The tragic future of Nintendo on iPhone, iPad and Android

Lots of people have been arguing of late Nintendo is doomed and that it must release games for iOS and Android, or at least get demos on rival platforms. Writing for Stuff.TV, from my super-secret time machine parked in 2015, I reveal why that’s a really bad idea.

February 3, 2014. Read more in: Opinions, Technology

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On Apple TV 2014 rumours and the future of Apple’s little black box

I recently wrote for Stuff about the Apple TV. I think it’s a great device, and we use ours all the time, for renting movies, watching Netflix, and sending all manner of content from iOS devices to the TV and amp. It being an Apple product, the rumour mill’s now going nuts about how the device will evolve this year, not least because Apple finally ‘promoted’ it on the Apple Store, rather than burying it as an iPod accessory.

Macworld’s Karen Haslam has rounded up all of the rumours, which (as ever) vary from the sensible to outlandish craziness. And even things that might seem an obvious path for Apple to take are sometimes fraught with problems.

Games on the Apple TV. This is something people have been banging on about for a while, arguing Apple should be taking on Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft, despite not really having a clue about gaming. If anything, the recent iOS controllers mess should showcase Apple still has a lot to learn about gaming in general, with the company absurdly fragmenting hardware from the get-go.

More importantly, though, as Haslam hints at, the Apple TV would effectively be an entirely different platform from ‘standard’ iOS, merely sharing code. Games would lack touch and need to be controlled remotely. On that basis, Apple’s controller idea makes more sense—games that are fully compatible with the controllers (menus and all) could potentially work with Apple TV games. After all, the Apple TV is essentially a headless iPod. But for that to happen widely, controllers need to be far better and far cheaper, the games need to work more fully with controllers, and the Apple TV would need way more storage than the 8 GB it currently has, which would ramp up the price and move it away from being an impulse purchase.

Integrated storage and live TV recording. Macworld’s article talks about DVR recording, boosting content available to users. I imagine any argument the Apple TV will suddenly get a ton of internal storage to facilitate this is way off base, and, as Haslam argues, content will be primarily streamed. As for storing TV shows in the cloud, I think it’ll be tough for Apple to persuade many companies to go down that route, and it would also obviously impact on Apple’s own iTunes Store sales. Still, as someone outside of the USA, this won’t make a great deal of odds to me anyway—if Apple does provide an Apple TV with any kind of live-TV recording feature, it won’t make it beyond the USA for years.

TV Tuner for live TV. This would just be an added cost, and also duplicate something the vast majority of people already have. It seems unlikely in the extreme. More integration with existing on-demand services over the web, however, would be sensible. In other words, I want BBC iPlayer and 4oD on my TV.

Integrated AirPort Express. One of the stranger Apple TV reports claims the new model would include an AirPort Express router. Purely from a cost and complexity standpoint, this seems staggeringly unlikely.

More content‚TV shows and entertainment. This one’s a no-brainer, but my hope here is Apple encourages (as much as it can) faster worldwide rollouts of channels, and also looks to popular local channels outside of the US more often. Again, it’s insane Brits don’t yet have access to the likes of iPlayer and 4oD on the Apple TV.

Apps and an App Store. Similar issues exist here as with gaming, but apps are already on the Apple TV, such as The Weather Channel. The real question is how many people want to use their TV as a giant app screen. Television use has historically primarily been passive, gaming being the main exception. Apple’s ideal is to foist as many devices on people as possible, which points to continuing to encourage integration between iPads/iPhones and the Apple TV (via AirPlay) rather than attempting to get loads of apps for its black box. The obvious exception: aforementioned media channels.

