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When GPS devices were first released, we were in the pre-iPhone era. Your GPS was a clunky box that you mounted on your car dashboard, and your phone was... well, an actual phone. For calling people. And if you're lucky, you could text people and play Snake too.


Since then the mobile market has changed beyond all recognition and Google Maps is now an essential app in everyone's pocket (keep dreaming, Apple Maps). So useful and excellent is Google Maps, in fact, that you could be forgiven for asking: What's the point in using other GPS software?

This is the question I wanted to answer over easter in northern Germany and The Netherlands. So I downloaded CoPilot's Europe app to see what the point was.

The first immediate beneficiary of my GPS decision was my phone bill - unlike Google Maps, which relies on your phone being connected to the internet, CoPilot can work offline. This is great news as O2 charge customers £2 for 15mb of data per day when abroad. To put this into perspective - that's maybe three refreshes of your Facebook news feed, if you're lucky.

In the Europe app, rather than insist you take maps of the whole continent with you, you can choose which countries to download. Different countries are grouped together - such as the BeNeLux countries, or more bewilderingly, all of the German-speaking countries (Germany, Austria, with Switzerland thrown in for good measure).

So with CoPilot, it was simply a case of being clever enough to download several gigabytes of maps using wifi before setting off. Or in my case, desperately willing the Dutch service station's shaky wifi connection to download so we could figure out where the hell to go. (Brilliantly, the app is clever enough to realise that people don't want to download loads over 3G, so if you press to download a massive file, it will throw up a warning asking if you really want to do that.

Driving along, it works as you expect - with 3D mode showing you the route ahead, reading out directional changes and so on. What's nice on this interface is that there is scope for plenty of customisation - you can switch what data is displayed (for example, how far you have to go, or your estimated time of arrival) and you can have it flag it up what the speed limit is on the road that you are on. It is even possible to change the colours of the roads on the maps so if you're a purist, you can make the motorways blue and the A-roads green, as God intended.


What's really nice is that the app has figured out how to make those motorway junctions where you have to be in the correct lane intelligible. Rather than have to decypher a small arrow on map, the whole screen flips to a visualisation of the lanes, with it saying above it which lane you should be in, with a bright yellow arrow. This was super useful when negotiating the six-lane roads around Schiphol airport.

So as the main meaty activity of actually navigating you goes - it does the job. But what about all of the extras? There appears to be plenty of Points of Interest programmed in - though annoyingly to find them you have to fiddle about with menus and categories, rather than simply type things in. So great if you're looking for a petrol station, but if you're looking for interesting museums it might be better to stick with Google.


One interesting new feature is the ability for the app to extract the geotags from photos - meaning that if you're trying to locate a friend, they can simply send you a photo and the app will figure out where they are, using the embedded coordinates. Beware though - there could be potential difficulties in using this, if the service used as the intermediary strips out the tags. For example - if your friend sends the photo via WhatsApp, it'll work great - but if they use Twitter, it won't, as Twitter removes coordinates for privacy reasons.

Another is the commute mode. Unfortunately I didn't get a chance to test this on the trip (I was on holiday, not heading into work!), but it is pretty darn clever. Essentially, the app will pick up if you're doing the same route day in, day out - and after three days of the same journey will ask if you want to save it as your commute. This means that next time you go to work, it won't show you how to get there (that'd be silly), but it'll check the traffic along the way and suggest alternatives if the roads are busy. It's pretty smart, and will work for other regular journeys too, and will even spot changes if you change job.

There's also a great feature if you're in an older car that lacks a USB port. You can enable low-power mode, so that GPS won't remain active all of the time - and only switch on when needed. This means your phone battery won't drain before you reach your destination - something that is a very real possibility with modern smartphones.

There is some downside to the app too though. Crucially, I was running the app on my now aging iPhone 4S and it clearly struggled with it. It was at times very sluggish - lagging behind where we actually were on the road, and in responsiveness to the screen being pressed. Worst of all, it appeared to be the big cities it struggled with most - the exact time you want your GPS navigation to work properly. Similarly - and this could have just been a result of the way of I was holding the phone - on a handful of occasions it seemed to lose track of where the car was, judging it to be on a nearby road. This meant a confusing few seconds whilst it issued seemingly bizarre instructions ("do a U-turn" on a motorway) whilst it figured things out.

