Help make the news with GuardianWitness

GuardianWitnessGuardianWitness is a new iOS app developed as a partnership between the publishers of the prominent British news periodical The Guardian and the telecommunications company Everything Everywhere, aka EE. It’s available now as a free download from the App Store.

The GuardianWitness app supports the web service of the same name, which is a social-powered news platform that offers aspiring photojournalists the opportunity to have their videos, photos and stories featured on the main Guardian site. The service regularly posts “assignments” and invites members to contribute relevant content before a specific deadline, after which the “best” content will be hand-picked and published on the main Guardian site.

Using the GuardianWitness app is simple. After signing in using Twitter, Facebook or a proprietary The Guardian account, the user is taken to the main “Browse” screen, which outlines the currently-running assignments. From here, it’s possible to see at a glance how many contributions each assignment has seen, the types of submissions that are accepted (photo, video and/or text) and how many days are left before the deadline expires. Tapping on an assignment’s title takes the user to a page of further information that provides a short blurb — often containing hyperlinks to The Guardian’s main site — and the button that allows a contribution to be submitted. The hyperlinks used prompt the user to open Safari every time rather than making use of an in-app browser solution — this is unnecessarily clumsy and could perhaps be refined a little.

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Show your skills with Showboatr

IMG_2409Showboatr is a new iOS app from Nyquist Design. It’s available now as a free download from the App Store, with no additional in-app purchases.

Showboatr is a video-centric social network, but rather than simply allowing users to freely share videos, it instead focuses on various “challenges,” many of which are clearly designed to be both amusing and impressive. A typical challenge tasks users with anything from tearing an apple in half to licking a frozen object and getting their tongue stuck, and demands that they prove they at least attempted the challenge with a video. Other users who then watch the video can vote on whether or not they believe the person in the video “nailed” or “failed” the challenge.

The Showboatr app is split into a few distinct components. Users must sign in to the app first of all, either using a proprietary Showboatr account or Facebook, and are then immediately taken to the Challenges page, which is further subdivided into three categories. The “Collections” tab groups together various related challenges such as all the tasks that involve fruit, or scenes inspired by movies, or dance-related challenges; the “Staff Picks” tab includes the favorite challenges of the Showboatr team; and the “Popular” tab displays those challenges that have seen the most activity. In all cases, tapping on a challenge takes you to a page of information about it, where the description can be read, other users’ videos can be viewed and voted on, or the challenge attempted. Users may also challenge specific friends using either Facebook or email — in the former case, the challenge may be issued as a public post if desired.

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Trim down your social media feeds with Slim

photo (8)Slim is a new iOS app from Slim Labs, Inc. It’s available now as a free download from the App Store, with no additional in-app purchases. It’s currently highlighted in the “New” section of the store’s Productivity category. A Web-based version is also available, and a native Android version is set to follow soon.

Slim is a social media app that aims to allow users to trim all the irrelevant, useless content out of their various feeds in order to focus on the important updates. At present, the service only supports Facebook and LinkedIn accounts — a Facebook account is required to sign in at all, so those who only use LinkedIn are out of luck — but support for Twitter, Instagram, Google+, Salesforce and Yammer are apparently set for implementation in a future update.

Rather than taking a feed-based approach as with most social media apps, Slim displays a single update at a time and allows users to “swipe” between them. Users may mark the updates they would like to see more or fewer of by using some Last.fm-style “star” and “reject” buttons — from these, Slim apparently learns the user’s preferences and displays more relevant content over time, but it’s clear that there’s already some fairly heavy-duty filtering going on as soon as the app starts, as the vast majority of posts from my Facebook friends were nowhere to be seen. It would perhaps be better for the feed to start from an unfiltered view and allow the user to whittle it down to what they want rather than starting from an already heavily-sanitized position.

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Glide brings instant video messaging to mobile

IMG_2365Glide is a new iOS app from the company of the same name. It’s available now as a free download from the App Store, with no additional in-app purchases.

Glide positions itself as “the Voxer of video” — in other words, it aims to offer push-to-talk functionality combined with the ability to broadcast live video and record video messages to be reviewed at a later date. Early impressions of the app seem to indicate that it does an excellent job at both of these tasks, with a few caveats.

At present, Glide requires a Facebook account to log in. The company says that in the near future sign-in will be possible with other services, but for now it is limited to Facebook. This is not an unreasonable requirement for a social app, but in certain territories — notably the U.K. — App Store reviewers have historically been rather resistant and critical towards apps which have Facebook as their sole option for creating an account and/or signing in.

Once into the app proper, Glide has a pleasingly simple interface that follows a lot of the popular conventions of the moment. A pop-out drawer on the left of the screen allows access to information about the app, links to the developers’ social media presences and the ability to contact them directly for support. Another pop-out drawer on the right allows access to the user’s friends list as well as the facility to create new groups and invite friends from Facebook to start using the app. The friends list indicates whether the users are online and whether they are currently broadcasting, watching a video message or typing.

