While casual gaming has been a large part of the iOS experience for many, I’ve never been one to do a great deal of it. Sure, I have some time-wasters on my iPhone and iPad, but they are far down the list of things I’ll be doing when I pick my device up. Each has certain tasks best suited to it; the iPad is the device of choice for entertainment and media consumption, as the larger screen provides a better watching and reading experience. The iPhone is a far better communication tool; not only due to the fact that it’s the one that can act as a traditional communication device but due also to its smaller form and portability.
With the recent addition of Crossy Road and Planet Quest I’ve started opting for a game when I have a bit of time to spare, instead of sifting through my various news sources. The change in default behavior got me thinking- what is it that makes a game enthralling (and ultimately successful) on iOS?
There have been some huge hits in the App Store- Angry Birds, Where’s My Water, Monument Valley, Flappy Bird, and so on. What do these and other successful titles have in common? I’d argue that it’s two main factors.
First, simplicity; each game may be engrossing but each of the aforementioned titles are much simpler in appearance and game play than your average console or PC game. Each has a primary mechanic, like Angry Bird’s and Flappy Bird’s gravity and inertia or Monument Valley’s spatial and dimensional mind play. Graphics can range from the amazing complexity of the Infinity Blade series to the banality of Flappy Bird provided they fit the tone and experience of the game.
Secondly, the game needs to emphasize the touch interface. All of the titles mentioned not only take it into account, they make it a seamless part of the experience. Tapping on the screen for Flappy Bird or Planet Quest provides some sense of tactile feedback without requiring the player to hit a specific faux button that can easily be lost due to the physical sensation of doing so. Swiping the screen is another excellent control that takes advantage of the medium, from the simpler one used by Crossy Road to the more complex one used by Infinity Blade (more complex swipes corresponding to a wider range of actions in the game).
Lastly, one facet that’s not limited to iOS gaming but is just as important as the two previously mentioned- your game needs to be CLEVER. That term is a broad tent, encompassing the ultra kawaii/cute, to brain teasingly challenging, to anxiety-inducing tenseness. iOS won’t directly compete with a console in terms of graphical power for a long time, if ever, so you need to compensate with some sort of emotional appeal in order to make it to the coveted front page of the App Store.
Easier said than done, isn’t it? Nothing worthwhile is ever easy.
Posted in Opinion | Tagged Angry Birds, apple, Appstore, casual gaming, crossy road, entertainment, funny, gaming, Infinity Blade, ios, ipad, iphone, monument valley, PC gaming, planet quest | Leave a Comment »
There are many avenues for the clever and inventive to get their ideas to the public thanks to the proliferation of electronic devices and media. Pulling out a flip phone instead of a smartphone is a sign of age, and crowdfunding has become a primary means of both publicity and finance for many successful ideas. While my plethora of devices and online exploration have brought me some clever and useful new devices, there have been some significant misses.
Case one: NuPlug. The combination of extension cord, USB ports, and secure placement seemed like an obvious device, and one that I would use in my home on a regular basis. I gladly chipped in to the Kickstarter campaign, expecting the device to be quickly funded and in production- possibly widely. Then things started to spiral out of control.
Some blame has to be shouldered by the developers, as communication with backers has been spotty and occasionally incomplete. The device has gone through multiple redesigns (for a variety of reasons) to the point that it barely resembles the original. Patents were apparently difficult to secure, and business partnerships foundered. All of these factors (documented in their infrequent emails to Kickstarter backers) resulted in manufacturing delays to the point that the NuPlug can almost be considered vaporware. The creators still insist it will reach production, but backers have almost reached the pitchforks-and-torches level. As with any crowdfunding effort, caveat emptor.
The App Store may be carefully curated, but it has its share of flops as well. While I read a huge number of app reviews for both iOS and OS X, I rarely explore them personally unless they offer some significant utility to me. TokenLock seemed to do just that- it promised effortless proximity-based unlocking of you Mac via Bluetooth pairing with your iPhone. Just install the app on both devices, pair them, and the presence of your iPhone within Bluetooth range (about 30 feet) would automatically unlock your computer. Allowing your Mac to go to screensaver or if your iPhone was not detected in a preset interval would lock your device for you as well. Because I use my Macbook almost exclusively at work and have to leave my lab on a regular basis it sounded like a perfect app, providing an additional layer of protection to a personally-owned device that can access both personal data and HIPPA protected portals.
