new cards thanks to the recent Goblins vs Gnomes expansion). Everybody else will be able to play it “in the coming days,” but an exact release date hasn’t been announced.


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microsoft-office-sway

Nobody is more surprised than I am that Microsoft is doing so well in the software game these days. Once upon a time the tech giant was so focused on operating systems that they had neglected just about everything else (which has really shown in their sales and reviews in recent years). Fortunately, they have new leadership with a seemingly fresh focus: apps, apps, apps (web-based as well as mobile). Their latest entry into this market is Sway: an online tool aimed to help you create presentation documents. Sway is built for the cloud, and adds to the company’s efforts in converting Office into a newly-successful, centrally-hosted, subscription-based product.

When the Sway preview began 10 weeks ago, Microsoft wait-listed a large number of the users requesting access (apparently there were over 175,000 requests to join across 1 million unique visitors –very good conversion numbers). There is a method to their madness in adding more beta-testers (essentially): they want feedback, and it actually sounds like they are willing to listen to it; existing user requests have seen the addition of features like: undo and redo, bulleted lists, direct text editing on the canvas, easier reordering, colour picking and pallette diversity, and PDF import.

Microsoft has promised that mobile apps supporting Sway will be available in due time (and in reality, there is an iPhone app already, but it’s limited to users in New Zealand and very much in its infancy), but for now hitting the Sway website using any browser on your PC, Mac, or tablet will do the trick.

Whether you are excited to try Sway, or question what you might do with it, one thing is certain: Microsoft is doing their best to reinvent their signature Office product line and so far, they are doing with a certain refined software elegance.

If you want to see Microsoft’s full vision for Sway, take a few minutes and watch their promotional video linked below.

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hbo

Amazon Fire TV has been getting pretty good reviews from users and critics alike, but a few things have been missing… most noteably (for many) is the absence of HBO Go. Thankfully this has been remedied and HBO subscribers can stream their favourite content from the network’s movies and TV catalog on the Fire TV (though the Fire TV Stick won’t have suppose until the spring of 2015).

Amazon was eager to release a statement regarding their HBO Go addition:

“We’re thrilled to add HBO Go, the most requested service, to Fire TV in time for the holidays. HBO has produced some of the most groundbreaking and award-winning TV shows and movies, and we are excited to bring this amazing content to our customers, all of which is accessible via voice search on your Fire TV remote.

If you are a subscriber, you can still access HBO Go for Android if you haven’t grabbed yourself an Amazon Fire TV just yet (of course, if you have been meaning to, now is a good time –Amazon has reduced the price from $99 to $79 until December 28).

Does this announcement make you more likely to pick up a Fire TV device? Is there something that Amazon is still missing?

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wakie

It was only a matter of time before social media found another use beyond sharing cute pictures of kittens and the grandkids along-side 140-character pearls of wisdom: cue Wakie. We all accept that alarm clocks are a necessary evil, with most of us using our smartphones to interrupt our peaceful slumber. What if I told you that a perfect stranger could take care of this for you by placing a phone call at a pre-arranged time? Wakie can and will.

My fascination with this app started as amusement (with terms to describe users like ‘sleepies’ to identify people waiting on a call to wake them up), and progressed quickly to some kind of strange addiction. Using the service is free, and your account makes it possible for Wakie to match you with people ready to place the call.

The service is as anonymous as you let it be (so be careful)… you input your mobile phone number (but the app uses this information behind the scenes to patch users together without divulging the real details for anybody on the call), you get to choose a username (which should ideally be easy to pronounce, even for those whose English may not be as good as yours) and shouldn’t include your last name. If you happen to miss their call (or sleep through it somehow), be careful that your voicemail message doesn’t divulge anything you wouldn’t want a stranger to know.

Once setup is complete, you set an alarm just like you would in any other smartphone app (complete with a backup if you choose). At the designated time, your phone will ring.

Prefer to make the calls rather than receive them? Choose to wake sleepies and the app will alert you when somebody is ready for you. What you say is up to you, but Wakie encourages you to be respectful and enforces a 60-second time limit (so no awkward goodbyes).

If somehow there isn’t anybody available to make the call to wake you up, the automated system will pick up any slack (though my experience is that there is never a shortage of people willing to interrupt your sleep).

Wakie has been available for Android since earlier this fall, but iPhone users only got access this week.

So far Wakie has delivered over 30 million wake up calls to 1.5 million users –you should be one of them!

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screenshot_2014-10-21-15-24-49

In September, Amazon updated their Android app such that it was actually a completely functional app store. Flash forward to today, and it appears Google has made Amazon’s signature application un-findable using search in the Play Store (though the Amazon direct link does seem to work, for now).

There is a new app in its stead (we presume) called Amazon Shopping that looks pretty much like the old app did, minus the App Store bit.

