Simogo quits iPhone and iPad gaming, and points the finger of blame at Apple

Simogo was my favourite mobile developer. Its games include Device 6, Year Walk, and the amusingly audacious one-thumb stealth/puzzle/platform/route-finding hybrid that is Beat Sneak Bandit. But, as you may have gleaned from the tense used in that opening line, the company has – for now at least – quit iOS.

Apple should treat this as a body blow. Simogo has consistently been one of the best developers on the platform, pushing the boundaries of gaming in new and interesting directions. Device 6, in particular, remains a masterclass in touchscreen game development – a strange puzzle/adventure hybrid, where you explore corridors composed of the very words in the game’s narrative. Sure, it could be made for a traditional console or PC – but it’d make far less sense.

But sadly, Simogo elaborates in a blog post that Apple is the problem, and I suspect the company remains largely oblivious to the pain it’s putting developers through, not only in terms of supporting games, but also regarding the longevity of their output.

Some choice quotes from Simogo’s writings say everything:

Let’s get the rough things out of the way first. This year we spent a lot of time updating our old mobile games, to make them run properly on new OS versions, new resolutions, and whatever new things that were introduced which broke our games on iPhones and iPads around the world. We’ve put months of work into this, because, well, we care that our games live on, and we want you to be able to keep playing your games. Had we known back in 2010 that we would be updating our games seven years later, we would have shook our heads in disbelief.

I’ve heard similar from other developers. It’s such a shift from when I visited an EA developer press event around 2012, when indies they’d got on board were brimming with excitement about iOS gaming. Then, it was a breath of fresh air – less hassle with platform issues and gatekeepers alike. But iOS has become a moving target in a way it never used to be.

This year, a lot of time we had planned to spend on our current project, ended up being spent on just making sure that our games would not be gone from the app store. Because sadly, the platform holder seems to have no interest in preservation of software on their platform.

This in itself is quite curious. I suspect Apple has no senior advocate of gaming. I’ll be amazed if anyone in Apple leadership is a big gamer. Much of the evidence points to Apple still largely considering gaming broadly throwaway. There’s a kind of ‘read and burn’ mentality, which is at odds with how the company thinks about movies, television, music and books.

We can criticize and be angry and mad about it all we want, but we don’t think that any efforts we put in can change that direction.

Developers feel powerless. They feel that Apple isn’t listening – and doesn’t care.

So, instead, we’re thinking a lot about how we can find ways to preserve our games, and our own history, because it is inevitable that our mobile games will be gone sometime in a distant, or not so distant future, as iOS and the app store keeps on changing and evolving. We don’t have a definitive answer, or any final ideas how this would be possible, but we’ll keep on thinking about it, and try to come up with solutions, and we welcome any input and ideas on this from you too!

I at the time wrote about the appocalypse. Many games have since been updated, but then the iPhone X threw another spanner in the works. Regardless, even 64-bit support feels like a stay of execution. Come iOS 12, how many games will fail to work and just disappear?

The response to all this is perhaps inevitable:

As you can imagine, this has led to thoughts about platforms in general.

Simogo notes that the iPhone changed everything, and the ease of mobile development drew the tiny studio to making iPhone games, but:

it’s getting increasingly financially unviable, tiring and unenjoyable for us to keep on making substantial alterations for new resolutions, guidelines, and what have you, as they seem to never end.

The appeal is gone. And, crucially:

Before we started Simogo, we had made console games, and had grown really tired of the clunky processes, politics, certifications and primitive development environments that was involved in making a console game. Today, a lot of that clunkiness is gone, and sadly, for a small developer like us, mobile has become more difficult to support than consoles.

In other words, the advantages mobile had – iOS had – are gone, while console gatekeepers have slowly recognised and removed barriers to entry.

The next Simogo game therefore won’t grace the iPhone and iPad. It feels like the end of an era.

December 12, 2017. Read more in: Apple, Gaming, iOS gaming, Opinions

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iPhone X Home indicator, go home. (As in: away. Forever.)

You probably know by now that in its desire to eradicate buttons, Apple’s ditched the Home button from the iPhone X. Instead, you swipe up from the bottom of the screen to go Home. (Control Centre is now activated by dragging downwards from the top-right of the display.) Presumably to help people get used to this, a Home indicator sits at the bottom of the screen. Which is fine. But it never goes away. Which is not.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. If you’re watching full-screen video and don’t interact with the display at all, the Home indicator temporarily buggers off. But if you’re playing a full-screen game, or using a full-screen app? It’ll be lurking, in all its glory, like someone’s scrawled across the bottom of your screen in pen. Bafflingly, it also turns out the thing sticks around on screen grabs, which will be just wonderful for journalists. And notably, developers are forbidden from hiding the indicator when interaction is happening on screen. The most they can do is fade it a bit.

