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iOS 4.3 rumored for December; ngmoco, DeNA expanding Mobage next year

by Phil Hornshaw

It’s only been a couple of days since the release of iOS 4.2, an update with some major new features, but rumor has it that iOS 4.3 is only a few weeks away.

Ars Technica is reporting that Apple supposedly has iOS 4.3 waiting for a mid-December release, with the big change of allowing apps to offer subscription-based purchases. One big player getting ready to make use of the update is News Corp. (NWS), Rupert Murdoch’s massive news company and the owner of several media outlets, including Fox News. Murdoch has talked about releasing a new daily tablet-only subscription news source, which will charge readers $0.99 per week for updates.

It’s not nearly as big a deal as the magical 4.2 was, which gave us AirPlay, AirPrint and iPad video rentals, and inexplicably fixed my iPhone 3G’s previously malfunctioning Home button. But subscription purchasing in apps could improve how certain services, like Hulu Plus, work on mobile devices and make them easier to pay for.

Though, as News Corp. is demonstrating, the big changes will probably in the realm of news apps -- a lot of apps coming out now, like the recently released app for The Economist, offer free content alongside premium content for subscribers. In theory, which content you get for free and which content you subscribe to should become easier to navigate and easier to change for the user.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see newspapers start parceling out premium content, allowing users to subscribe to whole newspapers in one shot as an option, or in single pieces -- like just the sports section, or just the business section. Everyone in journalism is struggling to find a way to make money on the Internet, and micropayments on an article-by-article basis have been a struggle for many because it turns a lot of users away. Creative use of subscriptions for various apps from news sources might be a way to provide users with exactly the content they want, and still make them pay for it.

ngmoco and DeNA ready Mobage network for next year

Meanwhile, in mobile gaming, ngmoco and DeNA are working on expanding Japanese game maker DeNA’s Mobage network to the rest of the world.

DeNA acquired ngmoco, the maker of iOS games like We Rule and We City, last month in a $400 million deal. One of the big plans after the deal was to incorporate ngmoco games in to Mobage and to spread service, already popular in Japan, to the West. It’ll build on ngmoco’s existing plus+ network, or at least incorporate some of its features, according to a report by Gamasutra. Mobage boasts 20 million users already, while plus+ has 13.5 million of its own.

Mobage is a more anonymous social network for gamers, akin to Microsoft’s (MSFT) Xbox Live that lets users sign-up with a username to play, and links all of DeNA’s products and players together. It allows people to play together without having their username tied to their real names -- which can be nice if you don’t want everyone knowing you play social games all day, or if you happen to find irritating people in a particular online game and wouldn’t want them berating you on your Facebook page.

I mention Facebook because Mobage is going to have to go up against the social networking powerhouse when it launches. Facebook is working on expanding its social gaming platform, and moving it to smartphones, according to CNN. It’ll include huge Facebook games from the likes of Zynga, like FarmVille and Mafia Wars.

But Mobage is more of a gamer’s network, and differs from the bigger social network’s gaming efforts because it won’t include access to players’ real names and personal information -- which Facebook does by design.

And Mobage must be doing something right, at least in Japan. If it can carry that success on in the West, it could very well be a big contender with the seemingly unstoppable force of Facebook.

Big game sale going on in the App Store

One more thing before we wrap up: Electronic Arts (ERTS) and Gameloft have kicked off Black Friday a little early and are offering a bunch of game at highly reduced prices. We featured a few of them in today’s Download Discounts.

There are a lot of games on sale, although not everything offered by each company is marked down. But for the most part, the games that are on sale are only a buck, so enthusiasts should jump on this one.

The best way to go find what’s on sale is to run a search for “EA” or “Gameloft” in the App Store and check for the ones that are marked down to just $0.99. There are quite a few.

The sale runs until November 30.