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First One’s Free: “Freemium” Games Lucrative for Mobile Developers

Temple RunHave you ever downloaded a free game on your iPhone and wondered how in the world the developer could possibly be making money with it? As it turns out, the so-called “freemium” business model is actually far more lucrative than charging money, at least for mobile.

The New York Times has an interesting article that throws back the curtain on so-called “freemium” games — the ones you can download free of charge but can ultimately cost users far more in the long run than if they had just paid up front. While free games might come with the stigma “of being low quality or full of annoying ads,” it turns out they’re a great way to hook new users — and keep them coming back.

“When you tell a friend about it and they go to the App Store and it’s free, they download it without thinking about it,” explains Natalia Luckyanova, half of the husband and wife team that created the iOS game Temple Run. “Then there’s stickiness and the addictiveness and people talking about it.”

Luckyanova and husband Keith Shepherd released Temple Run in the App Store last August as a 99-cent game where “players must stay a step ahead of angry apes while avoiding booby traps and collecting coins.” While the first month of sales were decent, it was nothing compared to what happened in September, when Temple Run was offered as a freebie through the Free App a Day website.

Since going free, the app has topped 40 million downloads, and Luckyanova says upwards of 13 million people play Tempe Run at least once every day. Currently perched at Number 14 on Apple’s top-grossing charts, these “freemium” games bait users who might otherwise not spend even 99 cents on a given title — and once they’re hooked, they’ll spend money in “a virtual store to buy new characters, different backdrops and power-ups, or special boosters.”

The concept has proven wildly successful for Zynga, the creators of FarmVille who has expanded beyond their former comfort zone with Facebook and into a billion initial public offering — proving that the drug dealer’s mantra of “the first one’s free” can apply to other types of business as well.

Follow this article’s author, J.R. Bookwalter on Twitter

(Image courtesy of The New York Times)

 

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First Look: Apple TV

I was a little surprised to see this guy waiting for me on my desk this morning. Anyway, here it is! The new Apple TV! It looks…exactly like its predecessor. Even the ports on the back are the same. But it’s what on the inside that counts, right?

 

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GDC 2012: First Look at MechWarrior Tactics' Browser-Based Strategic Action

Used together in the same sentence, terms like “free-to-play” and “browser-based” generate images of the kinds of fluffy, gameplay-light play experiences that often result in rolled eyes and shoulder shrugs. Curiously, MechWarrior Tactics — coming later this year to browsers on Mac and other platforms via the Unity engine — hits both of those points and yet still remained on the lips of many writers covering the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco last week.

What’s different here? Aside from the storied source material, which began in the world of tabletop games in 1984 before spawning a series of giant mech games on multiple platforms, MechWarrior Tactics boasts production values like those generally seen in for-pay titles. Playable on nearly any computer via browser, the game features sharply rendered and customizable mechs, with battles unfolding on colorful hex-based battlefields. Each player prepares a “lance” of mechs (four of them) and leaps into combat, but what they’ll find there is something very different from past entries.

Rather than directly control mechs or view the gameplay from the perspective of a lone pilot, MechWarrior Tactics thrusts you into asynchronous turn-based strategic combat, not dissimilar in structure to Hero Academy or Words With Friends. Each player in the head-to-head skirmish can take his/her turn whenever convenient within the agreed-upon rules — for example, you can set a five-minute turn limit, or even a full day for executing turns — and you can manage games with multiple players at once, giving you a better chance of staying busy while opponents take turns.

Due to the turn-based approach, players alternate actions with each of the four mechs in tow, picking spots on the map to move to and actions or attacks to perform. But nothing actually happens until every mech has a plan, at which point the game ditches the overhead perspective and adopts a cinematic camera, quickly and effectively demonstrating the results as mechs zip around and blast each other with long-range lasers and up-close attacks. When complete, it’s back to the hex to battle with whatever mechs remain in your command.

