Posted in Advice, News, tagged apple, Apple Thunderbolt Display, BookArc, iMac, iphone, Kickstarter, MacBook, USB on February 25, 2013 |
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Just a couple quick notes on some very worth Apple-centric Kickstarter campaigns, and the Kickstarter iOS App:
Card cases have appealed to me since the first time I laid eyes on them. The ability to get yet one more function out of your iPhone and being able to carry one less thing with you is an irresistible siren song of practicality. I’ve been through many card cases before finally settling on my current CM4 Q card case. While not perfect, it offers the best mix of slim storage, phone protection, and style. Now a new device that’s gained runaway success in their Kickstarter campaign is offering a new paradigm- the Wally.
The Wally is an unusual concept. It’s not a card case per se; the accessory adheres to the back of your iPhone (or smooth surfaced case) and can be removed and replaced. The card holder is similar to the CM4, but has a contoured pocket rather than a flap that holds your cards snug. Cards are easily removed via a clever red ribbon that pulls them partly out for easy access- I often have to fumble with my CM4 to pull the card I’d like past the rubber edge of the case. The materials are high quality as well- the makers tout the Italian leather and careful stitching that make their product a cut above the competitors.
They’ve already surpassed their original goal and with just a few days left are within sight of their stretch goal. If you like the idea of being able to skip on carrying a wallet or clutch purse when out and about give the Wally a look- it’s a top notch idea.
While iOS devices have been touted for their multitasking nature, the Macbook can’t be overlooked. Apple’s unibody laptops are as powerful as they are stylish, and the newer models that sport Thunderbolt ports offer the ability to dock them in clamshell mode, transforming them into a slim desktop tower. There are several third party accessory manufacturers (like Twelve South) that have some outstanding devices to help you take advantage of this feature, but what is a user to do if you don’t have the funds for an Thunderbolt Display? Kickstarter to the rescue again thanks to the MacDock. The diminutive connector plugs into your MacBook Pro to provide a peripheral bridge made of the same aerospace grade aluminum sporting a monitor connection and USB ports for keyboard, mouse, or whatever you may need to connect. The device comes in two levels: the MacDock Mini with one USB 3.0 port and a Mini Display port, and the MacDock Pro with a MiniDisplay port, audio jack, and three USB 3.0 ports (including one 10 watt port capable of powering your iPad). The MacDock is compatible with the MacBook Pro 13, 15, and 17 inch models Summer 2009 and later, with an additional model for the MacBook Air and Retina should they manufacturers reach their funding goals.
The device is plug and play; no drivers or software needed. If you’d like the advantage of a larger monitor and the desktop experience with your MacBook but don’t have Bluetooth accessories or the cash and ability to use the Thunderbolt Display, the MacDock offers an excellent compromise. The simple plug and play ability of the device coupled with something like TwevleSouth’s BookArc and a decent monitor affords you the ability to instantly shift from the mobile laptop experience to a full desktop. While I love my iMac I’m sorely tempted to shift to a MacBook Pro teamed with something like this for my next desktop.
And if you’re as fascinated with Kickstarter as I am, good news: they have an official iOS App now so you can keep track of all of the campaigns you support (and maybe find a few new ones that catch your attention). I haven’t had a chance to spend much time with the app yet, so a full review is pending.
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Posted in Reviews, tagged app store, flame throwers, games, gaming, ios, ipad, iphone, itunes, Plants vs Zombies, power ups, Video game, videogames on February 25, 2013 |
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I love zombies. I mean I really love them- the concept, the movies (most of them, at least), the TV shows (huzzah for Walking Dead on iTunes- the HD downloads are a godsend for cable cutters!), the implied social commentary, and of course the GAMES. When I want to fire up Steam for some non-casual gaming nothing else is as enjoyable as Valve’s Left 4 Dead franchise. Even iOS plays a role for me, thanks to some App Store heavy hitters like Plants Versus Zombies (still marked down to FREE as of the writing of this post!) and the previously reviewed Into the Dead (also listed as free in the iTunes App Store). While that’s a whole lot of undead goodness, eventually even I need something new to keep my attention.