The other negative is one of familiarity. It simply isn't Google. The maps look different and have different visual cues - and seems less detailed in many respects (though this is to be expected when this only has your phone to draw on, whereas Google has the cloud). Google are even building in "3D" navigation now, just like proper satnav software - so once the EU have abolished roaming charges next year, you could be forgiven for wondering why it is worth splashing out?

Still - it is nice to have an alternative and until then, it certainly performed very admirably indeed.

The Co-Pilot app costs £19.99 in UK and Ireland and the Europe version is £34.99.

So it turns out that Grindr may not be the only app that is full of dicks following the launch of the "Here for Biz" social networking app, which Virgin America airlines are touting as an "in flight social network" for business travellers.


In a move that will arguably make air travel even more unbearable, Virgin America have announced support for the app - which will use the airline's in-flight wifi and "purpose-built algorithms" to ensure GPS connectivity whilst in the sky.


The way the app works is pretty simple - you put in links to your social networks (Facebook, Twitter, and inevitably, LinkedIn) and you can fill out a bio explaining who you are. Then the app will figure out who is nearby, and let you talk to them through a text message/WhatsApp style interface. And hey, who knows? If you get lucky, one of the people on the plane might sidle over and chat face-to-face... so you'll have to spend four hours stuck in an inescapable metal tube listening to a guy who works in marketing talk about "brand engagement".

The demand apparently came from business travellers who were surveyed and wanted a way to network before even reaching whatever tedious conference they're going to. We just feel sorry for the poor people who want to sleep.


Mercifully too, it looks like the idea is staying in America at the moment - only taking place on Virgin America's domestic flights, but don't be surprised if it makes its way over to British shores soon.

Besides, London buses have had this technology for years. On every night bus, there's always an extremely drunk man insisting on trying to talk to everyone on the bus - and who thinks that everyone really wants to listen to him.

Thanks, Virgin.

Launched today at 9am, a new app called Wordeo has launched, which blends the short video clips of Vine with the visualised messages of Snapchat to create a new messaging experience. What's perhaps more interesting is that the bods behind it are none other than former Apple and BBC iPlayer tech types... so it might be worth paying attention!


So how does it work? Like Vine or Instagram, you can follow people as use the app as its own network - or you can cross-post your 'Wordeo' to Facebook or Twitter.

A Wordeo is a message which has been transformed using the app into a video. Take the below as a good example:

You start by entering a message - say, something cheery like "one death is a tragedy, one million is a statistic" and the app will go through word-by-word and find a matching video for each one. They've partnered with Getty images, who specialise in stock footage - so you'll get a clip of "one" then "death" then "is", "a", "statistic", and so on - then the final video is made by laying each word on to a split second clip of the stock footage, creating a nice montage.

It's possible too to tweak each Wordeo before you publish - you can swap out the stock footage for your own clips from your phone too, either picking from your library or shooting something there and then. You can also tweak the music - with around 50 different backing tracks to choose from.

So will it take off? It's an interesting proposition, and is another interesting alternative to the likes of Vine and Instagram. It is conceivable that in a world where Tumblr GIFs are the culture that short video could make an impact. In fact - the ability to export to GIF could be what makes the app.

Wordeo launches today and is initially only available for iPhone.

iOS Mailbox adds support for Yahoo Mail & iCloud

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Excellent news for iPhone and iPad users who use Yahoo Mail and iCloud - Mailbox, by far the best mobile email client has added support for these new services.


No longer will Gmail users be able to arrogantly crow about how they have the best way of managing their emails whilst you fumble about with Apple's dire official mail app. But for those not in the know - what exactly is Mailbox?

In short, it helps you achieve the elusive "Inbox Zero" by following the mantra "out of sight, out of mind". The key is in the gesture-based controls. Swipe a mail right to archive it - swipe it all the way and it'll get deleted. So you're already easily cutting down what you need to see.

