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Hands-On: Google Voice for iPhone still slightly underbaked
Google Voice for iPhone--inbox

A Google Voice for iPhone app finally clears Apple’s gauntlet.

(Credit:Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET)

When Google announced Google Voice for iPhone earlier today, we wasted no time putting the VoIP telephony app through its paces. Google Voice for iPhone (download) delivers much of what we expect from a native Google Voice app. In an absolute sense, it’s a terrific app because it brings much-needed native Google Voice management to the iPhone. However, considering it took a year and a half of idle time and an FCC investigation to gain Apple’s approval, we’re also wondering why the Google Voice engineering team couldn’t have designed a more seamless integration with the iPhone.

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The contacts list is split in two–prioritized numbers and recent calls are in this pane; the complete contacts list is in the next.

(Credit:
Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET)

Setup and layout

Thankfully, setup is hurdle-free. First, log into the app with your Google credentials. Then, select the mobile number from a list of numbers you may have associated as forwarding numbers for your Google Voice account. (If you haven’t yet associated any, go to your Google Voice account and add the number in the Voice Settings menu.)

The Google Voice app itself appears straightforward. Four screens display a menu, a dialer, your contact list, and the application settings. Fittingly, the menu is the base camp for sorting and managing your voice mail by inbox, texts, and various other filters. The inbox displays your list of voice mails and text messages. From here, you can view a voice mail transcription or play back your contact’s recorded message. Tap their name to call, text, add to quick dial, or show the contact’s details. Pull the entire page down with your finger to manually refresh the list.

You’ll be able to reach out to contacts from the dialer and the contacts list, either by searching for a contact’s name or by entering a number. The dialer helpfully lets you choose to call or text a number. An icon in the Dialer that looks like it should pop up your contact search list will in fact add a new contact to your address book, if you press it after dialing a number.

The Contacts list has an interesting feature that’s unique to the iPhone version of Google Voice; it’s called Quick Dial. Google has made it easier to prioritize your favorite contacts by letting you assign some to Quick Dial–these buddies surface to the top of a list, just above another list of recently used numbers. You can tap over to another screen to select from your full list of contacts.

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(Credit:
Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET)

What we like about Google Voice for iPhone

Apart from the most fundamental benefit of being able to natively manage the Google Voice universe from the iPhone, the app brings some localized features that make using it a joy. The aforementioned quick-dial contacts are easy to assign and remove, and they do a good job surfacing frequently used buddies.

Push notifications are also key; they appear when you receive a new voice mail or text, and when you miss a call. Handy buttons help you take the appropriate action to reply, view, or close the message.

Google Voice isn’t integrated into the iPhone’s operating system as it is on Android, so it doesn’t let you choose to automatically dial out on the iPhone with your Google Voice number. However, dialing out through the app is easy enough, and there are some nice visual menu treatments that make it obvious when you’ve sent a message. These nice touches add a layer of sophistication to the experience.

What still needs work

Unfortunately, there are still large and small potholes, and we’ll likely discover more inconsistencies as we continue to use the app. The most jarring issue is that texts between two Google Voice on iPhone users duplicated each Google voice text in the iPhone’s text app. Instead of receiving three text alerts for three sent text messages, we received a total of six alerts and messages. You can switch this off in the Settings menu of your Google Voice settings online, but it’s unintuitive for new or casual users.

Equally obnoxiously, Google Voice users we knew sometimes texted us using numbers we didn’t recognize. Google Voice uses local numbers to route calls quicker, and those are the numbers we intermittently saw in text messages, rather than the caller or texter’s single Google Voice number.

We also noticed that the notifications shortcut to view a missed call takes you to the Menu, not to the the missed call screen as we’d expect. In addition, Google Voice only works in portrait mode.

Google Voice gets more right than it does wrong overall, but the iPhone app is still more flawed than it should be after years of the voice team’s development work on Google Voice for Android. Google Voice is a confusing enough service as is to the casual observer, Google needs to ensure that its native apps remove every question mark.

Article updated at 4:17PM PT and 5:40PM PT with corrections and clarifications.

Originally posted at iPhone Atlas

Wolfram gives Mathematica 8 a human touch
Mathematica 8 can solve mazes. width="500" height="345"/>

Mathematica 8 can solve mazes.