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Pick one or the other with Polar

photoPolar is a new iOS app from Input Factory. It’s available now as a free download from the App Store, and carries no additional in-app purchases.

Polar is a simple app designed to allow users to solicit opinions from friends and community members on whatever subject they please. The questions Polar users ask are all binary choices — hence the app’s title — but the ability to supplement one’s votes with comments allows for more detailed discussion to take place surrounding a question.

Polar may be browsed without signing up, but registering for the service is a simple process. Users must provide a username, their real name (so their friends can find them more easily — though there is no obligation to be truthful here), their email address and a password. There is no facility to sign up using Facebook or Twitter, though other parts of the app do support connectivity with these services.

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Show you’re on the way with Glympse

glympseGlympse is an iOS, Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry app from the company of the same name. The app originally launched back in 2009, but has undergone numerous major revisions since then — revisions which have allowed it to survive in the crowded marketplace even as other location-based mobile-social apps either withered and died or found themselves acquired and merged into other services. The current version of Glympse, which is a free download on all platforms, is currently enjoying a feature spot in the New & Noteworthy section of Apple’s iOS App Store. This review is based on the iOS version, tested on an iPhone 4S.

One of the reasons Glympse has survived so long is its fundamental rethinking of how location-based apps can and should work. Rather than creating a proprietary social network for users to share their location with friends using the service and other networks connected to it, Glympse is not reliant on any sort of traditional social functionality and does not have its own attached social network in the traditional sense. Rather, it is an app intended to allow users to quickly and easily share their current location and/or estimated time of arrival at a specific destination — and to be able to do this in a cross-platform manner that is not reliant on other people having the app installed, or on people having a compatible device.

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Audioboo relaunches with a brand new app

audioboo2The popular “audio blogging” service Audioboo has relaunched with a brand new, separately downloadable version known as “Audioboo 2″ despite being version 3.0 of the app. Audioboo Classic, as the previous version is now known, is being retired and replaced with the new app, which is available now as a free download from the App Store. A beta version of Audioboo 2 is also available for Android devices via Google Play.

Audioboo, for the uninitiated, is a service that allows its users to post short sound clips and then share them with the Audioboo community. The service is a popular one that is used by both individuals and brands to discuss and promote a wide variety of different topics. The standard free Audioboo account only allows users to post up to five minutes of audio at a time, but the Web-based Audioboo service allows users to upgrade to a Plus or Pro account for longer recordings suitable for use as podcasts or “audio editions” of websites or print publications. Many popular online content providers (including The Guardian and the BBC) already make use of the service in its Pro incarnation. There does not appear to be a means to upgrade to Plus or Pro accounts within the app — only via the Web.

Upon starting Audioboo 2 for the first time, the user is prompted to either register or sign in with either an Audioboo or Twitter account. The interface’s wording is a little misleading and could be read to imply that an Audioboo account is the same as a Twitter account. It is, however, possible to register and/or sign in to Audioboo without having a Twitter account. Users also have the option to browse the Audioboo feeds without signing in — if they choose to do this, they can listen to Boos, but not take advantage of the service’s more advanced features.

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Count down to your special day with Count It Down

countitdownCount It Down is a new iOS app from Yellow Canary Studios Ltd. It’s available now as a free download from the App Store, and carries additional in-app purchases of virtual currency. It’s currently featured in the “New” section of the store’s Social Networking category.

Count It Down is an app designed to allow users to create and manage events with their friends on social media, and automatically schedule posts to count down to the event. The app requires users to have an account on the service before they can have events and posts sent to them, but also features Facebook and Twitter connectivity to assist with finding friends.

To use Count It Down, users must first create an event by selecting someone whom the event is for from Facebook or Twitter, or alternatively via their email address or username on the service. If they do not already have an account with Count It Down, they will be sent an invite to download the app, and the event cannot be created until they are registered.

Once the event is created, the creator must set the title, category, date and time of the event. For some inexplicable reason, it is impossible to include punctuation in the event title, so an event with the name “Pete’s Birthday,” for example, will become the grammatically-incorrect “Petes Birthday,” which may frustrate some. Optionally, the event creator may choose to hide the event title until the time and date of the event, allowing for the service to be used to “tease” an upcoming event without actually revealing what it is until it arrives.

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Tell a story with Checkthis

CheckthisCheckthis is a new iOS app from the company of the same name. It’s an extension of the company’s Web-based “social posters” offering and shares many common design elements, but is its own distinct product specifically designed for smartphones. It’s available now as a free download from the App Store.

Checkthis’ core principle is to allow users to tell stories using a combination of text, images and polls. Essentially, it is a lightweight proprietary blogging platform with social hooks to other platforms. It’s designed specifically to be quick and easy to use on the go using a smartphone, and the “stories” it creates are also designed to look good on the small screen.