Apple got heavily criticised for a lack of affordances when iOS was stripped back to Ive-level minimalism a few years ago. But the problem there was primarily in not knowing whether buttons were buttons. You had to tap things to discover whether or not they were interactive, which is terrible design. The Home indicator, though, feels like a really weird decision. By all means, have it there to begin with. And for those users who need the reminder, let them keep it. But for everyone else, there needs to be a setting to banish the thing for good. Having it sit there permanently is a distraction that feels decidedly un-Apple.

November 7, 2017. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology

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Dear news outlets: please drop your drop tests for iPhones and other devices

A number of years back, I was getting out of a car, and my Nintendo DS took a tumble on to the tarmac. On retrieval, I discovered it was in a bad way. More recently, I’ve had an iPod touch fly across the office and survive entirely unscathed, and an iPad Air hit the floor with a sickening thud, but that was found to be totally fine when examined.

Oddly, I didn’t feel the need to write articles for major newspapers about these events, because they weren’t news. When you drop stuff, it might break. That’s not news. If the things you drop happen to have glass screens and surfaces, they might break. That’s not news. And yet today I was pointed at a ‘news’ piece about the new iPhone X. It wasn’t news.

The publication dropped their new iPhone on to tarmac from three feet up. The screen cracked after the first drop, which they argued was “not good”. On what basis? What’s “not good” is this type of bullshit clickbait article that is ultimately entirely worthless. (And, no, I’m not linking to it.)

Still, presumably said publication is ensuring its various stupid, wasteful tests are all equivalent, so they can accurately gauge the relative strength of the various devices they’re ruining?

Tough to say, because none of our tests are scientific

You just hope when these idiots arrive at the Genius Bar, Apple knows who they are, notes they dropped the device with the intention of breaking it, notes some kind of AppleCare condition they’re in breach of, and hands over a roll of gaffer tape rather than a replacement iPhone.

November 6, 2017. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology

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Apple didn’t send me an iPhone X review unit. Here’s what I’m going to do about it

Apple didn’t send me an iPhone X review unit. Clearly, I should now be outraged or something, and so here’s what I plan to do:

  • Get on with my life, continuing to write about Apple as I see fit, working with my existing iPhone that’s only a couple of months old, and which I’m actually perfectly happy with anyway.
  • Keep an eye out for iPhone X coverage, because I’m naturally interested in it, and may well upgrade to that line when next year’s model’s released.
  • Pop into a local Apple Store when the iPhone X is on display and the crowds have died down a bit, to play around with one.

Here’s what I don’t plan to do:

  • Whine about Apple giving some people who aren’t wealthy white guys iPhone X review models to talk to their readers about.
  • Complain about Apple further widening its reach beyond tech bloggers, by giving people in other areas of journalism (including YouTube) a chance to talk about the new phone.
  • Conflate people being seeded with a review unit with them seemingly getting a bit of hands-on time, to make a short video.
  • Call out and insult the 19-year-old nephew of a writer who was provided a review iPhone X, because said reviewer gave the kid the iPhone for a bit to see what he thought about it.

Because that would be a shitty thing to do.

October 31, 2017. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology

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One Home Screen on Apple TV – one big pain in the backside

When making major changes to how devices work, it’s important to not foist them on users – and to at least enable reversion should someone not like something. The new Apple TV OS, tvOS 11, failed for me on both counts.

I have two Apple TVs: one is in the office, used as a ‘review’ device for my app and game round-ups; the other’s in the living room, and used primarily for watching telly.

On turning on the living room Apple TV recently, I was surprised to see its intentionally stripped-down Home screen suddenly littered with dozens of games and apps. It turns out it had implemented One Home Screen, a new Apple TV feature that syncs Home screens across your devices.

This was mildly irritating. What pushed it over the edge into bafflingly stupid was when I turned this feature off, all the ‘new’ apps and games remained. And if you know how much of a pain in the backside it is to remove tvOS apps, you’ll know the next half hour wasn’t exactly a thrill ride.

Perhaps this was a glitch, but I’d have much preferred a dialog box to confirm the sync, rather than the Apple TV wrongly assuming I wanted One Home Screen on, and merrily doing what it wanted all by itself.

October 12, 2017. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology

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