Motion control or voice activation. A short quote from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy should suffice here:

A loud clatter of gunk music flooded through the Heart of Gold cabin as Zaphod searched the sub-etha radio wave bands for news of himself. The machine was rather difficult to operate. For years radios had been operated by means of pressing buttons and turning dials; then as the technology became more sophisticated the controls were made touch-sensitive–you merely had to brush the panels with your fingers; now all you had to do was wave your hand in the general direction of the components and hope. It saved a lot of muscular expenditure, of course, but meant that you had to sit infuriatingly still if you wanted to keep listening to the same program.

New Interface. This is a must regardless of what happens next. The basic interface is fine, but more editing control is desperately needed. Right now, you’re limited to deleting apps via the hacky method of using parental controls. Apple needs to provide a much more discoverable show/hide interface if it adds more apps and games.

Another question that Macworld doesn’t address directly is whether the Apple TV line will grow. The basic unit could continue, and new models could be released with more storage, to cater for things like games and apps. However, right now, the Apple TV isn’t a particularly big seller and it’s already competing with a slew of low-cost and quite high-quality rivals. Apple has to tread carefully to find that sweet spot of pricing, features and quality that would enable the Apple TV to thrive in the future, rather than become another tech also-ran. It also must ensure it doesn’t promote buyer’s doubt. It’s one thing to have a single cheap unit people will just buy, but it’s quite another to make people choose between several and worry about buying the wrong one.

 

January 31, 2014. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology

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Everything that’s wrong with iOS gamers

The Room Two is on sale today, down to $2.99. On visiting its iTunes Preview page to get a link, I saw a review that pretty much sums up everything that’s wrong with iOS gamers, by user ‘Pokerpro#66′. It starts as follows:

First of all, $5.99 was a complete rip-off for the room 2.

Straight in there with six whole dollars being a “complete rip-off” for an ambitious multitouch 3D puzzle game. Also, The Room Two cost $4.99 on launch, not $5.99, so there is that.

Not much more gameplay than the original 99¢ version,

Perhaps the dev is somewhat to blame for this, given that The Room has been on sale for $0.99 a few times, but its default price was in fact $4.99, just like the sequel.

including a “chapter” which literally required one action to complete it.

“Pacing is bad.”

I can appreciate the work that goes into these games but this experience really put me off from wanting to buy any other apps from this company. If you are going to charge more than double the price for your 2nd version, you had better put the value into it.

“I don’t understand that old games are sometimes put on sale, to encourage you to buy new ones.” See also: all media sales, ever. The new Mogwai album costs twice that of the older ones on iTunes. Man, they’d better have put more value into it after doubling the price! Derp.

While the graphics are great, and the puzzles are very creative, it becomes very formulaic after a while.

An actual, legitimate criticism, albeit one I don’t really agree with, given that I’m struggling to think of a single decent game that wouldn’t match that statement.

Consider also that once you have solved every chapter, you have essentially reached the end,

Like with a book. Or a film. Or a TV show. Or countless other games, for that matter.

whereas some 99¢games provide endless, albeit mindless, entertainment far beyond the purchase price.

“Endless mindless gaming is better than a finite shot of magic. Also, I like Candy Crush Saga.”

If you have money to burn give it a try.

If you want an atmospheric, intriguing and interesting—albeit finite—multitouch gaming experience, give it a try. (But buy The Room and play that through first, preferably in a pitch black room, so you can scare the bejesus out of yourself.)

January 31, 2014. Read more in: Gaming

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Apple to close down, because the company is just so sick of analysts

Tension was in the air yesterday as Apple announced its financial results for its fiscal 2014 first quarter, ended December 28, 2013. “We posted record quarterly revenue of $57.6 billion, and sold 51 million iPhones,” said Tim Cook, angrily adding: “But we could have been responsible for every smartphone sale worldwide and made $200 billion in profit, and it still wouldn’t have been enough for those analyst jerks.”

Cook said Apple should have been happy with its 4.8 million Macs sold, record iPad sales, and monstrous profits of $13.1 billion, resulting in Apple’s cash mountain reaching unprecedented levels. “The thing is, we know thousands of hacks worldwide are already smashing their heads against their keyboards, ham-fistedly trying to spin our success into failure, and say that—yet again—Apple is doomed,” fumed Cook. “Fuckers,” interjected Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer, kicking his chair out of the window and storming out of the room.