(Credit:Wolfram Research)

Wolfram Research has released Mathematica 8, bringing some rudimentary human-language skills to the mathematics and scientific software by building in some abilities of the Wolfram Alpha search engine.

It’s an unusual combination. Mathematica can produce stunning graphical displays and dig into the murkiest data sets, but only for those who learn its control language.

“Free-form linguistics understands human language and translates it into syntax–a breakthrough in usability,” said Chief Executive Stephen Wolfram in a statement.

Well, the Alpha language can’t exactly give Mathematica the ability to chat at cocktail parties. But it can understand the command “pi 20 0digits” and translate it into the more rigorous Mathematica command of “N[Pi, 200].”

If you know how to estimate multivariate nonparametric probabilities and expectations, Mathematica 8 can help you along. width="270" height="270"/>

If you know how to estimate multivariate nonparametric probabilities and expectations, Mathematica 8 can help you along.

(Credit:
Wolfram Research)

When the commands work, they’re translated into Mathematica form for those learning its intricacies, the company said. And they improve as the Wolfram Alpha service improves, independent of the software. Wolfram Alpha also connects Mathematica to the service’s curated data sets.

On a more nuts-and-bolts level, Mathematica pushes forward into ever more arcane areas of math, engineering, and science–probability and statistics, group theory, waveform analysis, image processing, financial derivatives calculations, and constructing a Kalman filter for a stochastic system.

Under the covers, Mathematica gets new hardware abilities. It now can tap into the power of graphics chips, either using Nvidia’s CUDA architecture or the more general OpenCL interface developed by Apple and the Khronos Group.

Mathematica is expensive. There are discounts for nonprofits, hobbyists, academics, and group uses, but the basic software for a single user is more than $3,000.

Mathematica 8 can plot the structure of a corporate Web site. width="500" height="492"/>

Mathematica 8 can plot the structure of a corporate Web site.

(Credit:
Wolfram Research)

Originally posted at Deep Tech

Mozilla develops social skills with F1

As Flock and RockMelt duked it out for social-networking addicts’ attention, browser kingpin Mozilla quietly introduced last week a new add-on for Facebook, Twitter, and Gmail users. Called F1 (download) and created by Mozilla Messaging, the division of Mozilla that manages the e-mail client Thunderbird, the secure and unobtrusive add-on provides fast sharing of URLs via a dedicated navigation bar button. It mimics one of the best features found in social-networking browsers without having to deal with hassle of switching browsers, although the add-on is definitely still a bit rough.

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The Firefox add-on F1 makes it much easier to share links via Twitter, Facebook, and Gmail.

(Credit:
Screenshot by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

Once installed, F1 will create a button on the right side of the search box that looks like a comic book word balloon. Click it and the F1 interface appears to add accounts from Twitter, Facebook, and Gmail. Type in a message to accompany the link you’re sharing and then hit Share on the right. The Gmail option will also provide To and Subject fields. In my instance of F1, it didn’t support searching recipient field completion from a partial e-mail address, although the F1 demo video did show that feature working.

The add-on currently supports only one iteration of each account, too. It works on Firefox 3.6 and later, but it does not re-map the F1 hot key from Help to opening the sharing drop-down box. Mozilla stated in the blog post announcing the add-on that one of its goals with F1 was to cut down on cluttered and potentially insecure sharing buttons that have become ubiquitous on Web pages, a task that sounds Sysiphean at best, although Mozilla has taken some steps to make using F1 easier. The add-on relies on services that support OAuth, and the open-source add-on has an extensive developer’s wiki. F1 developers said that Yahoo Mail was left out of the initial release because it required an extra captcha authentication on top of OAuth support.

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Prospector: Find Suggest is a Mozilla experiment for Firefox that adds suggested words to your in-page search queries.

(Credit:
Screenshot by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

Mozilla has also released other “experimental” add-ons recently that demonstrate its take on “future Web” features and technology. One of them is called Prospector, which is what Mozilla is calling a series of search experiments. One Prospector add-on is called Speak Words and allows the browser to auto-complete words as they’re typed into the location bar. It’s based on your browsing history, so depending on the user typing “Gia” could get you They Might Be Giants, the San Francisco Giants, or a lot of Italian actresses. Another Prospector experiment is called Find Suggest, and as the name states, it suggests complete words to search for as you type into Firefox’s search box. Click on one to add it to the search box. Both Prospector experiments are restricted to the Firefox 4 beta.