Thanks to Randy O’Connor I’ve had just that via Dead End HD. The game is a good blend of the familiar and the innovative starring everyone’s animated corpses. The idea is a common one in zombie games- survival of your beleaguered character Harold facing waves of zombies. The controls are both simple and vexing: your character runs in the direction he faces, only stopping when you change his direction via right or left buttons at the bottom corners of the screen. You fire your weapon while turning, allowing you to spray destruction around you but leaving you vulnerable to the ever-denser hordes that creep up . When coupled with the top-down view of the game it creates a Smash TV-like feel (for those of you that can remember that far back). Power ups are picked up from the field of play; the weapons range from simple pistols to heavier fare like machine guns and flame throwers (with additional weapons unlocked by achievement). To make matters more difficult, as you progress the playing field is cluttered by obstacles like lamp posts and benches that your character bounces off of. For those skilled and/or brave enough, you can switch to a single button control.
The game is an excellent casual-style time waster. The gameplay is very engaging, accentuated by some perfectly rendered cartoonish graphics, music, and sound effects reminiscent of another favorite: Zombies Ate My Neighbors. The waves of zombies quickly become challenging, but never so much so that the game loses its charm. While Dead End HD is compatible with any iOS device, I enjoyed the game on the iPad more thanks to the additional screen real estate.
Dead End HD is Game Center compatible for those of you that like to run some high-score smack talk with your friends. It is available now via the iTunes App Store for $1.99.
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Posted in Advice, tagged Android, app store, apple, brand loyalty, DropBox, Gmail, Google, ios, iphone, mobile, raison d, technology, YouTube on February 21, 2013 |
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The big debate/argument/fanboy spat in the world of mobile devices is (and has been almost as long as there have been legitimate smart mobile devices) who has the better platform- Android or iOS. As I’ve opined before, there really is no universal right answer; most of the argument is the result of overzealous brand loyalty and/or dislike of the competing company. Since Android is one of the many products of Google, logic would dictate that they and Apple should be blood enemies, no? Apple has made it no secret that they have been working to scour Google’s presence from their devices; Google Maps and the built-in YouTube App have been obvious examples of the corporate rivalry.
I’ve been a fan of many Google services longer than I’ve been an Apple covert. Their raison d’être- internet search- has been my go to resource for almost as long as I’ve been aware of the internet. Gmail is easily the best free email available, Picasa is a fantastic cross-platform answer for casual photographers, and the list just goes on and on. So if you’re an iOS devotee is the (real or imagined) conflict between Apple and Google limiting your access to Google’s services? Does Google keep their quality in house, as Microsoft does with Office versus Office for Mac?
The short answer is definitely not. While Google’s products aren’t a part of the default (and undelete-able) apps in iOS, the services you may have come to love and rely on are still there; often in a form that rivals (and in a couple instances surpasses) what Google has built into Android. After a short hiatus Google Maps is available in something other than web app form. Within moments of appearing in the iTunes App Store Google Maps almost immediately became one of the top free downloads and remains extremely popular thanks to the bad press that Apple’s in-house Maps App has received.
What of Google’s other services, though? Well, the flagship of internet search is still the default of iOS (and Google isn’t shy about paying an impressive sum to remain so). Gmail, Google Calendar, and your contacts are easy to sync to your iPhone (even with the recently-resolved issues iOS has had with Exchange). Not a fan of iOS’ default Mail App? No worries- Gmail has it’s own app for iOS that offers functionality that syncing alone lacks. While there’s no Picasa app for iOS (although there are third party apps to access your online library) Google+ does provide photo uploads similar to Photostream. Speaking of Google+, if you’re a user of Google’s answer to Facebook the iOS app is a great interface, offering Flipboard-like functionality that surpasses the dated feel of Facebook’s iOS app.
