Microsoft Live Labs Releases First iPhone App – Seadragon Mobile

Written iPhone Photo App Review

Microsoft has recently made its first foray into Apple iPhone applications with the release of Seadragon Mobile.

In a most unlikely industry collaboration, the software heavyweight has produced a novel image app that is now freely available on the App Store.

Seadragon Mobile allows users to view Gigapixel images right on their iPhone. Yes, Gigapixel. The image-scaling technology has been developed by Microsoft Live Labs and was originally intended for the Silverlight platform on the PC, but it has been ported across for the iPhone market.


Seadragon comes with a number of images to explore including several pieces of high-res artwork, NASA’s blue marble and other space images. You can also view user-submitted “Deep-Zoom” Photosynth image albums. There is a nifty search function that lets you find an image set of interest. Seadragon assembles all the images in a set into an ordered display of thumbnails which allows you to view a large number of images quickly and easily. Pinch-zoom control is used to great effect here.

The satellite maps of the world included in Seadragon Mobile are possibly the most useful feature offered by this app. They are closely akin to Google maps, but, dare I say it, better executed – at least in terms of presentation. The maps are available in the same three formats as those provided by Google: satellite, hybrid and road. Labels are clear and the scaling of highways, population centers and geographical data is spot-on. There is a major gripe here though, and it’s a deal-breaker: there’s no search function.

Wrap Up:

As the app stands, it has limited real-world functionality but there is a lot of potential here. Seadragon Mobile was however always intended to be a tech-demo rather than a killer-app, so we shall see what the future holds.


Seadragon in action:



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Swat – Free Game of the Day

Written iPhone Game App Review

Swat is a free game with a simple concept. Dozens of flies buzz around on the screen and you have to try and swat as many as you can. There are 10 levels, each with increasing difficulty. To mix things up there are also bees which you have to avoid and butterfly’s to try and ‘catch’.

This is a basic whack-a-mole affair, but Swat isn’t without its problems. The game just doesn’t respond well enough to your finger taps. You will find yourself swiping madly at flies, but to no effect. There is also the odd butterfly that you are encouraged to catch, but the game can’t seem to differentiate between the finger-pinching action needed to do so and a normal tap. You just end up with a squished bug.

The graphics and sound in Swat are not OK, but game-play is what makes or breaks a game – and Swat is mediocre at best.


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Space Deadbeef – First Side-Scrolling Shoot-em-up for iPhone is a Winner

Written iPhone Game App Review

Space Deadbeef is a new game for the iPhone in the tradition of those old school side-scrolling shoot-em-ups of the 80’s & 90’s. You know the ones – where your impossibly small fighter takes on wave after wave of bad guys armed only with your quick reactions and virtually unlimited firepower. Space Deadbeef is the first incarnation of this style of arcade shooter to make its way to the app store, and it does the job surprisingly well for a game that won’t cost you a cent.

When playing Space Deadbeef, you use touch control (rather than tilt) to maneuver your aircraft up & down. You are constantly dodging lasers fired in your direction while trying to let loose as much ammunition in the other direction as you possibly can (it is unlimited after all). Sadly, for fans of the genre, power-ups don’t feature in Space Deadbeef. You only have the following two weapons at your disposal:

  • Gun: Activated by tapping on your own aircraft. You can hold down your finger to build up the power of the shot.
  • Homing Missiles: Activated by tapping on enemy aircraft. Pressing down over the enemy for longer increases the number of missiles that are fired. You can also drag your finger to select multiple enemies.

The graphics and detail of the models in Space Deadbeef are quite impressive. The explosions and particle physics are especially good. The sound is ok, and funnily enough it’s disabled by default – but you can turn it on if you want.

There are 16 stages in all, but essentially they are just repeats of the first stage. They’re all actually identical bar the increase in difficulty, and by difficulty I mean the volume of lasers that get fired at you. Your ability to evade the onslaught lessens with each stage until a veritable tsunami of lasers makes it impossible to survive. Still, criticism aside, this is the first release and the possibility is always open for updates/new levels etc.

Bottom line: Space Deadbeef is definitely worth checking out.

Space Deadbeef Gameplay:


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Shazam Updated – Now a must-have app

Written iPhone Music App Review

The popular music identification software for iPhone, Shazam, has just released a major update (v1.5). This update brings with it a host of new features, but there is one stand-out improvement that now makes Shazam a must-have app.

You now have the ability to store “pending tags” for when you don’t have access to the internet. So, if you’re like me and you have a 2G iPhone and/or a pre-paid iPhone without web access, Shazam used to be pretty non-functional. You can now record a soundbite of a song on-the-go, save it, and upload it to get the song info when you do have net access (e.g Wi-Fi).

Other v1.5 changes include increased artist information (lyrics, track & album reviews, other music by same artist), improved tag sorting, iPod Touch support (requires ext. mic) and the inclusion of advertising.

You can read our full review of Shazam here.

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Banner Free – Scrolling Message App

Written iPhone Utility App Review

Banner Free is an app that allows you to input a short text message that will then be displayed on the iPhone screen in scrolling LED-matrix style.

It’s kind of neat, but then again it’s kind of useless too. The message scrolls across the screen far too slowly for anyone to be bothered in taking the time to read it. For example, it takes 20 seconds to completely scroll the message “useless application”. There are no options to control speed, colour, size etc. I’d recommend Banner Free for bored students as a way to covertly communicate in class – but not to anyone else.

There is a paid version of this app by the same developer called “Banner” that addresses some of the shortcomings of the free version – speed control, colors, shapes are all featured. The dilemma still remains finding an actual situation that could use Banner, however.


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SteadyCam – Say No to Blurry iPhone Pics

Written iPhone Photo App Review

SteadyCam (now Darkroom) is a simple, but useful iPhone app that will help solve the constant blurry photo issue that plagues the built-in camera.

SteadyCam will only snap the shutter when your hand is stable.

You can press the ‘take photo’ button, but it won’t take the picture until the accelerometer tells the app that the iPhone isn’t moving = clearer photo’s.

There is no difference in photo quality between SteadyCam and the native camera app, and images are saved into the same directory. Worth downloading if you use the camera a lot, but there are no other features that make this one a stand-out.

SteadyCam is free to download.


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