Configuration was simple and quick, and I was optimistic that TokenLock would be a great addition to my must-have software. Sadly, it didn’t live up to its promise. Detection was sporadic at best, and the app would occasionally lock my Macbook during use. Even with shorter detection cycles it often didn’t unlock my Macbook at all. While they do have a decent FAQ section to offer support, the problems persisted to the point that I just uninstalled the app from both my devices and returned to relying on my Macbook’s screen saver and sleep mode to secure it if I forgot to lock it manually. The issue could easily be due to problems between the devices (the website references known issues with the iPhone’s Bluetooth connections), but ultimately if a product doesn’t meet expectations it simply won’t be used.
Both of these examples (and many more I could reference) seemed like great ideas at the time. To be honest, they still are; I’d gladly add them both to my repitore if they could meet expectations. Sadly, even the best of ideas will have hurdles on the way to production- something to bear in mind when opening your wallet for an unfinished or untested idea.
Posted in Opinion | Tagged app store, apple, Apple Store, fail, indegogo, ios, Kickstarter, mac, OSX, useful, vaporware | Leave a Comment »
Apple had yet another product announcement keynote, loosing the Apple Watch on the world- and harking the possible beginning of the next incarnation of laptop forms. The Apple Watch offers a great deal of promise, providing more functionality from the onset than any other wearable on the market- and the heady promise of explosive development that the iPhone and iPad had in their short lives. Consider the first generation iPhone to the 6- while they sport the same DNA, the evolution has been so profound that it would have been inconceivable at the time the first gen was released to even dream of what the 6 and 6+ are capable of routinely.
Garnering less press but with equal implications for Apple and their competitors is the new Retina MacBook. The 12 inch form is an almost complete fusion of iPad and Macbook Air- the thin, solid state, no-moving-parts form of the iPad coupled with the functionality of a full sized keyboard and Apple’s new multitouch trackpad. The new laptop very well could be as much a glimpse at the future as the first Macbook Air was. At the time it was mocked for what it didn’t have: optical drive, raw processor power, upgradability, and ports. Fast forward to today; every major manufacturer has at least attempted to produce an ultralight laptop in the vein of the Air, and some of the supposed weaknesses of the Air have spread almost osmotically to ‘regular’ laptops. The new Retina’s lack of moving parts (namely the fanless construction) while still offering full laptop functionality will likely be quickly aped. The sharing of the iPhone color schemes is interesting (and I have to admit I covet the space grey model), and the laptop has numerous innovative improvements that aren’t readily obvious (new edge to edge keyboard, miniaturized logic board, sculpted battery). The big question I kept returning to is has Apple overreached on the matter of ports.
Much like the iPad and iPhone the new Macbook is touted as a modern, wireless device. Gone are the standard USB ports, the ethernet port, and even Apple’s Thunderbolt port that hasn’t been widely adopted. All of these have been consolidated into a single USB C port to provide external power, physical input, and wired output. That’s a lot to ask of one little port that absolutely no one has supported to date. While the emphasized wireless workflows could very well provide a superior experience, the existing wired options are deeply ingrained in most computer users. Thumb drives and SD cards have been replaced by cloud storage for a couple years now, but they still offer off line functionality and physical reassurance that some crave. Would anyone but bleeding edge adopters be happy with a device that at the very least will make their wired peripherals much less convenient to use (as well as more expensive, thanks to the adaptors that would be required). The USB C port is intriguing; it seems like a sleeker version of the Thunderbolt port providing any sort of data transfer AND power to and from the Macbook. The adoption makes perfect sense when the razor thinness of the device is considered- there’s simply no way they could have slimmed the Macbook down to its dimensions and still provided traditional ports; the size of even a standard USB slot is too large. The biggest disadvantage to me (even considering the loss of input ports) is the lack of MagSafe power. The protective nature of the MagSafe connection has saved my current Retina Macbook an unplanned trip to the floor more than once.
