iCloud: iClod (and iCouldn’t)

I have an ongoing battle with iCloud. Every now and again, I’ll be informed I’ve run out of space, and I’ll attempt to prune my back-ups. Naturally, Apple would rather I just buy more space, but I’m stubborn. Also, I don’t like paying for a system where management is opaque, fiddly, and doesn’t always work; and I don’t like splashing out something where it’s impossible to figure out where the storage is used. (Right now, I have about 10 GB of space that’s unaccounted for. From what I can tell, this is commonplace with iCloud Drive.)

iCloud is deeply unimpressive in other ways, too. On deleting stored content, there’s no guarantee the system will recognise this. It appears to cache data about available space, and then sometimes loses it completely. At the time of writing, my Mac is erroneously stating I have 49.96 GB available, despite my iPhone and iPad both saying I have 0 bytes from 50 GB to use.

But the worst bit of all this is in how Apple has chosen to assign space on iCloud. Things like Notes are not prioritised in any way. So all of that lovely cross-device Apple seamlessness goes away the second you run out of space. You’re held hostage to opaque back-ups – unless you decide to stop backing up. And then woe betide you should something go wrong with your device.

I know it’s only a few quid a month for the next tier of iCloud, but that’s still a few quid I’m loathe to spend. Also, plenty of people simply cannot spare that kind of money. I’m sure for Apple execs earning millions, they don’t understand why people push back against what they consider a service that offers great value. But really Apple needs to look again at iCloud.

Why when you pay for an upgrade to a new tier does your original free 5 GB vanish (unlike, say, with Dropbox)? Why when you buy a new device is your original 5 GB of free space not bumped up a little, as a thank-you for you buying new hardware? And, most importantly, why doesn’t iCloud actually work properly, when it comes to storage management and figuring out how much space you have available? Given that Dropbox can tell me this instantly across every single platform it’s running on, it’s a bit poor that iCloud can’t.

May 3, 2017. Read more in: Apple

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Find your iOS 11 games death list – and learn how to save your favourites

As outlined in Alex Hern’s Guardian piece, iOS 10.3 provides a death list for apps and games. Without updates, these products will all cease to work in iOS 11. You can find the list in Settings, by navigating to General > About > Apps. Of the 74 favourite/stored games I have on my iPhone, the following are currently listed as having no updates available:

Beat Sneak Bandit; Bit Pilot; Crazy Taxi; Critter Panic; Devil’s Attorney; Drop7; Drop Wizard; Flick Kick Field Goal; Flight Control; Forget-Me-Not; Gridrunner; I Am Level (which in some ways is the saddest entry in this list – here’s why); Infinight; LEX; Mikey Boots; Mikey Hooks; Mikey Shorts; Mini Motor Racing; Mos Speedrun; Osmos; Relic Rush; Ridiculous Fishing; Spell Sword; Strata; Trainyard; VVVVVV; Westbang; Zen Bound 2.

And that’s just the games on my iPhone. On my iPad, which has far more games stored, you can add: Active Soccer 2; Big Big Castle; Crazy Taxi; CRUSH; Darkside; DRM; ElectroMaster; Halcyon; Helix; HungryMaster; Magnetic Billiards; Minotaur Rescue; Minotron; Ms. Particle Man; Mutant Storm; Nightmare Cooperative; Puzzlejuice; QatQi; Reckless Racing HD; Sailor’s Dream; Slydris; Space Invaders Infinity Gene; Space Junk; Sprinkle Islands; Stealth Inc.; Sunburn!; Super Crossfire; Twelve A Dozen; Wave Trip; Wonderputt; World of Goo; Year Walk. That’s… a lot of games.

There are still five months until iOS 11 drops, and some may be updated by then. VVVVVV’s author has confirmed to me that his game will be, as has Darkside’s. Mos Speedrun’s author readied a 64-bit build within a couple of days of me flagging the game as under threat on Twitter. Simogo is also aiming to make its games compatible. However, I also know several games on the above list definitely won’t be fixed – either because it’s impossible/not viable to, or because the creators would rather you grab sequels/follow-ups instead. Worryingly, several developers I’ve contacted weren’t aware there was even a problem with their apps.

This piece isn’t a criticism of Apple, note (although it would be good if the company would again politely nudge developers of apps in the firing line). We no longer live in a world where mobile games systems are a single unit, living for a finite time, and offering one generation of backwards compatibility if you’re lucky. Instead, mobile systems in the sense of smartphones and tablets are all about incremental upgrades. Things break all of the time, as OS upgrades cause issues with older software. But iOS 11 looks like it’s going to be a doozy, so you’d best come prepared.

I outlined how in a feature for Stuff a short while ago, which also explains the history of this particular transition, warnings Apple provided to developers, but also the sad reality that in many cases it’s simply not worth a developer’s time to update a game. So, again, welcome to gaming’s future – it’s not especially bothered about even its relatively recent past.

April 4, 2017. Read more in: Apple, Gaming

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Are you Siri-ous?

Google FTW! Siri is awful! That’s the typical opinion throughout the tech sphere, and one Matt Bircher aims to nix in his video.

Bircher makes plenty of good points, although largely showcases all of these AIs have a long way to go. Mostly, I’ve discovered Siri’s shortcomings while trying to use the thing in the car.

Naturally, I’m not a massive idiot when it comes to driving. I reduce technology usage as much as possible, and avoid touching my iPhone’s display. But maps are pretty important things to have available, not least when you, say, take a wrong turn on the way to the airport and end up zooming towards Gatwick when you should be picking up your wife from Heathrow, thereby very rapidly needing to know the fastest route in the right direction.