A third experimental add-on for the Firefox 4 beta is called Lab Kit, and it serves the simple task to automatically update specific Mozilla Labs add-ons without having to restart the browser. While the concept is still foreign to Firefox users, Google Chrome add-ons have been auto-updated by their publishers since extensions were added to it. So far, Lab Kit supports the two Prospector add-ons, Mozilla Contacts, and the Test Pilot add-on which anonymously collects Firefox 4 beta user data.

Pulse News Reader app now free for iOS, Android

The top-rated, beloved-by-all Pulse News Reader is now available free of charge. width="270" height="360"/>

The top-rated, beloved-by-all Pulse News Reader is now available for free.

(Credit:Screenshot by Rick Broida)

I’ll admit it: the App Store is home to so many nifty and inventive news readers (Blogshelf, Early Edition, and TheScore, to name just a few), I never got around to Pulse News Reader.

My mistake. It’s not just the coolest blog/feed reader for the iPhone and iPad alike, it’s also one of the coolest iOS apps, period. And where it once cost $1.99, Pulse News is now free. (Same goes for the Android version.)

I spent some time fiddling with Pulse News for iPad. (If you’re interested in Pulse News Mini for iPhone, which, true to its name, is just a smaller version of the app, check out Jason Parker’s write-up.) Like Blogshelf and Early Edition, it serves up popular blogs in a slick, easily digestible format.

Right out of the box, Pulse News Reader gives you everything from Fast Company to Mashable to Serious Eats. Of course, you can add, remove, and reorganize sources to your liking.

The app lists about 10 “featured” sources, dozens more divided into categories, a search option for sites and keywords, and support for Google Reader–meaning you can import any feeds you’ve already subscribed to in your account.

The iPad edition supports up to 60 sources arranged across five tabbed pages (which, thankfully, you can rename from the default “PAGE2,” “PAGE3,” and so on.) You scroll up and down to find the feed you want, across to peruse the stories from within that feed, and tap any story to see the full text (and/or the actual Web page, depending on your preference).

As with other readers, Pulse News lets you tag items as favorites (which it calls “creating your own pulse”), share with friends via e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter, and even send to Instapaper (another essential app).

It may take a little doing to get Pulse News set up with just the blogs and feeds you want. But once you do, you’ll never look at another reader. (Or will you? If there’s an app you like better, by all means shout it out in the comments!)

Originally posted at iPhone Atlas

Sencha’s Web-app tools reach mobile browsers
Sencha Touch lets programmers build Web sites and Web apps that reach a variety of mobile devices, though only iOS and Android today. width="504" height="367"/>

Sencha Touch lets programmers build Web sites and Web apps that reach a variety of mobile devices, though only iOS and Android today.

(Credit:Sencha)

Sencha, a start-up trying to make a business out of open-source tools for building Web applications, has begun an important new phase of its business with its first foray into the hot mobile browser market.

The new Sencha Touch 1.0 software is a JavaScript programming framework out of which mobile Web apps can be built. It joins the company’s earlier products, the Ext JS and Ext GWT frameworks and the Ext Designer developer tool.

The tools are designed for those who need to build user interfaces out of dialog boxes, pop-up windows, sliders, charts, check-boxes, and all the other elements used in applications today.

Sencha’s work is part of the effort to ease the advancement of the Web into a more powerful foundation for interaction, with dynamic sites and applications. It employs HTML5 and a number of related Web standards such as local storage, geolocation, and most notably CSS3, the new version of the Cascading Style Sheets specification for Web page formatting.

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Those technologies, while significant, have lacked mature development tools, though they’re coming with software from Adobe Systems and JQuery, arguably the top dog in JavaScript programming frameworks. Maturation is important especially in the mobile realm, where it’s often easier to write native applications for one operating system or another rather than Web applications that at least in theory could reach a broader market.

