Apple’s App Store Preview needs to steal some ideas from Google Play

Apple just refreshed iTunes Preview for apps. Now called App Store Preview, the result is awful. In fact, it’s arguably worse than it was before, with tiny screenshots, absurdly small grey-on-white pricing, and body copy that on my iMac looks like ants have crawled across the display. Perhaps apps are now only for the young, and anyone fortunate enough to have 20/20 vision when blazing into their 40s and beyond.

Worse, though, is that App Store Preview remains a joke compared to Google Play. Look at the pages for Lara Croft GO on Apple’s effort and Google’s. Arguably, Apple’s looks better from an at-a-glance graphic design standpoint, with its white space and minimalism. But it’s very much form over function. Google’s page beats Apple’s in every important area of usability:

  • The typography is larger, making it more legible
  • There’s wish-list functionality, so you can save things you like for later
  • Pricing is within a bold, clear button, not hidden as grey-on-white tiny text
  • You can buy apps and games online, right from your web browser
  • Also, those games with ads (Lara Croft GO isn’t one, but Threes! Free is) have, in bold text, ‘Contains ads’

The point about purchasing is perhaps the most important. If I read an article about new Android apps and games and end up on Google Play, I can click a price button, pay for the item, and send it to my Android device, ready for when I next use the thing. With Apple, I can, what, email a link to myself like it’s 2003? It’s absurd that with such a joined-up ecosystem in so many ways, Apple lacks joined-up thinking when it comes to its store.

It’s 2018. Apple has Apple Pay. If I’m sent to An App Store Preview page after reading an article about an amazing new iOS app, I should be able to buy it there and then, and send it to my iOS devices. Likewise, if I’m on my iPhone, I should be able to buy and send an iPad-only app to my iPad (or vice-versa). I shouldn’t have to remember it later, by sending myself an email or note. Or perhaps Apple’s going to this year follow up Apple Pencil with Apple Pen – an actual (and – if Jony Ive has anything to do with it – “carefully engineered, extraordinary, painstakingly designed”) pen, with which you can scrawl the names of apps and games you like the look of across your hands, arms and forehead. After all, it doesn’t look like Apple wants to help you in any other way.

For anyone hankering after an iOS apps wish-list, I wrote for TapSmart about how to use Reminders and Notes for that task. Neither is an ideal solution, but both are better than what Apple offers itself – which is nothing whatsoever.

January 19, 2018. Read more in: Apple, Technology

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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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