Even better than that is when you swipe left, you can tell Mailbox to hide a particular email for a certain amount of time. For example, on Friday evening just as you're leaving the office you can tell it to hide those boring spreadsheets until Monday morning - or a month from now, or later today... whenever you need it, basically.

Having been an evangelist Mailbox for many months myself, I can vouch for its productivity enhancing nature. Rather than be paralysed by fear upon seeing my emails, I can now deal with stuff that needs dealing with - confident that I don't need to worry about the other stuff at the moment. It really is revolutionary.

The update is available now in the iOS App Store.

Why is Instagram launching Direct Messaging?

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Yesterday Instagram held a big press conference, in which they announced the ability to send photos as direct messages to other users - calling the new feature Instagram Direct - but why are they doing it?


To answer this question, we have to look at history, and the more recent shifting trends in mobile.

Remember when camera phone first launched? The cameras were a bit rubbish - but in an era when we were used to sending shrt msgs ovr txt being able to send a grainy picture was amazing. Unfortunately the technology created to convey images to each other is perhaps one of the worst things ever created: MMS.

Despite being a "standard" it was incredibly poorly implemented - no one seems to have thought it wise to impose expectations of how large or small images should be and in execution receiving an MMS (especially one sent from a different make of phone to yours), was a haphazard experience. Horrible. This did, however - leave a gap in the market that was ripe for exploitation. Could anyone come up with a messaging system that would allow images to be sent that, er, isn't shit?

Fast forward a now and Twitter and Facebook are themselves grizzled veterans of the technology scene. Whilst both offer messaging of a sort, none of them have the ease of text messaging. Which is perhaps why over the last couple of years a different type of app has risen to prominence: the instant messaging app.

The likes of BBM, Snapchat and WhatsApp have singlehanded revived a form of communication that it'd be easy to think died with MSN Messenger and ICQ (remember that?). They've essentially done MMS right - and done it better. Want to send a picture? Not a problem. Get reports on when messages have been read? Easy.

What's interesting about this space is that there are different popular apps in different parts of the world: whilst WhatsApp may be king over here, in Japan it's Line where the action is - and Viber in other countries. Snapchat too has made an impact. But they all do essentially the same thing: instant messaging.

These are all hugely popular platforms, with millions of users and millions of messages sent every day. So it's perhaps no wonder that everyone else is racing to catch up.

Both Apple and Google have tried to get in on this - with Apple's iMessage replacing normal text messages, and Google's Hangouts doing the same thing.

Twitter too have recently updated their mobile apps, making a much bigger deal of direct messages - and a couple of days ago enabled the ability to send pictures in direct messages, which hadn't been possible before. They want users to use Twitter DMs rather than WhatsApp.

Facebook too have been making moves - to try and tackle a peculiar dilemma. They've launched a stand alone Facebook Messenger app which does everything BBM and WhatsApp can do but there is one problem: The Kidz aren't using Facebook. Why? Well the thinking is that far from being the cool and trendy social media firm they once were, they're not longer cool because, well, your mum is on Facebook. And the kidz can't possibly be seen using a service where their parents can check up on them.

Facebook do have one thing going for them though: In April last year they bought Instagram, paying a cool $1bn. Unlike Facebook, Instagram is built for mobile phones first, and your mum just thinks it's for stupid low-res pictures of your breakfast. And as such - it's hugely popular.

And I think this is why they're keeping it separate, and even developing a completely separate messaging system through it. Though ostensibly being used for the exchange of pictures, every Direct Message sent creates a new chat window between all of the recipients that enables text messaging. It's a very deliberate play for this type of messaging - and one that if they get it right, could see Instagram become even more vital to its users.

So can it work? Can it make a dent in messaging? It'll be interesting to find out - unless Facebook just gets it's chequebook out and buys Snapchat instead.

HP have today announced the UK availability of their "Live Photo" app and associated printing services - which uses an augmented reality app to turn photos into videos.

livephoto1.pngIt's been available in the US since the summer, and is an interesting idea. The way it works is by taking a frame from a short video and using this a bit like a QR code - which you scan with the app, which will then play the associated video. Check out the above advert featuring some bad-ass skateboarding kids (who are in no-way awkward actors) to demonstrate.