Sencha has a little incentive to attract programmers to its tools. It had said earlier that Sencha Touch would cost $99, but the company changed course and decided to make it free. The other tools, sold on the basis of standard or premium support contracts that come with commercially licensed versions of the software, aren’t free; the Sencha Complete package that combines all the software costs $995 for a single developer with standard support and $3,995 for five developers and premium support.

Of course, anyone can already use it for free in its open-source software form. However, under the terms of the GPLv3 (GNU General Public License) that governs it, any project using the software must be made available under the same terms. “If you use our GPLv3 option, then the derivative work is also governed by GPLv3, which triggers the requirement to provide source code to anyone using the application outside your organization,” Sencha said.

Sencha Touch is designed to be a cross-platform environment, making it easier for programmers to reach a multitude of devices. For example, it’s geared to shield programmers from variations in screen resolution and how specific devices handle the all-important smartphone interaction mechanism, touch.

However, it’s not all the way there yet, in part because the mobile browser market is so fluid. Sencha Touch today works with only two mobile operating systems: Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android.

Both of those use a Web browser based on the open-source WebKit engine, and it’s spreading to other operating systems. That means today a Sensa Touch application will run, unchanged, on both Android and iOS. BlackBerry and MeeGo, which also employ WebKit, should be supported “very soon” as well, Sencha said

Non-WebKit browsers are another matter for now. “We hope to support Opera in the not-too-distant future, although Firefox is a little further behind in the features that we rely on for styling and animation,” Sencha said.

Windows Phone 7, however, isn’t supported at all at present, Sencha said.

Originally posted at Deep Tech

Blow away asteroids and play as a giant worm: iPhone apps of the week
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(Credit:
CNET)

Hey, iPhone gamers, I received a press release just yesterday that plenty will be excited about: Real Racing 2 is coming soon for the iPhone. As one of my favorite games for 2009, the original Real Racing might be the best in its class for graphics, gameplay, and realism (as the name suggests) among auto-racing games on the iPhone.

Though there is no information beyond the announcement (here is Firemint’s cryptic info page), I’m personally hoping for new tracks, new cars, and maybe even an accelerometer-based motorcycle racing mode. I admit that last wish is probably far-fetched, but it never hurts to dream, right? It almost seems impossible to improve upon the original, so I’m excited to see what Firemint will add in the sequel.

Though I can only guess at a release date, the timing of this press release seems to suggest that we could have this product on our iPhones in time for the gift-giving season. I’m crossing my fingers!

This week’s apps are both arcade games: an advanced Astroids-like title and a game where you play as a man-eating giant worm.

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Gather ore from asteroids to gain bonus multipliers for bigger scores.

(Credit:
Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Space Miner Blast (Free) is a slimmed-down arcade version of one of my favorite games on the iPhone called Space Miner: Space Ore Bust. The original game included a storyline in which you tried to keep your uncle’s space-mining company afloat by mining various sectors of space and using the ore to make money so you could upgrade your ship. Though I still recommend the original as a more involved and unique game, Space Miner Blast takes the basic gameplay mechanic (flying around and shooting asteroids) and makes it into a fun challenge on its own.

Space Miner Blast tasks you with battling your way through wave after wave of asteroids and spaceships, all while grabbing power-ups to add to your firepower. Similar to the arcade classic Asteroids, Space Miner Blast uses a control scheme that lets you control your ship on the left side of the screen with your main fire buttons and thrust on the right. You’ll need to shoot large asteroids to break them up into smaller pieces and blow away the remaining rocks by following the blue arrow indicators around your ship. As you progress through the game, harder enemies like UFOs and mines will make your job more difficult, but fortunately you can find shields as you play, and you can upgrade your ship in between levels for more firepower.

Space Miner Blast is an ad-supported free game. To get rid of the ads you have the option to buy one of three advanced ships for 99 cents each or you can allegedly by the Blast Pack of all the ships for only $1.99. As of this writing, I was unable to locate the Blast Pack in the menus, but hopefully the developers will fix this soon so you don’t have to buy all three ships at 99 cents each.

Part of what made the original Space Miner: Space Ore Bust such a great game was the classic Asteroids game mechanic. With Space Miner Blast, you get a game that the developers say “Brings Asteroids into the 21st century!” and I can’t help but agree. Anyone who liked the original game or the classic Asteroids will love this shoot-’em-up action game.