Almost every Google offering has an iOS app available- YouTube, the Google Play store, Latitude, Local, Translate, even Google Voice. Some have argued that the iOS version of Chrome is superior to the default Safari, even though they share the same webkit origins. Even Google’s DropBox competitor Google Drive is just a few clicks away.
If anything, Google has a strong incentive to duplicate their Android offerings on iOS. Reports have revealed that Google actually makes significantly more revenue from iOS users than their (much larger) Android user base. Google’s unstated market strategy doesn’t tie their efforts to their in-house mobile OS, either- they use Android as a loss leader to funnel users to their actual revenue engine: advertising and data mining.
So buck up, all you Google lovers out there. You can have the best of both worlds should you desire it: all of Google’s fantastic free services neatly wrapped in the warm embrace of iOS.
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Posted in Reviews, tagged App Store (iOS), apple, Bluetooth, british accent, cable isp, gadgets, ios, iphone, itunes, Regional accents of English, Siri, Sisyphus, technology, Winston on February 17, 2013 |
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The real world has yet again put a damper on my ability to write, but I have attempted to keep up with new apps and accessories for the Apple ecosystem. One in particular that piqued my interest was the outbreak of rave reviews for a new Siri-like news app dubbed Winston. The app acts as a nonvisual portal to your news and social media, reading articles and posts to you via a synthetic voice sporting a British accent. While the concept sounded intriguing, the demo video was even moreso:
I was immediately sold. My aforementioned limited time impacts my ability to keep up with current news and trends, and this app coupled with my car’s ability to stream from my synched iPhone over Bluetooth seemed like a perfect commute-friendly way to do so. As with any of the other dozens of apps I’ve picked up from iTunes the download and installation was quick and hassle-free.
When first activated Winston goes through a personalization routine, asking for permission to access location services and querying you on the types of information you’re interested in, from headlines to sports. After identifying the prerequisite categories, it then attempts to download final information to act as your new eyes-free portal to information. Or it would, if the app could perform the task it claims to be attempting.
On my first attempt the app hung up in its final download phase for about a half an hour, forever at about 90% complete. The app states that for fastest downloading your iPhone should be connected to a wifi network, which mine was. Hoping that perhaps my wifi was the issue, I disconnected and used my device’s LTE connection (often just as fast as my home cable ISP) but the change had the same result. Thinking there was some sort of glitch in the app, I exited and force quit it from the background app switcher to insure that I could start fresh. When relaunched the app went through the same preliminary stages, only to hang up on the same final page with a fraction of the claimed necessary download complete.
Rather than just give up I took the iOS nuclear option of deleting the app, rebooting my iPhone, and reinstalling Winston. Sadly, nothing changed; I remained stuck on the final download screen as before. On a lark I let my iPhone run it in the background for two days, checking periodically to see if the app ever finished its Sisyphean task but if there was an progress it wasn’t perceptible on the download status bar.
While I’d love to add Winston to my must-have app list, I can’t review much less endorse an app that simply won’t run. The user reviews on its iTunes App Store page range between two poles- those that have used and love the app, and those like me that randomly can’t get it to even start.
ADDENDUM: After one last attempt I finally got Winston working. Apparently the issue was selecting too many of the Interests options during installation. After only selecting Headlines the app was up and running after a short installation download. A full review is forthcoming.
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Posted in Reviews, tagged apple, Appstore, enemy planes, game, game center, gaming, ios, ipad, technology, Video game, videogames on February 7, 2013 |
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When the iPad was labeled as a media consumption device, it was meant as a derogatory description by the labelers. Over time users have developed and discovered a staggering number of non-consumption uses for Apple’s versatile tablet; I myself use it on a fairly regular basis for administration tasks from schedule creation to communication to document review and editing. I’ve patronized many vendors that have used iPads as transaction terminals, whether for convenience (as the case at a local farmer’s market) or cost savings and versatility in small independent stores.