According to the developers at Roadhouse Interactive and A.C.R.O.N.Y.M. Games, MechWarrior Tactics takes the form the kind of free-to-play title that lets players spend money for convenience, not to overcome artificial barriers or necessarily dominate in battle. Essentially, you’ll start the game with enough mechs and parts to jump into battle, with credits earned in both victory and defeat and used to purchase STACs — digital booster packs containing cards that unlock new mechs, pilots, armor, weapons, and more. Want more bits and pieces to customize your lineup right away? You can naturally pump cash into the game to snag more and more of the packs, if desired.

Whether that ability leads to a misbalance between the haves and have-nots remains to be seen, but from what we saw of the game at GDC, learning and knowing how best to control the mechs in combat seems at least as important as having the best-armored or most-powerful warriors. The asynchronous approach is tremendously appealing and could lend itself well to potential iOS apps down the line — something the developer said they’re not yet considering, as the browser-based version is leading the way for now. Still, even if it never leaves your browser of choice, this attractive free-to-play offering looks like a smart and entertaining use of the source material, and certainly something to keep an eye on when it launches later this year.

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First Look: Messages for Mac

Messages beta is out today for Lion users. Once you install and launch it, you’ll be asked to sign in with your Apple ID — be sure to use the same one you use for Messages on your iOS device.

In my test drive, it’s capable and fun to use… and weird. Basically this app is a mashup of Messages on iOS, iChat, and FaceTime. But since it’s in beta, you might run into some strangeness. I sure did.

Bear in mind a few things: 1. It’s beta. 2. I just got it a couple hours ago. I’ve tried to test as much as I can, but it’s possible (probable?) I’m missing a few things or just doing things wrong. If you know better about any of the things I found weird, or you’ve run into weirdness of your own, please hit up the comments! We’ll figure this out together.

Signing In

How it’s done: You start with your Apple ID. Like in FaceTime, you can add more email addresses. If an email address you add isn’t already associated with your Apple ID, you’ll need to verify it.

Any weirdness? No. So far so good.

Adding IM accounts

How it’s done: If you’ve been using iChat for IM, those accounts should already be added. Otherwise, go to Messages > Preferences > Accounts and add your AIM (including Mac.com and Me.com), Google Talk, Yahoo, and Jabber accounts. Bonjour is supported too.

Any weirdness? A little: Your buddy list, which is the handy unified buddy list that was added to iChat in version 4, isn’t on by default. So you don’t feel as dumb as I do searching for it, go to Window > Buddies, or press Command-1. Once the Buddies window is open and selected, you can play with the View menu options to change its look.

Sending a Message

How it works: Click the “write” button at the top left of the Messages window. Then fill out the To field. Typing a name results in an auto-complete feature that shows all the phone numbers and email addresses for that name, pulled from Address Book, and their IM accounts. Email addresses and phone numbers will be labeled “iMessage” and IM accounts will be labeled with that IM service. Or you can click the + button to add names from a pop-up list of Contacts (Address Book) or Buddies (your IM accounts’ Buddies lists). If the Buddies window is open, just double-click a name to start an IM conversation.

Any weirdness? Yes. The Help menu (Help > Messages Help) says that if a phone number or email address hasn’t been added to iMessages, it’ll show up red when you select it. But that didn’t reliably happen for me. I tried to send a message to Cody’s work email, which didn’t show up red, but the iMessage failed when it couldn’t be delievered. When I selected my parents’ land line, it did show up red, and attempting to message it immediately displayed a pop-up that iMessage wasn’t available.

Receiving a message

I don’t know how to take a screenshot of something that isn’t happening… but I swear there were more iMessage messages in this chat than the three that randomly showed up on my iPhone.

How it works: If someone sends you an IM or iMessage and there isn’t already a conversation going in the Messages window, you’ll see a pop-up window with their message, and you have to click Accept to get into the chat (the other options are Decline and Block). If you don’t have your Messages app open, you’ll see unread messages appear as a badge icon in the Dock. Help claims that you’ll receive iMessages on “all properly configured mobile devices with iOS 5.0 or later installed.”