Rather nicely, it seems to augment the video playback on to the shape of the photo - rather than just playing it full screen.

So how does it all work? To create a "Live Photo", the app takes a short video of up to 45 seconds and then lets you pick a frame from it to act as the photo - it then let's you either print out the frame on a wireless printer, using photo-printing paper. You can also use one of HP's pre-made templates for greetings cards and the like. It'll then upload the video to HP's servers and once you've got the print out it's ready.

To view photos it's a little more cumbersome - not only must you have the app on your phone, but you must add the friend's username to your "view" tab - before scanning the picture. It's a shame they couldn't make it work like a straightforward QR code that loads a URL (how many of your friends are going to have the app installed?). But I guess this is difficult because matching a picture to a video is trickier than a QR code as there's much more variability, and no error correction.

So it's an interesting idea - do you think it will catch on? Let us know in the comments!

listen.pngRealNetworks have today announced a new app offering customised "Ringback Tones" - which are a bit like custom ringtones, but for the people who call you. And we can reveal that it's coming to T-Mobile, Orange and Virgin Mobile in the UK.

Remember RealPlayer? It's what we used to use to stream audio and video in those dark, pre-YouTube days. It turns out that the company behind it - RealNetworks - are still around - and are trying something a bit new.

The ringback tone is the "ring ring, ring ring" sound that you hear when you call someone and they haven't answered yet. This ringing noise has been pretty standard for decades - but it turns out that it can actually be customised. And that's exactly what this new app does.

Listen, as the app will be known, has a whole host of clever ringback functionality - and will be available for both iPhone and Android.

You can assign different songs to different people in your contacts - and add images so you can see at a glance who you've customised. This means you can have it play some vile and offensive hip-hop when your friends call - and something a little more wholesome for your mum. You can even set it to play not a song, but specific "voice status updates" for when you can't answer - so rather than have people call and wonder why you're ignoring them, it can tell them that you're currently driving or whatever.

listen2.pngIt can even automatically do special songs for calls on birthdays or other occasions - which I'm sure isn't at all unbearable over Christmas. And apparently there's also functionality to let your friends choose what song they hear when they call you (presumably this will need both of you to be users of the app).

Because it's an app that plays with the very fabric of telephony, simply downloading the app doesn't mean it will work - RealNetworks need to make arrangements with individual phone networks. As above, in the UK this means that when it launches here in a few weeks we can expect it to work with T-Mobile, Orange and Virgin Mobile. I think it's also reasonable to presume that means it'll also be supported by EE, which is afterall just a merged T-Mobile & Orange.

For similar reasons it can't just work using the music from your phone - and is instead powered by a database of "thousands" of songs - so you should be able to find what you want... as long as you're not looking for that unsigned hardcore band you saw in a dive bar that one time.

So it's certainly an interesting idea - it'll be interesting to see whether this sort of customisation takes off... and if it does, expect loads more apps trying to do the same thing.

5 Clever Location Apps

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Nearly every phone has GPS - but are you using yours to the full? Here's our pick of five clever apps that use GPS is an interesting way.

IOC Hub .pngThe International Olympic Committee have today launched a new app - aiming to connect up fans with athletes via social media.

Arguably this marks something of a U-turn by the IOC. Before last year's London 2012 games there was a lot of noise made over the draconian social media rules - apparently banning people in the audience from recording videos, and with socially shared photos from Olympic Venues having copyright owned by the IOC.

The new app, which is available for both iPhone and Android provides essentially a database of athletes, searchable by nationality, sport, game or team. Go to an athlete's profile and you can view their Tweets, Instagram photos and Facebook posts all aggregated right on the page - with built in buttons to follow them on your own Twitter account.

There's already 5000 athletes listed - with many more expected to be added in the run up to the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics.

Of course - the Olympics is all about competition and the app is no exception. They've tried to gamify the experience, offering you, the user, points for following and liking athletes - which can apparently earn you "virtual" medals.

One of things I found most compelling about London 2012 was that the athletes were tweeting. Many of the competitors were not superstars, but essentially just normal people, who happen to be pretty good at moving fast or throwing things or whatever. And by following them on Twitter, we all shared in their excitement - winning a medal for them was life changing. So I reckon this is a great move by the IOC.