Me: Hey, Siri! Get me directions to Heathrow Airport, Terminal 2!
Siri: Which Heathrow airport terminal? Tap the one you want.

Yeah, thanks, Siri. I’m driving. I’m not going to be tapping anything. And your list omits terminal two, which is even better. Apparently, you cannot comprehend that when I asked for directions to Terminal 2, I wanted directions to Terminal 2.

After two more frustrating attempts, I hit upon a cunning plan:

Me: Hey, Siri! Launch Google.
Google launches
Me: OK, Google, get me directions to Heathrow Airport, Terminal 2.

Done. Instantly. Which of course means Google is amazing and Siri isn’t. Apart from during another car journey where it appears the two had got drunk together.

Me: Hey, Siri! Open Google Maps.
Siri: OK, here’s the App Store.

Me: Hey, Siri! Send a message to my wife.
Siri: You have no new messages.

Me: OK, Google! When’s the next train from Gatwick to North Camp?
Google: spews out a load of web searches for The Train Line and carries on drinking gin with Siri
Me: wishes driverless cars would arrive a whole lot sooner

February 15, 2017. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology

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Super Mario Run will cost ten whole dollars. Entitled idiots assemble!

As reported by the entire internet, the upcoming Mario game for iOS, Super Mario Run, now has an official price tag: $9.99/£7.99. Predictably, people have immediately split into three camps (with crossover between the first two): those happy to see Nintendo value its mobile product appropriately (thereby also hoping that means it’s good); developers hoping it’ll impact on iOS pricing as a whole; and entitled furious idiots throwing toys out of their prams at the prospect of a company having the audacity to charge money for an iPhone game.

My inkling is the first of those suggests a game that, at the very least, won’t be shit. Nintendo’s perhaps smartly not bringing existing classics to iOS, nor even a ‘full’ Mario experience, but there’s no reason it cannot create a really great touchscreen-optimised game. After all, two of the four Rayman titles work really well on iOS; of the two that don’t, one is a direct port of an ancient Rayman game, and the other had hope beaten out of it by a baseball bat with ‘freemium’ scrawled across it in pen. By contrast, Super Mario Run has precisely one IAP, to unlock the full game.

I also suspect the second of those things won’t come to pass. Developers might hope a ten-buck game would lead to people’s entitlement and expectation on mobile shifting, but that ship has long sailed. Instead, it will simply prove that Nintendo can charge ten bucks for a game. Unless your IP is similarly famous (the Codemasters F1 title also has the same price), you’ll still be scrapping it out at the low end, or hoping for the best in the $2.99–$4.99 pricing arena that’s laughably referred to as ‘premium’ on mobile.

As for the idiots? They’ll continue being idiots. There are no guarantees about the quality of Nintendo’s game, nor how well it will perform. There’s not even any guarantee that it won’t bump up the average price of iOS games, even though that is extremely unlikely. No, the one certainly is this the free-to-download game will get a slew of shitty App Store reviews from people horribly angry they can’t play yet another game for free.

November 15, 2016. Read more in: Apple, Gaming, iOS gaming, Opinions

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The high price of Apple

Although I’m not the kind of tech journo that blindly cheerleads for Apple no matter what, I do very much like a lot of what the company does. To that end, its events are usually times when I enthuse about new products. I may snark and gripe about specifics, but my mood is mostly positive.

Yesterday was an exception. I can’t remember the last Apple event where I came away actually quite annoyed, but there it was. In part, this was down to a lack of density in the keynote itself. Apple took nearly an hour and a half to announce a new accessibility website (which got only a couple of minutes), a new Apple TV app (only available in the USA), and a new notebook.

But mostly it’s about the money. The inference was Apple’s new MacBook Pro broadly replaces the MacBook Air, and yet the former is considerably more expensive. The new MacBook Pro – impressive though it is – also happens to be spendy for even professional users. And then if you’re British, Apple had another sting in the tail waiting for you.

People complained (and still complain) about the new MacBook Pro prices being a straight US Dollar to Sterling conversion. That’s not actually true. US prices are listed without tax. The UK’s have 20 per cent VAT added on. With Sterling bobbling around the low $1.20s, Apple’s UK pricing on new MacBooks is actually a little less than what you might expect – to the tune of about forty quid when I did the calculations last night. (Of course, given Brexit, a pound might by the time you read this be worth about eleven cents.)

What irked more was discovering Apple had quietly upped the pricing of its entire range of Macs in the UK, despite them not being updated. So not only do we get no new iMacs, MacPros and Mac minis but models cost about 20 per cent more than they did prior to the Apple Event.

Perhaps my memory is faulty, but I don’t recall Apple doing this before in the UK. And I certainly don’t recall Apple doing the opposite during those times when Sterling rapidly rose in value (Please comment if so, and I will update this article.) On new units, rebalancing seems fair enough. These things happen (as Brits buying iPhones discovered with each tier being £80 high than 2015’s offerings). But it seems a bit rich to whack up the price of an iMac by three hundred quid, when the tech inside it is a year old.

What concerns me about all this is that my reaction isn’t nearly unique. I’m seeing a worrying number of industry professionals and home users starting to look elsewhere. Creatives were wowed by Microsoft’s new desktop/touchscreen system, and look at the MacBook Pro’s Touch Bar less favourably. Moreover, everyone’s looking at the pricing, eyes darting across to broadly equivalent PCs, and thinking it feels an awful lot like the 1990s again.

Of course, this isn’t entirely down to Apple. Brexit has knackered Sterling’s value, and it’s now one of the worst-performing currencies in the world. Even so, Apple hiking prices of existing kit in the UK isn’t going to win it any new friends – and could lose it a number of old ones.

November 9, 2016. Read more in: Apple, Opinions

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