To use Checkthis, users must sign up either using their email address or Facebook. From here, they are prompted to add friends from Facebook, Twitter and/or Instagram and follow some suggested users, though this step may be skipped if desired. Once all this is done, they are taken into the app proper.

Creating a new story is a simple matter of tapping the Create button in the top-right corner of the screen, at which point the user is taken to a blank page. From here, they may add a title and customize its font from one of 12 different presets, customize the background color of the page (though not the text — text will instead automatically change from the default black-on-light to white-on-dark if the background color selected is towards the darker end of the spectrum), add text, add images and add polls. Users may make stories as long or short as they please, and current users of the platform appear to be using it in a variety of ways. Some are sharing individual images much like other mobile-social networks like Instagram. Others are sharing sets of images from a particular event. Others still are writing longer blog post-style stories with a combination of text and images.

checkthis

The development team are active users of their own service, and post regularly to keep users abreast of new updates and upcoming features. The built-in poll functionality also means they can use their posts as a means of soliciting feedback directly from the community without having to go via a third-party polling or feedback solution. The developers seem keen to engage with the community and make the ongoing development process of the app as transparent as possible, which is reassuring to users.

Once a post has been created, it can be saved to drafts for later review and editing, or posted onto the Checkthis network. At the same time, it may also be shared on Facebook and Twitter, allowing those who do not currently use Checkthis the opportunity to browse the user’s creation and interact with it. The main mobile Checkthis network allows for the usual likes and comments, but also tracks “reactions” such as stories being shared on Twitter, and the number of views each story has received. Those who enjoy the more competitive aspect of social media will doubtless enjoy the latter feature as they attempt to create the next viral sensation.

On the whole, Checkthis is a solid app that produces some good-looking content. It’s perhaps questionable as to its benefit over a dedicated blogging platform such as WordPress or the more mobile-friendly Tumblr, but it’s certainly a pretty flexible mobile-social network that offers something a little more than the usual Instagram clones do. It remains to be seen whether or not it will enjoy success in the long term, but it’s certainly off to a good start, offering prospective content creators a quick and easy means to publish their thoughts and photos on the go.

You can follow Checkthis’ progress with AppData, our tracking service for mobile and social apps and developers.

Meet new friends with Skout

SkoutSkout is an iOS app from the company of the same name. It’s available now as a free download from the App Store. It has been available for a while now, but has recently begun a promotional campaign via the official iOS Facebook app.

Skout is a mobile-social network designed to allow its users to meet new people, make friends and exchange pictures. Users may sign up either using Facebook or their email address, and must then populate their profile with basic information including whether they are interested in men or women — this helps customize the experience by only displaying other people the user might be interested in.

Skout’s main screen simply shows a grid view of people who are online at that time. Tapping on any of the images brings up the user’s profile, which displays their basic information, last few posts and number of “points” they have on hand. From here, it’s possible to “wink” at them, start a chat, add them to a “favorites” list, send them a virtual gift, be alerted when they next come online, block them or report them. It’s also possible to leave comments or likes on their last few posts directly from their profile.

Opening the drawer on the left of the app reveals a number of alternative means to browse the network. “Buzz” shows a social feed of either local people, friends or favorites. “Look at Me” is a bidding game where users can bid their accrued “points” in the hope of attaining a feature spot and consequently greater visibility. “Shake to Chat,” meanwhile, starts a conversation with a random and initially anonymous stranger then reveals both users’ profiles after 40 seconds.

Many activities on Skout cost “points” to perform. This in-app currency may either be purchased or acquired via various other means including engaging with advertising partners and convincing people to pay points to view private “backstage photos” — the owner of said photos received a proportion of the points cost to view these photos in this case.

skout

Points may be spent on a variety of purposes ranging from viewing who checked out your profile to sending gifts to others. Other features include a “wink bomb” facility that allows a user to send a huge number of “winks” in a single action and consequently earn some attention.

Skout is a reasonable quality app that is mostly well put together and intuitive to use, but there is really relatively little here that hasn’t been seen elsewhere for free. Common complaints from App Store reviewers include how many seemingly basic features require points to use, and the large number of fake profiles on the network. Other issues include the fact that there is relatively little actual conversation going on in public, which doesn’t really encourage users to try and get to know each other better. There are exceptions, of course — a casual browse of the Buzz feed reveals a few users who have obviously become friends (or at least acquaintances) through the service, but as usual for this type of experience a lot of posts simply consist of pouting teenage girls and one-word comments from men regarding their appearance.

In short, then, while Skout is a competent social networking app, its focus on monetization rather than socialization negatively impacts the experience — users are far better off using one of the many completely free mobile-social networks to engage with people who share their particular interests.

Skout is currently ranked at No. 381 in Top Free Apps, No. 319 in Top Grossing Apps, No. 31 in Top Free Social Networking Apps and No. 16 in Top Grossing Social Networking Apps. You can follow its progress with AppData, our tracking service for mobile and social apps and developers.

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