Any weirdness? Tons. iMessages sent by several friends seemed to always go to Messages on my Mac, if it was open of course, and as badge icons when it was closed. But only a few showed up on my phone, whether Messages on the Mac was open or not. Sometimes in a given Messages conversation on the Mac, some messages appeared on the iPhone and others didn’t. Help > Messages Help has a list of suggestions under “Fix iMessage issues,” but none of them helped me — hopefully you’ll have more luck. (And my iPhone has been dropping its network connection pretty often lately, so that might be why.) Also, if I sent an iMessage to a contact and they wrote back using a different email address as their “caller ID” (Messages > Preferences > Accounts > iMessage account’s Caller ID drop-down), I got the reply in a pop-up window I had to accept, instead of in the chat window I had going.

File Transfers

How it works: You can drag and drop a file, image, video, and so on into the iMessage dialog and it’ll be sent right along. The recipient can double-click it to Quick Look it (you can play videos and listen to audio files from that Quick Look window), and/or drag it to their Desktop to save it. I was able to send images to my phone by sending an iMessage to my phone number.

Any weirdness? Nope, this is straightforward and SUPER handy.

Audio and video chat

How it works: The Messages window has a video icon in the upper right. If you have an iMessage conversation selected and you click that icon, it’ll show a list of that person’s email addresses and phone numbers and offer to FaceTime them. FaceTime opens in the separate app. If you have an IM conversation going, clicking the video icon offers choices to video or audio chat in the normal iChat fashion. (The Buddies window also has video/audio icons by your IM contacts who are available to video/audio chat.) Right-click an IM contact’s name for the screen sharing options.

Any weirdness? Not really. It’s just a little confusing for me since the IM and iMessages chats are both in the same window, although each chat is labeled if you select it in the sidebar and scroll up to the top. One thing that would be cool is if a contact was offline, refused your video chat request, or didn’t pick up your FaceTime call, if Messages let you record a quick video greeting to be delivered when they came back.

Other weirdness

- I could see my IM contacts’ profile pictures, but no profile pictures showed up on my iMessage chats. People I was iMessage-chatting with could see my profile picture, though. Weird!

- Address Book now has green dots by people’s names (that’s new, right?) if you can iMessage/IM them. If you click one of those green dots, the Messages window comes to the front and a New Message is created in the sidebar on the left, but their name isn’t auto-populated in the To field. Weird!

- My iMessages pals reported that when they closed Messages on their Mac, unread iMessages I continued to send them showed up on their phones. But that didn’t work for me reliably. Just one here or there, but not all. All unread messages did appear badged on the Messages Dock icon, though. Suuuper weird!

But so far, I still have to say that Messages is cool.

More cool things

- It supports the Photo Booth-like video effects in IM video chats, same as iChat 4.

- You can change the look of the chat window by right-clicking it and selecting a new look (balloons, boxes, or compact), or going to View > Messages. >

- I am an Emoji hater myself (I know, I know…lemme hear it), but the fact that you can send Emoji from the Mac to the phone (Edit > Special Characters) is pretty cool. Smileys show up on the phone as their text equivalents, though.

- I like having all the chats in one window, but if that gets confusing or annoying, you can double-click any chat in the sidebar to break it out into its own window.

And that’s what I’ve noticed so far! What do you think: “Messages yay!” or “Messages, weird!”? What are the things that make YOU go “Hmmmm”?

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Inkling Habitat Billed as First Digital Printing Press for Professionals

Inkling HabitatWhile the printing process today may not resemble the one invented by Gutenberg back in the 1400’s, there haven’t been any significant advancements with the printing press since the advent of desktop publishing in the ‘80s — that is, until now.

Inkling has announced the launch of Inkling Habitat, billed as “a breakthrough software environment” which the company is touting as “the most significant advance in publishing technology” since desktop publishing. With an eye toward the iPad and the internet, Inkling Habitat promises to create without desktop software or the traditional constraints of the printed page.

“To reinvent the book, we had to reinvent the printing press,” explains Matt MacInnis, CEO of Inkling, who unveiled Habitat for the first time today in a keynote at the Tools of Change for Publishing conference in New York. “It’s not about replicating the printed page on a screen. It’s about making a first-class interactive experience on every device you target, and this is the first time publishers can do it reliably and at scale.”