It’s entirely possible that Apple has overreached here, it wouldn’t be the first time. Anyone that’s followed Apple for any length of time remembers the emphasis on Firewire; the Apple-preferred port was faster than USB but failed to catch on outside of Mac-dom and now isn’t even an option on new iMacs, much less the smaller MacBooks. Thunderbolt offers functionality that no other option can match currently, but third party accessory manufacturers haven’t exactly been flooding the market with Thunderbolt devices.
Time will tell if the new Macbook is a hit. I’d wager it will be more successful than the first gen Macbook Air but won’t reach Macbook Pro levels of success until some of its shortcomings (namely processor and graphical power) have been addressed. That being said, I’d gladly take one if it were offered to me for a test drive.
Posted in Opinion | Tagged AirPlay, apple, iMac, innovative, MacBook, MacBook Air, Macbook Pro, new, osk, Thunderbolt, USB, Wireless | Leave a Comment »
Whether it’s via my iPhone or iPad, one of the primary uses of my iOS devices has been listening to music. Music was Apple’s first foray into the portable world via the iPod, and while lately productivity and gaming get top billing when discussion the use and future of iOS music, whether loaded on the device or streaming, remains a primary function for many end users.
Most listening is done via headphones/earbuds, from the included EarPods to high end over-the-ear headphones costing hundreds. If you’d like to listen to your music via a traditional speaker the default option has been a Bluetooth speaker. There’s a wide range to choose from, in both price and quality. While they can be a fine solution, there is another option with some significant advantages: AirPlay.
Bluetooth speakers (including streaming audio in newer cars) provides reasonably good sound quality and easy connectivity. My phone instantly connects to my car when I start it up; the same with the Philips bluetooth speaker box I use at work. While my non-audiophile ears can’t discern it, the sound played via Bluetooth is compressed. Since iOS devices don’t typically play uncompressed music files, the dual compression may be unpalatable to some listeners. Furthermore, the convenience of instant pairing can be a pain as much as pleasure if you have more than one device you’d like to send music from. Unpairing and paring the new device is doable but hardly elegant, Lastly, Bluetooth has a limited range, optimally about 30 feet (and under some circumstances less than that).
AirPlay has been touted during some of the Apple corporate PR events, but isn’t discussed much beyond that. I’ve used AirPlay with my Apple TV to play video from my iMac that hasn’t been converted into an Apple TV-friendly format or to be able to watch things like Amazon Prime video that aren’t yet part of the Apple TV’s apps, but there’s more to it than just pushing video to the TV. There are some very high quality portable speakers that use AirPlay instead of Bluetooth as the means of wirelessly sending your tunes.
When searching for a portable AirPlay speaker I settled on Libratone. Their products are as visually appealing as they are functional, and the Zipp matched the parameters I needed out of a portable speaker perfectly: good sound quality, portability (backed up by an internal battery), and easy wireless connectivity with any device. The Zipp pairs with your wifi network, providing audio playback the same way the Apple TV does. Swipe up from the bottom of your iOS device’s screen, tap the AirPlay icon, select the Libratone device and you’re done. No pairing, no numerical codes, and none of Bluetooth’s limitations. I use my Libratone as a step up from the iPad’s internal speaker when watching TV shows in the kitchen, and as an extension of my iMac when grilling (controlled by my iPhone). Should I need to take it out of the warm embrace of my home’s wifi there’s no issue as the Zipp’s PlayDirect feature allows you to directly connect your device to the speaker via wifi.
AirPlayuses the AAC lossless codec, so there’s no further degradation of your audio. Wifi has a much better range than Bluetooth and can handle a wall or two between source and destination device, and as mentioned earlier doesn’t require pairing like Bluetooth device do making it much more convenient if you plan on using the speaker with multiple devices.
The Zipp isn’t cheap, but it is comparable to other high end Bluetooth speakers like the Big Jambox from Jawbone (both are $299), but there are quality Bluetooth speakers out there for considerably less. That being said, if you’re in the market for a portable speaker be a smart shopper and know exactly what you need out of the device. You might find like I did that an AirPlay speaker fits you needs much better.
Posted in Advice | Tagged accessories, AirPlay, apple, Apple TV, Audio, audophile, Bluetooth, ios, libratone, music, streaming, zipp | Leave a Comment »
Not cold? I shut down when it gets below 50!
Posted in Opinion | Tagged apple, funny, humor, ipad, iphone, Siri | Leave a Comment »