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Miniaturize your world and play an RTS remake: iPhone apps of the week
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Among the news items this week from the world of Apple, the folks over at AppleInsider uncovered a rumor that Apple may be having a launch event next week for a new line of MacBook Pros. According to the story, this would put the launch event a week ahead of schedule.

As usual, Apple remains tight-lipped about what features will be unveiled in the new laptops, but the one sure thing is that it will include Intel’s latest generation Sandy Bridge processor.

Whatever is introduced next week (if the rumor turns out to be true), you can bet we’ll have all the details here. Make sure to check back on launch day for photos, specs, and everything else about Apple’s latest devices.

This week’s apps include an image enhancement tool that produces cool-looking shots and an RTS game that closely resembles one of the most popular strategy games of all time.

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Each step of the process lets you tinker with various controls to fine-tune your photo.

Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

TiltShift Generator (99 cents) is not a new product, but I just discovered it and think people will appreciate its unique photo effects. TiltShift images combine blur and other depth-of-field effects to make objects in your photos seem miniature (here’s a quick Google image search to give you an idea what I’m talking about). To get the miniature effect, you’ll ideally take photos from some distance, but even close-up shots can be put through TiltShift Generator with good-looking results.

TiltShift Generator does a great job of taking you through the process of creating tilt-shift images. The app automatically adds the tilt-shift effect, but you can also go through the process yourself. You start either by taking a photo with your iPhone camera or choosing an existing image from your library. From there you can adjust the blurred effect; change color saturation, brightness, and contrast with sliders; and then adjust vignetting (corner shadowing). What results is a unique image that’s very impressive, even if you have little knowledge of photography.

Overall, TiltShift Generator is an easy-to-use app that produces great-looking images with little work. If you enjoy looking at tilt-shift images and want to try making some of your own, this app is a great option.

StarFront: Collision width="320" height="213"/>

Once you’ve built your fighting force, it’s time to take it into battle.

Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

StarFront: Collision (Free; $6.99 in-app purchase) from Gameloft is a pretty clear rip-off of Blizzard’s mega-hit RTS game, Starcraft. With that said, StarFront is a very well-made game and is probably the best RTS game available for the iPhone.

Just like Starcraft, StarFront has three classes, each with its own strategies and tech trees, and each closely resembling the Starcraft classes. It offers a single-player campaign mode that slowly introduces you to the ins and outs of RTS gameplay, just like Starcraft. You’ll need to mine resources, build buildings, build units, upgrade your buildings, and upgrade your units, just like in Starcraft. But even with all its similarities, StarFront: Collision does all of these things well, all the way down to the quirky things units say when you interact with them. The storyline is well thought out and engaging, the graphics are crisp on the iPhone 4’s Retina Display, and the controls are extremely smart for a touch-screen device.

As an example of the smart controls, you can create and save groups of units so you can later call on an entire squad to perform an action. You do this by using a two-finger reverse pinch to create a selection square around the units, then touch the arrow on the left side of the screen to pull out a squad selection drawer. Choose a number from 1 to 3, and that number will be assigned to the squad. Though limiting your squads to three might be an issue for some players, StarFront’s unique system for creating groups is very intuitive on the touch screen.

StarFront: Collision is free to download from the App Store, and includes the tutorial and the ability to play through the first mission to get a feel for the game. An in-app purchase of $6.99 unlocks local and online multiplayer and the full campaign and skirmish modes. The online multiplayer was smooth in our testing, with quick online matchups and no loss of connection during games. There was only one point at which the game notified me I needed to wait for the other player, but after a couple of seconds we were back to the action.

Probably my only complaint about StarFront: Collision is the same as other involved games on the iPhone: how long does someone really want to play a game on the iPhone? Eventually, the need for your constant focus and concentration on the small screen will get exhausting, but in every other area, this game is pretty close to what Starcraft on the iPhone would be if it were made by Blizzard.

Overall, I consider StarFront: Collision a must-download for RTS fans, with 20 missions, endless replay value on seven maps in skirmish mode, along with local and online multiplayer. Furthermore, if Gameloft decides to release an HD version for the iPad or make the app universal, the larger screen real estate will make the game even more enjoyable.

What’s your favorite iPhone app? Do you like the results you get from TiltShift Generator? What do you think of StarFront: Collision? Let me know in the comments!

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