Featuring standards-based content capable of including guided tours, 3-D exhibits, interactive quizzes and even HD video, Inkling Habitat allows professionals to publish and update with a single click, even between platforms. The integrated publishing environment is cloud-based, allowing for teams of authors, editors and production partners to collaborate on projects from anywhere in the world.

Inkling Habitat also features an object-oriented content structure; rather than have creativity stifled by the traditional page-based model, Habitat takes advantage of decades of computer science advances to offer the world’s first strictly semantic publishing platform. Infinite revision management saves every version of a project at all times, so rolling back to a previous version is as simple as it gets.

“When Inkling debuted its first textbooks two years ago, we set the bar for interactive content experiences on iPad,” said MacInnis. “Now we’re setting the bar for how interactive content is built, providing the entire industry with a means to scale interactive publishing into a viable business for the first time.”

While Inkling Habitat is available immediately to select publishing partners, the company is also offering an Early Adopter Program for organizations interested in giving it a spin, with broad availability of the service later this year.

Follow this article’s author, J.R. Bookwalter on Twitter

 

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AllThingsD Claims iPad 3 Announcement First Week of March

Tim Cook with iPad frameThe near-mythical iPad 3 is coming, and while no one outside of Apple knows exactly when, it’s a pretty good guess that it will be announced in the next few weeks and likely in stores a week or two after that. AllThingsD, however, claims to have a source that’s pinpointing it just a little bit closer.

AllThingsD is reporting that the next iPad will be announced sometime during the first week of March, throwing cold water on any theories that the blessed event will come this month, as many tablet geeks have been hoping. But hey, that’s only a few weeks away, and if last year’s iPad 2 launch is any indication, potential iPad 3 buyers may even have one in their hands in less than six weeks.

“Sources say the company has chosen the first week in March to debut the successor to the iPad 2, and will do so at one of its trademark special events,” John Paczkowski’s report reveals. “The event will be held in San Francisco, presumably at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Apple’s preferred location for big announcements like these. No word yet on a street date for the iPad 3 (assuming that’s what it’s called), though my guess is retail availability will follow roughly the same schedule as that of the iPad 2: Available for purchase a week or so after the event.”

The gang at ATD isn’t prone to throwing out speculation willy-nilly, so we’d say the above information is a pretty safe bet — although it’s hardly crystal ball-level mysticism, since it follows pretty closely to the same playbook as last year’s iPad 2 launch. Apple, as usual, has no comment on any potential event (big surprise).

As for what the next iPad will offer in the way of new features, that’s anyone’s guess. A higher-resolution display seems to be a given, with the leading speculation doubling the current resolution to 2048×1536. A faster A6 processor with improved graphics is also likely, and since there’s not a whole lot that can be done with the existing tablet form factor, it will probably look and weigh in pretty close to the existing iPad 2.

Follow this article’s author, J.R. Bookwalter on Twitter

(Image courtesy of AllThingsD)

 

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How High Can It Go? Apple Records Yet Another Record First Quarter

Apple Inc. logoWe’re all familiar with the expression “what goes up, must come down” — but apparently that means nothing to the folks at Apple Inc., who continue to soar ever-higher with their quarterly financial results. Tuesday was no exception, with first quarter revenue of .33 billion and net profit of .06 billion. Is there any end in sight for this runaway money-making freight train?

Apple Inc. announced its fiscal first quarter financial results on Tuesday, covering the fourth calendar quarter ending December 31, 2011. It was indeed a very merry holiday season for the folks in Cupertino, who piled up another .33 billion in revenue, with “record quarterly net profit of .06 billion, or .87 per diluted share.” How massive is that? Last year at this time the company only raked in a mere .74 billion with less than half of this quarter’s profit at billion.

The company reported 37.04 million iPhones were sold in the quarter, a 128 percent unit growth from a year ago. iPads were also hot, with 15.43 million units sold for a 111 percent unit increase from a year ago — and let’s not forget the Mac, which is still flying high with 5.2 million sold for a 26 percent unit increase year over year. About the only thing that didn’t increase was sales of the company’s iPod products, down 21 percent from a year ago with “only” 15.4 million sold.

