So long and thanks for all the fish, MacUser UK

MacUser UK is to close. Gutted isn’t really the word for how I’m feeling right now about this news, so I can only imagine what editor Adam Banks must feel like.

MacUser was one of the first titles to commission me when I started writing for a living, and I’ve bought it on and off since the mid-1990s. When Adam took over again a few years ago, he very rapidly transformed the magazine into something else—a technology title that dared to be different, in a manner echoing Apple.

Within the pages of MacUser, you’d not find a great deal of templated fare, and sometimes not even a great deal of content directly about the Mac. What you would find was interesting opinion and analysis about technology, brilliant insight into design and creativity, and in-depth features on all kinds of creative fare. All this was wrapped up in stunning design and layout work that let the content breathe and positively begged you to explore every page.

In short, MacUser felt like a magazine created for me.

It’s terrible to think that just one more edition will drop through the letterbox and then that’s it—no more MacUser. The publishing world just feels wrong without it.

January 16, 2015. Read more in: Magazines

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UK government increases hypocrisy rating to 11

Inevitably, the UK government is now demanding snooping powers after the recent Paris attacks. The hypocrisy never fails to boggle the mind when it comes to technology and British people in power. They’ll slam ‘regimes’ for heavily censoring the internet while simultaneously arguing the internet should be censored by default in the UK; and now the argument is that the government should be able to access everyone’s digital communications, potentially stopping the use of anything it can’t access, despite the same government having previously criticised other countries for doing much the same thing.

Of course, our government and our police would never use these powers for anything other than good, right? (And it’s doubly baffling to see Labour doing what opposition parties do right now and opposing the government, regardless of what it’s saying. Labour’s history is peppered with ramming through similar legislation, and so I don’t believe for a second a majority Labour government in 2015 wouldn’t put into place similarly intrusive legislation.)

Still, it’s more ammo for election campaigns as we barrel towards May. Politicians must be seen to be doing something. Even better if it supposedly protects people from harm, even if the reality is rather different. Probably best if we ignore the fact more data isn’t terribly helpful if algorithms cannot rapidly extract critical information. And also probably best to ignore the Met placing journalists under close surveillance for, well, reasons.

January 13, 2015. Read more in: Politics, Technology

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News from the future: iPhone 7 and #straightgate

TechRadar reports that curved phones are amazing. This baffles me slightly. Perhaps this is the point where I’ve hit number 3 from Douglas Adams’s rules regarding people’s reactions to technology:

1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things

The arguments in favour of curved displays are that they’re more comfortable for your hands and face, and, according to TechRadar, more immersive for video. Although quite how immersive the latest Hollywood blockbusters can be even on giant smartphones is clearly up for debate.

The author adds:

The general public might still need some convincing, it might even need Apple to jump on board before curved screens really become popular

I’m sure many tech blogs are eagerly hoping Apple does this. The all-new iPhone 7, “now with a beautiful curved display”, which Jony Ive can talk about while locked in his white room. And then, approximately eleven seconds after someone gets their hands on one, #straightgate, where it’s shown that bendy iPhones become entirely flat when introduced merely to the slightest breath (and possibly also a car’s tyres and the weight of said car).

Sounds great.

January 12, 2015. Read more in: Apple, Technology

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Internet Arcade: when illegal IP can benefit rights owners

I recently penned a piece for Stuff on Internet Arcade, a part of non-profit site Internet Archive, designed to provide universal access to all manner of digitised content. Internet Arcade is essentially a version of MAME running in a browser, enabling you to play a bunch of classic arcade titles.

At the time I wrote the piece, about 900 games were available. Shortly after my article went live (a few weeks later, due to holiday scheduling), someone helpfully emailed me to say Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had been removed from the site, due to a takedown request. I checked through the remaining items just now, and several more I selected have gone. The overall number of titles available, last I looked, was 649.

It’s understandable that IP owners get twitchy with online content such as this, and I’m generally against IP infringement myself. But I can’t help thinking there are differences in the way we experience media and the manner in which lawyers might be able to respond to various kinds of infringements.

Clever though it is, Internet Arcade isn’t the best way to experience these old games; at the most, it’s a reminder of a title you once loved, and a fun way to waste a few minutes during a lunchtime. When I was researching the article, it also reminded me once again of how much I enjoyed specific old games. The net result with me was that I fancied hunting down versions of said titles that would run on my current hardware—legally.

Perhaps that makes me an outlier. As I’ve written elsewhere, we live in an age where younger generations have only grown up with immediate and free access to all content, and so many don’t feel compelled to pay for anything. But I also see organisations making great use of the internet and benefitting from making content freely available: musicians upload entire albums on Soundcloud and report a subsequent uptick in sales; the likes of Image offer comics for peanuts on Humble Bundle and say the knock-on effect has been more people buying new issues of said titles.

I can’t help but think Internet Arcade is something that companies might consider nurturing rather than taking down, if not for the historical aspect—ensuring games of cultural significance remain available to all—then at least as a clever interactive ‘advert’ for when these games appear on commercial services elsewhere.

January 12, 2015. Read more in: Gaming, Opinions, Technology

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Brits: no you’re not being ripped off by revised App Store pricing (yet)

Predictably, I’ve seen some whining and entitlement online today as people react to Apple’s ‘rebalancing’ of EU pricing, which was presumably done to fall in line with revised EU tax laws. I’ve seen commenters say the new prices put them off, make it so it “might be time to start jailbreaking”, and, naturally, are a huge rip-off compared to US prices.

I don’t have a complete ‘before and after’ list of tiers and pricing in front of me, but here are some of the changes at the lower end of the scale in the UK store:

  • Tier 1: 69p > 79p
  • Tier 3: £1.99 > £2.29
  • Tier 5: £2.99 > £3.99

Some of the changes aren’t small, and this isn’t the first time the UK’s seen price rises, but Sterling is currently quite weak compared to the US dollar, and UK VAT (20%) is higher than the flat rate Apple was previously using for apps in the EU (15%).

So how do these prices compare to the USA?

  • Tier 1: $0.99 or 65p (compared to 79p)
  • Tier 3: $2.99 or £1.97 (compared to £2.29)
  • Tier 5: $4.99 or £3.29 (compared to £3.99)

That does indeed look like a bit of a rip-off, but US prices do not include sales tax. Here’s what happens when you add on 20% VAT:

  • Tier 1: $0.99 US / 78p (compared to 79p)
  • Tier 3: $2.99 US / £2.37 (compared to £2.29)
  • Tier 5: $4.99 US / £3.95 (compared to £3.99)

So unless Sterling rallies and manages to claw itself some way above $1.60 any time soon, UK iTunes prices are now basically the same as US ones once VAT is taken into account. And given who’s currently in charge of the UK’s economy, that seems unlikely to happen any time soon.

(Note: last night, the App Store in the UK was kicking out some seriously weird pricing for a lot of apps. This was apparently due to an App Store bug that was applying two lots of VAT for a short period of time. Additionally, devs apparently have to accept new terms and conditions for the price changes to happen, and so some apps in the EU remain with old pricing.)

January 9, 2015. Read more in: Apple

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