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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The new MacBook Air rumour is the new iPhone 6 rumour

9to5Mac has got the Mac world talking about the new MacBook Air. Its report says the new laptop will be thinner and ditch all but two ports: USB and headphones. The former port will be a USB Type-C connector that almost no-one’s using at the moment. 9to5Mac adds:

Additionally, the latest specifications from the USB foundation indicate that USB Type-C can actually be used to power computers, which makes the standard MagSafe plugs unnecessary on this new device.

By contrast, the current MacBook Air has two USB 3 ports, Thunderbolt, a headphone socket, and MagSafe 2. (The larger model adds a slot for an SDXC card.) So if 9to5Mac is to be believed, Apple is going to remove one USB port, Thunderbolt, and MagSafe 2, in order to thin the thinnest laptop that’s ever thinned.

Although Apple’s never been shy in ruthlessly ditching ports and the like (both ADB being replaced by USB on the original iMac, and also getting rid of optical drives spring immediately to mind), this seems like a step too far. One USB port for everything—charging, connectivity—seems over the top, even for Apple. And ditching MagSafe is effectively a downgrade, given that Apple laptops would once again potentially be hurled across the room if someone stumbled into the charging lead when it’s plugged in.

So there are three possibilities here:

1. Apple’s decided no-one really needs to plug anything in any more, because Wi-Fi and Bluetooth is everywhere, and too bad for those that do. And it doesn’t care if your laptop gets a free flying lesson while it’s being charged.

2. The same as 1, but Apple will also announce a ‘magical’ new version of MagSafe that combines USB Type-C and some sort of magnetic attachment doohickey, assuming that’s possible.

3. The rumours are all utter bollocks, like the one last summer that said Apple would ditch the headphone port from the iPhone 6 and force everyone to use Lightning port headphones instead.

I know which of those options I’m putting my money on.


 

Update: Judging by the response on Twitter, quite a few people reckon this is a legit ‘leak’. Of my options above, I’m not discounting #2, but reckon that would be a big jump, even for Apple. If we get #1, that says things about Apple that aren’t at all positive.

January 7, 2015. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology

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The Panic report — on App Stores and revenue

The latest Panic blog post provides insight into the previous year at one of the best developers for Apple software. In 2014, Panic released a bunch of new things, including Transmit iOS — an app I believe defines the platform.

However, the more interesting part of the post goes into some depth about the challenges Panic faced, most of which were down to Apple. Without iOS upgrades, the company felt forced to issue Prompt 2 as a brand-new app (and was relieved there was no backlash); Coda left the Mac App Store, because Apple’s restrictions are too severe; and Transmit iOS lost and then got back iCloud export, in part due to a PR shitstorm — countless sites helpfully pointing out how asinine Apple’s decision had been.

Apple always argues “running to the press” is just about the worst thing a dev can do when an app is hobbled by a rule Apple might have just made up without really thinking it through, but Panic’s not alone in saying

the “bad PR” version of the app dispute process is monumentally more effective [than dealing with it offline]. Which is a shame.

And it is. This should be food for thought for Apple, as should Panic’s final challenge: low iOS revenue. Although units sold in November 2014 were roughly even across OS X and iOS, the revenue split was 83/17 in OS X’s favour. Panic had some thoughts about why:

1. We’re not charging enough for our iOS apps. Or Mac users are simply willing to pay more for apps. Or both.
2. We’re not getting the word out well enough about our iOS apps.
3. The type of software we make just isn’t as compelling to iOS users as it is to Mac users. Our professional tools are geared for a type of user that simply might not exist on the iPad — admins and coders. We might have misjudged that market.

I’d agree with 1 — although this is common with cross-platform devs, given that most price iOS apps way lower than OS X equivalents, even if they’re broadly similar —but make an addition to 3: yet. As in: “Our professional tools are geared for a type of user that simply might not exist on the iPad — yet“.

It strikes me that an iPad and keyboard remains a great set-up for doing website work, especially when away from home. But Panic’s trailblazing — the iPad still hasn’t really found its place for a lot of people, and many professionals inevitably drift back to Macs after flirting with the iPad for a while. (Personally, I want to use mine more, but I’m simply more efficient on the Mac, and with writing rates having been stagnant for a decade now, the speed at which I can write and edit copy is important. I do far less web work these days, but the same’s largely true there as well.)

I’m not sure what the solution is to Panic’s complaints and grumbles, but it should worry Apple that one of the best OS X and iOS developers is pulling away from the Mac App Store, rolling its own solutions rather than using the likes of iCloud, and mulling over the feasibility of any further ‘huge’ iOS projects.

January 6, 2015. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology

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No, the App Store is not like Disney

Daring Fireball yesterday commenting on Papers, Please:

So here’s an App Store rejection that many disagree with, but which is easy to understand from Apple’s perspective. Apple tends to err on the side of running the App Store with Disney-esque family values. The company places inordinate value in its family-friendly reputation.

Maybe it’s an American thing to believe this. John Gruber, who writes Daring Fireball, is American, and so is Apple. But from the outside, I don’t see ‘Disney-esque family values’ about the way Apple treats App Store submissions. Either what Apple is actually stating in its rules is a puritanical and largely anti-nutidy/sex stance, or I’ve missed a huge number of apparently family-friendly Disney movies that, for example, feature car-jacking and drugs, running around killing people, and blood-stained horror.

December 13, 2014. Read more in: Apple, Gaming, Opinions

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