“We’re thrilled with our outstanding results and record-breaking sales of iPhones, iPads and Macs,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “Apple’s momentum is incredibly strong, and we have some amazing new products in the pipeline.”

“We are very happy to have generated over .5 billion in cash flow from operations during the December quarter,” said Peter Oppenheimer, Apple’s CFO. “Looking ahead to the second fiscal quarter of 2012, which will span 13 weeks, we expect revenue of about .5 billion and we expect diluted earnings per share of about .50.”

Apple CEO Tim Cook promised an “all-time” record for iPhone sales back in October and he certainly delivered, with the biggest single quarterly spike in the iconic handset’s short history. Apparently, it is an iPhone world, after all…

Follow this article’s author, J.R. Bookwalter on Twitter

 

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Apple Announces iPhone 4S First Weekend Sales of Four Million

Apple Inc. logoIf you still think the iPhone 4S is underwhelming, you may actually be alone in that opinion. Apple has just announced that the new handset racked up more than four million handsets sold in the first weekend — and they’re just getting started.

Apple issued a press release on Monday announcing that first weekend sales of the new iPhone 4S have topped four million units, only three days after its launch on October 14. Though they don’t specifically mention it, that number most certainly includes the initial one million handsets preordered in the first 24 hours on October 7 as well.

“iPhone 4S is off to a great start with more than four million sold in its first weekend — the most ever for a phone and more than double the iPhone 4 launch during its first three days,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing. “iPhone 4S is a hit with customers around the world, and together with iOS 5 and iCloud, is the best iPhone ever.”

But that’s not all — Apple also announced that more than 25 million customers are now using iOS 5 in the first five days since its release, and more than 20 million have already signed up for Cupertino’s new iCloud service.

Not bad for an initial launch that only includes the U.S., Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan and the U.K., and the device is only going to pick up more momentum on October 28 when the iPhone 4S lands in 22 more countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

Apple will continue the iPhone 4S rollout to more than 70 countries by the end of the year, its fastest to date.

Follow this article’s author, J.R. Bookwalter on Twitter

 

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Tuesday Recap: $49 Roku, iPhone 4S First Arrival, Zynga Previews, New iTunes 10.5.1 Beta for Developers

Mafia Wars 2 logoCan you feel the excitement in the air? iOS 5 and iCloud will arrive on Wednesday, and the telltale signs include a new iTunes 10.5 pushed out today. But that’s not all that’s making news this week — here’s a look at the latest stuff we’ve been tracking for this fine Tuesday, October 11, 2011.

Roku Introduces LT Box, Adds HBO Go

How low can they go? According to TechCrunch, streaming media pioneer Roku has introduced the new .99 Roku LT, the company’s cheapest offering to date which will be available just in time for the holiday gift giving season, sometime in November. The company is also beefing up their 300-plus strong content channels with the inclusion of HBO Go later this month — however, much like the iPad app, you’ll need a subscription to actually take advantage of it. Kind of a “good news, bad news” scenario there…

Lucky German Receives First iPhone 4S, Shows It Off

AppleInsider is reporting that one lucky customer in Germany has already received their iPhone 4S ahead of the official release date this Friday, October 14. So what’s a lucky customer to do? Why, head on over to Macerkopf.de and show off the packaging as well as Siri to any and all interested parties. Frankly, we’re jealous.

Zynga Previews New Games

FarmVille makers Zynga held an event in San Francisco today, with CEO and founder Mark Pincus offering a sneak peek of several of the company’s new social games on the way. Included are CastleVille, Zynga Casino (which includes both Poker and Bingo) and Hidden Chronicles, all of which will debut soon on Facebook. The company also previewed a new social games playground entitled Project Z as well as mobile game Dream Zoo and Mafia Wars 2, the latter now available on Google+. Last but not least, three new HTML5-based games are heading to Facebook’s mobile site, including Zynga Poker Mobile Web, Words with Friends HTML5 and Farmville Express. So much for your productivity!