The moral of the story, is that it appears as if Google wasn’t thrilled with Amazon making their digital catalog available for sale in this manner. When asked for a comment, Amazon noted:

“We launched a new Amazon App for Android Phones on September 9 that provides an award-winning mobile shopping experience, enables customers to discover and purchase all of Amazon’s digital catalog, and provides customers access to the Prime Instant Video player and unlimited streaming of over 40,000 movies and TV episodes. Google subsequently changed their Developer Distribution Agreement on September 25. As a result, we removed the app from Google Play and published the Amazon Shopping app. Customers who want the best Amazon experience on their Android phone, including access to Prime Instant Video and Amazon’s entire digital catalog, can still get the Amazon App for Android Phones at amazon.com/androidapp.”

Of course, the question that begs asking is if Amazon didn’t think it was doing anything sneaky or against the rules… why did they keep it so hidden?

Google hasn’t responded with a comment so far, but it has to be making Android fanatics a little nervous… the search giant seems to be locking things down in a way that labels them more like the thing they hate the most (Apple).

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Google-Play-Store-Banner

Google is in a prime position to give everyone a sense of the most popular news and eBook apps. The Play app store is basically bundled on 85% of every Android phone and tablet on the market. Today, Google has announced the most popular apps, video and music.

What is surprising about the top reading apps this  year, is that the majority of people are consuming digital news. The New  York Times, TMZ, Forbes, Verge and Huffington Post  were the most popular reading apps during 2014. The Top eBooks of the year were The Fault in our Stars, Fifty Shades of Grey, Divergent, Twelve Years a Slave and Insurgent.

2014-Google-Play-End-of-Year-Infographic

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unnamed3

There are plenty of war games available for Android, but none come immediately to mind that allow you to pilot a rescue helicopter. The developers of Dustoff Vietnam want you to know a little bit about how it feels to be a hero, saving the lives of soldiers in the field under fire.

Built in voxel, cubic style (made famous by titles like Minecraft), Dustoff Vietnam is far from simplistic; utilize 3 rescue helicopters (each with different handling, strengths, and weaknesses) combined with 3 different weapons to guide your way through 16 unique missions set in a variety of weather conditions and times of day (consider the pixelated, animated beauty of storms and heavy rains during sunset in the jungles of Vietnam). Swamps, hidden caves, and mine systems add to the difficulty of the game –keeping you engaged long after your first extraction.

Controlling your Chinook helicopter is one of those things that is very easy to learn but takes some time to master. The first few times I tried to rescue hostages from the prison of war camps, it began with success and ended with complete failure as I crashed into the ground. Not to worry though, this game is 100% kid friendly… nobody is ever really killed (even the enemies just run away).

If you’re in the mood for a little mobile war gaming with a twist, download Dustoff Vietnam for your Android device and enjoy epic action with [what the developers accurately describe as] cinematic sound effects.

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ComicsPlus_press

Whether you are a seasoned comic-reading veteran, or you just like the idea of picking up a graphic novel or two… finding the perfect digital reader is always a challenge. Fortunately, Comics Plus offers you a full-featured app with access to over 7000 titles arranged on their virtual shelves (with over 100 available to download free to get you started). All of the biggest publishers are represented in Comics Plus, from Archie Comics straight to Zeta Comics –and thanks to a recent update, the DC Universe is represented as well!

Adding heroes like Batman to the lineup wasn’t the only update this go-around, users of Comics Plus can also expect to enjoy an enhanced uView reading experience that promises to fit every title to your device’s screen without the need for spinning, flipping, or zooming!

Comics Plus is full-featured besides these enhancements, with: high-end search functions (allowing for sorting by brand or publisher), graphic novel rentals (giving users the chance to give a new franchise a try before making a more significant investment), in-app parental controls (so you can hide adult content using a personal pincode)… and best of all, the ability to import your personal collection (in ePub, PDF, CBR, and CBZ formats)!

Comics Plus is the kind of portal-style comic reader that makes it easy to use as your go-to app. Even diehard fans that like to read new releases as quickly as possible are taken care of here –new comics are available multiple times a week, with day and date digital releases available every Wednesday.

If you are ready to spend some quality time with your favourite comic super heroes, download Comics Plus and settle in.

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msNextLock

For those of us who have been in the tech game a while, trying to figure out how Microsoft is going to survive long term has become a bit of a party game. They seemed to miss the boat on mobile hardware (despite their desperate attempts to the contrary), and the latest version of Windows was pretty much a flop, and the face of console gaming seems to be changing… but yet, trying to imagine a world without Microsoft seems almost impossible. With this in mind, they seem to be carving out a bit of a niche with productivity and business apps for a variety of platforms: not the least of which is Next Lock Screen for Android.

Designed under the Microsoft Garage project label, Next Lock Screen is a replacement launcher and home screen for your Android-powered devices. Key features include: a view of your calendar (letting you scroll through upcoming meetings and their locations), swipe to dial (letting you effortlessly join a conference call, complete with PIN), quick app launch (giving you access to your most-used apps based on your current location), all while being able to customize the look and feel with a location-driven, dynamic background.

New updates to the app have improved performance, added weather information for your location, increased compatibility with devices and Android versions, and added the ability to hide the system status bar.

What it adds up to, is an alternative launcher that is feature-rich without sacrificing performance.

Thankfully Microsoft Next Launch Screen remains free to download, so grab it while you can (and before they realize it has value).