Even with the proven business and work related uses of the iPad, I have to admit the original naysayers weren’t entirely wrong- the iPad excels in entertainment. Case in point: a new release from Romanian indie developers Catavani (represented by Bandello), Cut the Parachute: Enemy Invasion.
Like most good indie titles, Cut the Parachute: Enemy Invasion is an uncomplicated and straightforward affair. You man the last line of defense for your country against an unnamed invading force. Enemy planes patrol the skies, dropping soldiers and gear to overrun your position. Rather than waiting for them to land and finish the war, your task is to swipe the screen to cut the cords on their parachutes, causing them to plummet to the ground. Loot can be gained by allowing valuable gear and first aid kits to land safely, while game-ending death awaits if you cut the parachute of a slow-falling bomb causing it to detonate on impact instead of allowing it to land harmlessly. The loot you collect can be used to purchase various powerups such as cannons to make your task easier.
The game was immediately reminiscent of Fruit Ninja due to the game interface, although the slashing is a bit more purposeful and rewarding that butchering produce. The gameplay is fluid and ramps up quickly from extremely easy to surprisingly challenging (should you attempt to salvage gear instead of slashing everything but bombs from the sky as I did on my first couple of test plays). The graphics and animation are a bit cartoonish, but it meshes well with the gameplay. While not in the category of iOS gaming titans like Batman: Arkham City Lockdown or Real Racing, this casual game managed to devour a good 20 minutes before I realized how much time had passed.
Cut the Parachute: Enemy Invasion is a solid game on it’s own, but the creators at Catavani have hinted at possible multi-level system expansion as well as other in-app purchases. The game is Game Center compatible available for all iOS devices via the iTunes App Store for just 99 Cents.
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Posted in Reviews, tagged Appstore, Bandello, bright colors, Flavor Flav, game, gaming, ios, ipad, iphone, simple games, target audience, Video game, videogames, whimsical art on February 3, 2013 |
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The good folks at Bandello brought news of a new app garnering praise at the recent Nordic Game Jam that, to be honest, falls outside my usual realm of focus. Bandello has offered a consistent mix of gaming, small (sometimes individual) developers, and pure innovation, so I always check out their latest and greatest. Their latest may be a game, but it’s unlike any other I’ve reviewed because of the target audience- the very young (5 and under) and their parents.
Jones – Change the World is the first iPad-specific game from Redgrim. The app is based off of the original Flash-based edition (available at Redgrim’s website). The game is at heart a simple puzzle; the player has to find the object that is different from a group of similar things while the Flavor Flav-esque Jones displays his breakdancing prowess. Bouncing birds, leaping gorillas, spinning cars, and so on are displayed in bright colors as the hero of the game Jones dances, offering encouragement each time the correct item is picked. As described by Bandello Jones – Change the World is “…an experiment in unprogressive gameplay…” focusing on bright colors, whimsical art, and an engaging soundtrack to keep the attention of your little one. Unlike most games, Jones doesn’t increase in complexity or difficulty as it progresses- a deal breaker for a mature player, but a necessity for the very young. Some pages may be harder than others due to the number of objects or minor differences, but the actual game mechanic remains constant.
Most friends with children I’ve spoken to rely on movies to keep their children entertained during car rides (or whenever you may need them quiet and distracted), but I think that apps like Jones would be a great addition to your repertoire thanks to the added element of interactivity. A parent properly armed with video, interactive ebooks, and simple games like Jones – Change the World would be more than able to keep their prodigy from the grip of boredom when playing outside isn’t an option. The only criticism I could offer is that the game needs a simple animated cut scene to instruct the player how to play and to offer some sort of backstory or introduction to encourage engagement and longer-term interest.
The app is available now via the iTunes App Store for $2.99.
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