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Google Maps Gets a Makeover, Adds Uber Integration

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Last Wednesday, Google announced a new version of Google Maps (free) that gives it a new design and a more intuitive interface. Google refers to the new style as their "Material Design" with brighter colors, bolder textures, the use of surfaces and shadows to emulate the real world. Their announcement says that "layers and buttons come to life so you know just where to touch to get directions, recommendations, and imagery."



Amazon Echo Wants to Be the Centerpiece of Your Smarthome

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Amazon may have stumbled with the Kindle Fire Phone, due to pricing missteps and other issues, but they're not done innovating and working on integrating their technology into our daily lives. Today, Amazon preannounced the Echo, an unassuming speaker that does a lot more than play music. The cylindrical device sits in your home and is always listening for verbal commands. Similar to Siri, you can ask Echo for weather reports, to play music, etc. The gadget has omni-directional speakers and microphones that can listen to commands even if they come from far away.



Microsoft Office Apps for iPhone and iPad Now Free; Dropbox Added

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Last spring Microsoft brought their Office suite to the iPad, but unless you paid for a subscription for a Microsoft home or office product, the apps could only read files, not edit them. That has now changed. This week Microsoft released a new version of their Office suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) that includes editing capabilities in the free versions. In addition, the suite is also now available on the iPhone. Plus, the apps now support Dropbox. This is a welcome change. However, if you want the full feature set, you'll still need an annual subscription.



Apple Watch May Arrive Feb. 14, Gold Edition Rumored to Cost $5,000

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Unlike the usual rumor cycle for a forthcoming iPhone, in which the details are unknown, the Apple Watch rumor cycle is different, since we know many of the details and exactly how it will look. What's unknown is when it will arrive and how much the various models will cost. So let the Apple Watch rumor cycle begin, with blog posts on Tuesday repeating information from a French website about cost and arrival date. According to a post on AppleInsider, the website iGen (which had accurately reported the dimensions for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus before their release) has reported that the 18-karat gold Apple Watch will sell for between $4,000 and $5,000. The steel model will come in at $500, and the Sport model will be the one that will start at $349 — the price Apple gave during their announcement. In addition, the website reported that Apple is targeting February 14 for the release date.



The Deals Begin: Sam's Club Reportedly to Sell iPhone 6 for $99

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According to AppleInsider, a leaked Sam's Club flyer shows that they'll be offering the iPhone 6 starting at $99 (with a 2-year contract) for one day only on November 15. Not only will it be a limited-time promotion, but also each location will be limited to selling 40–50 units. The sale pricing will only be available in-store. AppleInsider says that Sam's Club will also be offering $100 off the iPad Air (first generation) — both in-store and online.



Rumor: Apple May Discontinue iPad Mini; 12.2-Inch iPad Pro Expected

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This is one rumor I hope isn't true. I gave away my original iPad mini early this fall, assuming I'd buy the new model when it came out in October. But I was so disappointed that the iPad mini 3 was basically the same as last year's model, I've held off. I still want an iPad mini to go along with my iPad Air, and I had been hoping Apple would come out with a significant upgrade early next year, as had been rumored. However, on Monday all the blogs were passing a long a rumor from a Taiwanese website that Apple would be killing the iPad mini line. In addition, the website said that Apple would be replacing the mini with a new 12.2-inch iPad Pro (which is a bit smaller than the 12.9-inch iPad that had been rumored earlier).



Apple Exec Says Apple Watch Coming Next Spring

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When Apple announced the Apple Watch, they said it would be available in early 2015 — but didn't say anything more specific than that. And they still haven't. However, in an internal video memo, a transcript of which was leaked to 9To5Mac, Angela Ahrendts said in passing that the Apple Watch will be coming out in the "spring." In addition, she said that it would be coming after the Chinese New Year, which is February 19. 



Stan Lee Embraces Multimedia Comics with Madefire's Motion Books

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I attended Stan Lee's Comikaze convention this weekend, in Los Angeles, and Mr. Lee has already made some news. In partnership with Madefire, Stan Lee's POW! Entertainment will be creating new characters and stories for Madefire's Motion Books interactive multimedia platform. Stan Lee is the co-creator of just about every character in the Marvel Universe, most notably Spider-Man. He's also made appearances in the assortment of Marvel movies made over the past decade and those cameos are one of the things I look forward to with each movie.



Game Centered: iPhone Life Interview with SteelSeries CTO, Tino Soelberg

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As I was preparing for an article on the future of iOS gaming (for the current issue of iPhone Life magazine), I had the pleasure of interviewing Tino Soelberg, Chief Technology Officer of gaming peripheral manufacturer SteelSeries. 



A Windows Watch that Works with iOS

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While all the attention in the smartwatch arena was on Apple, Microsoft snuck in a wearable that looks more like a fitness band, but offers some smart tricks. Most notably, while the Microsoft Band works (best) with Windows Phone, it also works with Android and iOS. When you're in third place, you have to acknowledge the leaders, and Microsoft made sure their wearable worked with the top two platforms. However, Cortana, Microsoft's answer (and some might say a superior one) to Siri is the only voice command option. This could be a Trojan horse to get people to try the band and then migrate to a Windows Phone to take full advantage. But the Apple Watch should be out soon enough.



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