Sam’s Club Joining iPhone 4S Party, Taking Reservations For Friday

Aside from Apple and its three U.S. carriers (AT&T, Verizon and Sprint), the new iPhone 4S will also be available this Friday at Wal-Mart, Target and Best Buy. If you prefer to do your shopping in a monolithic warehouse store instead, Sam’s Club has you covered — and according to MacRumors, they’ve starting accepting reservations today, with members able to pick up their devices on Friday. Sadly, there’s no discount to be had, but it’s nice to fill up your cart for your monthly shopping trip and be able to toss an iPhone 4S in at the same time, right?

Developers Offered iTunes 10.5.1 For Continued iTunes Match Beta Testing

While the public at large received iTunes 10.5 today in advance of iOS 5 on Wednesday, developers are still busy helping Apple squash bugs with the .99 per year iTunes Match service, which doesn’t launch until the end of October. According to TUAW, those hardy souls have just received a fresh new beta — iTunes 10.5.1 with iTunes Match. The update is required for developers who want to keep testing iTunes Match, and also promises “several performance enhancements and bug fixes.” Sounds like the rest of us will be getting this one by month’s end as well.

Follow this article’s author, J.R. Bookwalter on Twitter

 

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First Look: Adobe Photoshop Elements 10

Adobe Photoshop Elements 10 is proof that — as the Irish saying goes — the older the fiddle, the sweeter the tune. Now that the world’s most popular consumer photo editing software ships has launched, users will find all of Elements’ user-friendly tools intact with some killer new features and enhancements.

Browsing the list of Elements’ new elements, if you will, I was most excited to test a feature allowing users to “add curving text that automatically flows around shapes, objects or custom paths.” Whenever I’ve wanted to do something like that in the past, I’ve typically done it by hand with my ol’ Wacom tablet — awesome in some respects, but not if you’d rather employ typeface than your handwriting.

Using the “Text on Custom Path Tool”

I opened a photo of a German Shepherd I met in Bavaria, drew a wavy line next to her, clicked the “check” on my toolbar to okay the line, and then began typing a quote from Mark Twain. Ridiculously easy — so easy a cave man can do it. I experimented with some shapes, too, and that was easier still: as simple as clicking your shape onto the screen, sizing it accordingly, and typing away.

Mark Twain was a wise man.

The other new feature I was super-geeked up to try? Object Search, which is exactly what it sounds like: a content-based image search tool that peruses your photo library and identifies similar objects (facial recognition software is so 1995).

Framing my pup’s head to see how Elements 10 would fare in finding similar objects.

Sticking with the German Shepherd theme for my test, I selected a photo of my own beloved pup to see what the software would turn up in a search. Similar photos featuring my dog appeared, but so did, among manifold other irrelevant photos, a plate of barbecued chicken drumsticks and an accordion player (at least Elements 10 nailed the German thing with the accordion player).

Disappointing results, I wonder why barbecued chicken (bottom left) appears in a search for my dog.

A little disappointed, I navigated to a “Refine Search” icon and manipulated its slider hoping that that the search algorithm would include more of the “Shape” of my dog, rather than focussing on the “Color” — which is another way of saying that I guess my dog is colored like barbecued chicken. Curiously, the accordion player still popped up, but overall, the results dramatically improved: I saw every German Shepherd in my photo library and even some photos of a statue from outside the German Shepherd Kennel Club in Augsburg, Germany.

A refined “Object Search” proves worthy, but what gives with the accordion player?

All things considered, “Object Search” proved a super-sweet tool that I’m looking forward playing with more.

The refined Object Search for my dog turns up this German Shepherd statue.

Facebook fiends will be thrilled to know that another of Elements’ newest perquisites enables you to “use your Facebook friends list to quickly tag faces in your photos and easily share them on Facebook from within the Elements Organizer.” In other words, all those hours you’ve spent manually tagging folks in Facebook will pay off in the form of automatically tagging those same people in your Elements files after you next shoot them. Again, ridiculously easy.

Got an iPhone video of your favorite singer-songwriter performing in the mountains? Uploading to YouTube is just a click away.

Among further fresh features and enhancements are easy sharing with YouTube, augmented area paint-on effects, and composition crop guides. Look for a complete review of Adobe’s Photoshop Elements 10 in the next issue of Mac|Life.

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