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googlePiracy

There isn’t an iOS user out there who hasn’t been attacked by an Android fanatic. It is unrestricted, they say. It is free, they say. It is so open, they say. It doesn’t come with the same strict (and unreasonable) rules that iOS does, they say. As it turns out, rising popularity has changed the game significantly… with an Android device now in novice hands more often than not. This reality has forced Google to realize that a little control over their operating system isn’t a bad thing, beginning with a tighter rein on the Play Store (making it look an awful lot more like Apple’s App Store).

Some of the recent changes are fairly harmless, like adding a page for your account that lists every app you have ever bought. Other are slightly more intrusive, like removing a selection of piracy-related apps (including: The Pirate Bay Premium, The Pirate Bay Proxy, The Pirate Bay Mirror, and the PirateApp) from the Play Store by citing violations of their content policy for intellectual property provisions. It gets worse: the developers responsible for those apps also received a policy strike that readies their accounts for suspension if there are repeated violations.

Of course, this attack against piracy shouldn’t really be much of a surprise. Earlier this year, Google added a content suggestion box to their search functionality that lets users easily buy or rent content found in their results. Around the same time, Google also made some adjustments that saw piracy sites losing rank –a move that hurt popular sites, but benefited those that were lesser-known.

Die-hards will still scream from the mountain-tops about how these changes aren’t a big deal if you are willing to jailbreak your device (or side load apps)… but many of the same things could be said for hacked iOS devices too. If you ask me, the real news is more about Google’s changing philosophy than it is about operating system capabilities.

What you won’t hear from those same people, is how Google pretty much rules the targeted ad game: selling your private information to make a little money (some of which goes to pay for patent licenses and other technologies that are required by their ‘free’ operating system).

So what bothers Android evangelists more: seeing Google implement screening processes for apps in their store, or realizing that Google being a little bit more like Apple is a necessary (and functional) evil?

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casino

For anybody who has ever experienced the fun of a casino in Atlantic City or Las Vegas, it might be hard to imagine feeling that excitement while playing a game on your mobile device. Fortunately if you are located in New Jersey (whether you live there or just happen to be visiting), you don’t have to imagine it thanks to Harrah’s mobile casino games –where you have the opportunity to play and win with real money.

To qualify, you must be 21 or older, and be able to verify your personal details by uploading the proper supporting documents. From there, the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement will geo-locate you using the app to be sure you are physically in the state of New Jersey.

Adding money to your account is simple, with deposits made by Visa, Mastercard, ACH, PayNearMe, Online Banking Transfer, Neteller or using Cash in person at the Caesars Atlantic City Cage –just keep your eyes peeled for promotions, which can add to your total by as much as 100% (up to $300, currently). When it is time to cash out, you can withdraw your funds by ACH (directly to your bank account), check, Neteller, or in person at the Caesars Atlantic City casino cage.

Many of your free mobile casino games are present and accounted for here, including: blackjack, roulette, slots, and video poker! Some of the games feature large, progressive jackpots –but all offer the chance to walk away with huge cash prizes.

Because this isn’t an app meant purely for entertainment value, game play is predictable –the layout is authentic and the rules are strictly enforced.

Using the app is a pleasure, with colourful and highly details graphics –though even on newer iOS devices, the interface can be a bit slow to load and update so you will need to be patient.

Money isn’t the only thing you can earn using Harrah’s mobile casino. Earn Total Rewards Tier Credits and Reward Credits for any online play, giving you the chance to increase your status and receive comps that can be used at any Total Rewards casinos around the world.

I found it very reassuring that security is taken very seriously by Harrah’s. In addition to being fully regulated and licensed through the state of New Jersey, you will receive reassurances like an email login notification each time your account is accessed (unless you specifically turn these notices off in your Harrah’s profile).  As an added measure, you can audit your entire betting history using the tools found in your account that shows an itemized list of each and every result.

If you are outside of New Jersey, Harrah’s mobile casino lets you choose to try each game and ‘play for fun’, where a scaled back version of the app starts you off with a cool $1000 of pretend money to use.

Harrah’s encourages you to game responsibly, and invites you to call 1-800-GAMBLER if you feel that you or somebody you care about has a gambling problem.

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trapster

Trapster began as a resounding success in 2007, so much so that they were acquired by Nokia’s mapping division in 2010. Unfortunately for both companies, this was at a time when there were very few apps that offered granular traffic and police activity details (by way of crowd-sourced information)… now tech leaders like Google have acquired technologies and apps like Waze. Reality has caught up with Trapster: they have laid off their staff, pulled their apps from all stores, and announced that service will cease for existing users at the end of 2014.

It’s been a long time coming: downloads dwindled (especially) once the app was forced to remove its DUI checkpoint reporting feature in 2011, and then involved themselves this year in a security coup that showed users of the app could track the movements made by other drivers.

Other features of the app allowed users to get the inside track on red light and speed cameras, but it doesn’t appear that avoiding the law carried enough appeal in the end.

Word has it that Trapster creator and founder Pete Tenereillo hasn’t given up all hope that Nokia will revive his baby –but it seems very unlikely to happen.

Are you sorry to see an app of this type go –or do you feel like it was unethical to begin with, and extinction was long overdue?

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