Though they must be hoping that the athletes don't post anything awkward... like criticism of the Russian government's terrible attitude to gay rights.

7 Must-Have iPhone Apps for Londoners

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If you live within the M25, then you're lucky enough to live in the greatest city in the world. Sure, London is shunned by some - having recently been voted the crappiest place to live in the UK. But those people are idiots - for every murder and delayed train there's a cultural gem that wouldn't find pretty much anywhere else in the world. And besides - our phones can help us appreciate London life, can't they? Here's our pick of the best iPhone apps for Londoners.

Desktop computers have massive screens - so why stay hunched over them at a desk, when you can point your monitor at the couch and and sit back and watch some videos with a loved one? Don't worry if the keyboard and mouse won't stretch - this is what an iPad or iPhone are for! Here's our pick of the best apps to control your PC with your iOS device.

The great thing about the iPhone is that not only has it revolutionised mobile phones, but it has revolutionised cycling too. Now that you carry around a GPS, internet connected device everywhere you go - let's put it to work and actually find your destination.

Here's our pick of the five best iPhone apps for cyclists.

bbm-ios-android.jpgBlackBerry's BBM messaging service will be making its long-awaited arrival on Android phones and Apple's iOS devices this weekend.

Those sporting gadgets running Google's operating system will get the first stab at it on Saturday 20 September, with the iOS version hitting the Apple App Store on Sunday 21 September. That sees BlackBerry just squeeze into the summer launch window that they had planned, with barely a day to spare.

BBM for iOS and Android will let users chat with BlackBerry owners and each other, while also letting users share files, images, and voice notes. Group chats of up to 30 participants is also supported. BlackBerry says that its BBM Channels feature will be made available on iOS and Android soon after the initial launch.

On Android, the app will be compatible with Android 4.0 and up, while only iOS users running version 6 and above will be able to make use of the service.

Despite this year's BlackBerry 10 reboot for the company and the launch of a number of critically well-received handsets, BlackBerry has still struggled to make up the ground lost to smartphone rivals Apple and Google with Android.

As such, the company have now begun farming out key software properties to rival mobile platforms, while also potentially considering an outright sale of the company.

bbm-ios-android.jpgBlackBerry's much-loved BBM service may be making its way to Android and iPhone handsets sooner than expected, as a placeholder page advertising the cross-platform messaging service breifly hit the web last night.

Spotted by CrackBerry, the clumsy BlackBerry webmasters quickly took down the prematurely published, half-finished page that appeared last night. But not before a few details were gleaned and screen captures were saved, revealing that the app will be available as a free download across both platforms.

Those hoping to get as fully-featured a service at launch as what is offered through BlackBerry's own BB10 operating system version of BBM will be disappointed however. The page revealed that the BBM Voice, BBM Video and screen-sharing options won't land until later in the year.

With the BB10 platform struggling to gain traction in the crowded smartphone market, BlackBerry will be increasingly looking towards farming out their services to other platforms. Earlier this month, it was even suggested the company may be considering selling up.

Thumbnail image for instagram-with-photos.jpgInstagram, the filteriffic photography app for iOS and Android that now also includes a Vine-rivalling video sharing service, has been updated to version 4.1, bringing with it a series of new features and tweaks for iPhone users and wider device compatibility for Android users.

The most significant addition to the iOS app is the new ability to import videos from the phone's media library, allowing you to share videos not shot with Instagram through the app. Users will still have to trim and edit their clips into Instagram's 15-second length limit before uploading them however.

When it comes to still photography, Instagram will now allow iOS users to straighten out wonky photos prior to sharing. There's an option for the app to do this automatically, as well as a slider for manually rotating images.

The Android version of the app doesn't get quite as much loving, but at least more Android users will now be able to enjoy Instagram: the app now supports all versions of Android from 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich upwards, letting far more Android users take advantage of the video feature.

alan-partridge-studio.jpgA-HA! To celebrate the release of the long-awaited Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa movie, today's app of the day is the Radio Alan - The Alan Partridge Player app for iPhone.