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Sneak up from underground to take the evil humans by surprise.

(Credit:
Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Death Worm (99 cents for a limited time) is a lot like a game I reviewed not long ago called Super Mega Worm and is the original game that Mega Worm was based upon. Already a widely acclaimed indie title, Death Worm is a great fit for the iPhone and iPod touch screen. The control system involves a directional pad on the left and buttons for nitro and firebombs on the right. The object of the game is to take out as many humans as possible as you worm your way underground and breach the surface to create havoc against a military onslaught. As you progress, your worm will level up, letting you add more nitro power, better fireballs, and stronger skin.

Death Worm is an excellent time waster, but not terribly challenging in the early levels, leaving you wondering just what it will take to bring you down. But as the game goes on, you’ll be challenged by tanks, cars, rocket-launcher-wielding soldiers, helicopters, and more. In later levels, you’ll struggle to stay alive long enough to level up, giving you full health to continue on.

Overall, with 45 levels to play across three themed locations, 30 enemy types to contend with, and enough explosions and carnage to satisfy the most serious shoot-’em-up gamers, Death Worm is a great addition to your iPhone game library.

What’s your favorite iPhone app? How do you like the arcade action of Space Miner Blast? Which game is better: Super Mega Worm or Death Worm? What do you think Firemint will add to Real Racing 2? Let me know in the comments!

Will RockMelt sock it to Flock?

While the Big Five browsers duke it out to see which one can come up with the best mix of speed, compatibility, and add-ons, social networking bruisers Flock 3 (Windows only) and RockMelt beta (Windows | Mac) have taken off the kid gloves to beat each other senseless over Twitter and Facebook integration.

This isn’t a fair match by a long shot. Chromium-fueled Flock 3 has been available since June 2010, and claims 500,000 users. (Just as a point of comparison, the Mozilla Gecko-powered version 2 of Flock has 8.5 million users and has been on the market for three years.) Flock CEO Shawn Hardin pointed out that Flock version 2.6 is the most popular nonmobile app on Facebook, and Flock version 3 is the sixth most popular nonmobile app on Facebook. Just by virtue of the time that Flock has had the market practically to itself could prove a difficult hill for RockMelt to climb.

CNET has learned from a Flock representative that the company plans for a major update on December 1. The Mac version of Flock 3 is expected to debut, several months off its original due date in July 2010. LinkedIn support will be added, and the release will upgrade Flock 3 to the Chromium 7 base, which will patch numerous security holes, make bug fixes, and introduce Chromium 7’s faster browsing speeds to Flock.

Currently, both Flock 3 and RockMelt 0.8.34.833 beta are built on Chromium 6.

User numbers aside, RockMelt plays David handily against Flock’s Goliath. First off is the login procedure. RockMelt access is based on your Facebook login. You download it, you use your existing Facebook username and password, and you’re ready to get your social on. Flock doesn’t require you to create a new Flock account, although you have to be able to synchronize your data across computers. Both browsers synchronize your data to the cloud, so there’s no hassle to use either one on multiple computers, but RockMelt wins this round for cutting out the registration process.

However, RockMelt is currently restricted by invitation. The browser offers a simple sharing method to help you distribute the invites allocated to you among your Twitter followers and Facebook friends, but that undercuts the otherwise fast registration process.

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The RSS reader in the RockMelt makes it easy to subscribe to pages, and to see feeds from your favorites. It’s not as fully-developed as the search result viewer, though.

(Credit:
Rafe Needleman/CNET)

Supported accounts are a major area of contention. RockMelt only supports Facebook and Twitter, while Flock 3 works with both of those plus YouTube and Flickr. Supporting accounts is not enough for these browsers, which are basically Google Chrome with souped-up social networking extensions. How the accounts and their features are exposed is immensely important, with the major difference being that RockMelt maintains a single-serving update of one friend per service at time, while Flock creates a unified stream of all supported services.

RockMelt emphasizes its connection to Facebook. The “Friends Edge” on the left is dedicated to your Facebook friends, showing who’s online, filterable by favorites, and a Show All Friends button. The right sidebar, the “App Edge,” is where you can toggle social networks, providing one-click access to your Facebook news feed, your Facebook profile, and your Twitter account. An indicator will tell you when you’ve got new updates. Chrome extensions that you install will also live here, although they don’t always work. The search box has been improved, too, with hooks into your Facebook friends’ lists.