“I’m just so sick of it,” seethed Cook, “and so we’re shutting the whole thing down. As of tomorrow, no more Apple. I’m going to spend my time hiking and getting to grips with whatever piece of shit Android I’ll now have to use—and you’d best get used to that too. I’m done here.”

Analysts reacted positively to Cook’s statement, noting that while, in the short term, Apple shutting down entirely was not a positive step, it would finally provide plenty of room for meteoric growth should the company decide to reopen again at some point in the future. In after-hours trading, AAPL was up 37 per cent.

January 28, 2014. Read more in: Apple, Humour, Television

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Apple says the Mac will keep going forever. I just don’t see it

Macworld has managed quite a scoop, interviewing Apple executives about the future of the Mac. Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing, noted Apple’s longevity, remarking how the companies making computers when Apple released the Mac are all gone. This, he said, was down to Apple’s ability to reinvent itself over and over.

This willingness was most clearly illustrated with iOS, not least when the iPad arrived. On its introduction, Apple’s tablet was positioned as being some way between a notebook and smartphone, but it’s increasingly obvious the device is capable enough to replace computers for a great many people. Plenty of users look forward to a future where the iPad is so powerful that it becomes the device for everything, with Macs consigned to history.

Interestingly, Apple doesn’t seem to agree. Schiller said:

There is a super-important role [for the Mac] that will always be. We don’t see an end to that role. There’s a role for the Mac as far as our eye can see. A role in conjunction with smartphones and tablets, that allows you to make the choice of what you want to use. Our view is, the Mac keeps going forever, because the differences it brings are really valuable.

I have no doubt this passage will fuel speculation for a long time. It says so little—there are no specifics—but it also suggests so much, not least that Apple doesn’t see (or at least won’t admit to seeing) the iPad eventually replacing the Mac. The question is why that might be the case. It would seem nonsensical for Apple to arbitrarily ‘hold back’ what the iPad might be capable of, in order for its Mac line to survive. Instead, it seems more logical that the will Mac increasingly move into ever-smaller niches, for those needing to do tasks the iPad’s not suitable for, until such a time no longer exists.

It’s also telling Schiller appears to be approaching life from the standpoint of someone with an awful lot of money (which he has):

It’s not an either/or. It’s a world where you’re going to have a phone, a tablet, a computer, you don’t have to choose. And so what’s more important is how you seamlessly move between them all…. It’s not like this is a laptop person and that’s a tablet person. It doesn’t have to be that way.

That’s a worryingly Microsoft sentiment. The main difference between that statement and Steve Ballmer’s line of thinking is that Microsoft’s desperate to shove all the aspects of these devices into a single case; Schiller simply reasons you should buy them all.

As educator and iPad fanatic Fraser Speirs remarked on Twitter, this latest interview is in stark contrast to Steve Jobs’s radical simplification of Apple’s product line in 1997. Perhaps such thinking is now obsolete in itself, but as a long time Mac user, I’ve increasingly been caught in the buyer’s doubt loop because of the growing range of Apple products. MacBook Air or MacBook Pro? iPad Air or iPad Mini with Retina? Logic would seem to suggest the iPad would in the long run take the consumer/mobile slot in the original Jobs four-box product matrix (one each of consumer/pro for mobile/desktop), but perhaps now Apple sees the future as something more complex, with more devices.

That’s all very well if you can afford it, but Schiller’s being optimistic to think that will be the default for typical users in the future, splashing out on phones and tablets and computers. Something has to give; Apple would like it to be your resolve and your wallet. To my mind, within the next decade, it’s for most people going to be the Mac, whether Apple likes it or not.

January 24, 2014. Read more in: Apple, Opinions

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