If you've ever wanted to hear the hapless fictional DJ do a whole set on his Norfolk Digital Radio Show, this app's for you. Interspersing classic clips from his "live broadcasts" in the studio with your iTunes music catalogue, all it's missing is Alan's Deep Bath and it'd be the full Partridge experience!
alan-partridge-radio-app.jpgCosting just 99p, it's an official app from BBC Worldwide, so no need to be concerned about its quality. Sadly, it doesn't look as though an Android version is planned.

I might have to grab this, pop on some Wings and give it a go. Wings? They're only the band The Beatles could have been!

Radio Alan - The Alan Partridge Player - iOS - £0.99

zappar-angry-birds.jpgAugmented reality app experts Zappar have teamed up publisher Pedigree Books to launch a range of interactive books for kids.

The "Super Interactive Annuals 2014" line will feature a number of titles based on properties including Angry Birds, Cut the Rope and Sonic the Hedgehog, and will have pages that work in tandem with the Zappar augmented reality app.

Readers need only download the free app, fire it up and point it at the Zappar code symbols on relevant pages to see extra animated content to supplement what's going on on select pages, as well as gain access to a number of casual games.

Available to all Android and iOS users that have a device with a camera, the augmented reality content accounts for just 20% of the whole book experience according to the publishers, meaning that even kids without access to a compatible mobile device will still be able to enjoy each book.

"Working with Zappar on these new titles has allowed us to offer our customers something completely new and fresh," said Matthew Reynolds, publishing and sales director at Pedigree.

"We are very excited about the retail prospects for this range, which will stand out on the shelves and ensure we remain the market leader in annuals."

The Zappar app can be grabbed for free from the App Store for iOS devices and Google Play Store for Android devices, while the annuals themselves are already available in store at ASDA, WH Smiths, Tesco and other UK shops.

Check out the video below to see the app and annuals in action:

iPhone gaming apps! If the storm clouds gathering over our office are anything to go by, the summer's almost up and we'll all soon be hunkering down for some quality time with our favourite games. This year more than ever, we're increasingly finding that most of our favourite titles are on Apple's iPhone rather than other gaming platform. We've already revealed our top 10 best free iPhone games of the year so far, and now its time to turn our attention to the slew of top quality paid-for games released on the App Store over the first half of 2013. From Gemini Rue to XCOM: Enemy Unknown, 2013 is looking like a vintage iPhone gaming year.

Click below to get started!

gta_vice_city.jpgGrand Theft Auto developer Rockstar has slashed the price of all of its iPad, iPhone and Android games, offering mobile gamers some crime-ridden fun on a budget.

Three GTA games are up for grabs. The classic Grand Theft Auto III and Grand Theft Auto Vice City games, having recently enjoyed 10th anniversary touchscreen makeovers are up for £1.99 each. Grand Theft Auto Chinatown Wars (originally for the Nintendo DS and arguably the GTA game best suited to tablet play) is also available for a penny shy of £2.

Gritty noir shooter Max Payne is also discounted, down to just £1.49.

Generosity clearly brought on by a case of sunstroke, Rockstar cite the recent "beach weather" for inspiring the sale, as well as the impending launch of Grand Theft Auto V on Xbox 360 and PS3.

10 reasons to be very excited about Grand Theft Auto V

apple-maps.pngApple's Maps app was one of the company's rare public failures, partially responsible for costing at least one Apple executive his job, and leading to a rare public apology from the Cupertino firm.

CEO Tim Cook has already committed to fixing up the app, and a new rumoured purchase could be the most major step in the right direction for the beleaguered cartography application.

According to sources speaking to AllThingsD, Apple are in the process of purchasing Canadian location start-up Locationary.

Locationary crowd sources location and amenities data, verifying that all information given is not only accurate, but up to date at a minute level, including whether or not stores and public places are temporarily closed (say, for refurbishment).

When quizzed on the news, an Apple spokesperson gave an uncharacteristically suggestive response:

"Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans."

That's nearly confirmation, right?

Either way, if the new purchase is indeed going through, it'll take a little while for the benefits to hit the app. In the meantime, why not check out the newly-released iPad version of Google's amazing Maps app.

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