RockMelt has tweaked the RSS feed subscription process into a more obvious notification. When you land on a page with an RSS feed, the browser will autodetect it and provide a one-click button for subscribing from the App Edge.

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The new sidebar, a first for Chromium when it debuted in June, allows users to maintain a single friend stream. You can also create Groups to help you keep them all organized.

(Credit:
Screenshot by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

It’s undeniable that RockMelt has polish that Flock lacks. The edges utilize the mobile-app style rounded-box icons and real-time update indicators. Flock’s sidebar doesn’t work well when narrowed down because you lose access to the filtering features at the top and it cuts off status updates. You can hide it with a toggle on the right side of the browser, but then you must actively reopen it to see what’s going on.

While those are solid hits from RockMelt, Flock’s overall feature set is far more robust. You can edit your contacts, merging contact info and creating groups to organize them. These groups can then be applied to your contact stream, which lives in the right sidebar. RockMelt allows you to “favorite” friends in the Friends Edge, but it doesn’t support the powerful sorting that Flock has. Where RockMelt only searches for Facebook contacts, Flock will search all of its supported services for your friends’ updates from the location bar. Both browsers do allow you to share currently viewing sites to supported services with comments, a key feature.

So which one is best? That still depends on what you’re looking to get out of the browser. Because of the tight integration with your friends and the slick design, RockMelt will give you the strongest Facebook experience of the two browsers. Since Twitter searches aren’t supported from the location bar in RockMelt, along with the support for grouping and other social networking services in Flock, Flock is the better browser for a cross-discipline, unified social affair. And as noted, Mac users will have to wait until the OS X version of Flock 3 comes out.

iTunes 10.1 brings AirPlay feature

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(Credit:
CNET)

No iOS update yet today, but Apple did release an update to iTunes for Windows and Mac.

iTunes 10.1 is out now, and with it comes AirPlay, the new feature that will allow videos to be streamed to an Apple TV. Apple introduced the feature at its digital music and content event in September.

AirPlay is also supposed to allow streaming of audio and video from any iOS device–iPod Touch, iPhone, and iPad–though that feature won’t be turned on in those devices until the long-awaited iOS 4.2 update is released.

Earlier this week it was rumored that today would be the day we’d see 4.2, but now there are whispers that a Wi-Fi bug in the software is holding up its release.

Apple didn’t give a specific day that 4.2 would arrive, only that it would come sometime in November.

Originally posted at Circuit Breaker

Time for a tune-up?

Most of the time our Macs run smoothly, but every once in a while you might experience sluggishness or something else out of the ordinary. In order to rule out system problems, check out OnyX. OnyX lets you verify your Mac’s start-up disk and the structure of system files, and offers several configuration tools to let you tweak the Finder, Dock, and other native applications. If you’re a do-it-yourself type of person, or would just like a way to tweak some settings, OnyX might be just the tool you’re looking for.

Also this week, we have the latest version of Synergy, the handy utility that adds iTunes controls to your menu bar for easy access. Our game this week is Jalada Boskonian, a top-down retro arcade shooter where your challenge is to shoot everything that moves.

Don’t forget to check out our iPhone apps of the week!

Verizon’s exclusivity on Bing for Android ends
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Bing on Android.

(Credit:
Jessica Dolcourt/CNET)

What does Bing now have in common with Skype? It joins the list of apps that were once exclusive to mobile carrier Verizon, and now aren’t.

Earlier today, Microsoft announced that its Bing search application is now available to all Android users through Google’s Android market, a move that ends the exclusivity Verizon has had on it since the end of August.

The app is no different from the one that came before it, except that it no longer matters what carrier you’re on. Android users who want to grab the app can just do a search for Bing, or scan the QR code below.

As Andy Chu, a member of Microsoft’s Bing for Mobile team, explained in a blog post, this move is not the end of Verizon’s Bing distribution. The carrier is pre-installing Microsoft’s mobile search software on Samsung’s Continuum and Motorola’s Citrus phones in place of Google’s own search, which can still be downloaded from the Android Marketplace by users.

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Originally posted at News – Microsoft