The Mac at 30: then and now

30 years ago today, the Mac was formally introduced, two days after Apple ran its famous 1984 commercial at Super Bowl XVIII. Over the years, there have been many fantastic Macs, ten of which I’ve written about for Looking at the images in that piece, it’s interesting to chart the evolution of Apple’s computers, and show how many examples—even those that seemed a bad idea at the time—informed those that came later.

It also showcases the game of iteration Apple plays, rather than lurching from one thing to the next. Of late, many tech hacks have regularly criticised Apple for not revolutionising Macs, iPads or iPhones with every release. But stand back a little and compare current kit with what came before the previous iteration; the leaps become more obvious.

Today, the best way to do that is with the Mac. Current Macs are immensely powerful machines, with specifications insanely superior to the 1984 incarnation. But it’s perhaps easier to use visual comparisons to see how far Macs have come. For example, here’s a picture of the current OS X Mavericks Finder icon, with the original Mac Finder icon perched on top of it:

OS X Finder icon with tiny original Finder icon from 1984

And here’s the same current icon wearing the entire original Mac desktop as a kind of ironic retro hat:

30 years apart, and one icon now has twice the horizontal resolution of the entire original Mac desktop!

Technology does evolve, but so often we’re caught up in the fine details to the point that we don’t see it. So next time you buy some new tech kit—be it a Mac, iPhone, Android device or PC—don’t just compare it to what was released a few months back to see how technology’s faring. Instead, think back a year, five years, ten years, and more, and realise that technology is in fact barrelling along at a frightening and exciting pace.

In this article, you can click the images to see them full-size on screens with a high enough resolution.

January 24, 2014. Read more in: Apple

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How CES 2014′s smart-home tech destroyed the world

My latest for Stuff.TV about how CES 2014′s smart-home tech ushered in the end of the world.

When the end came, it came quickly. You might have thought the Terminator looked tough on your TV screen, but you’ve not seen anything until you’ve experienced the sheer horror of Android-powered smart tweezers leaping at your face, screaming DEATH TO ALL HUMANS via a tiny sound chip initially designed to make a cute little ‘plink’ noise for every hair removed (ACHIEVEMENT: Super brows!).

January 14, 2014. Read more in: Technology

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Why Angry Birds Go! is one of the most depressing games I’ve ever played

A quick look at Angry Birds Go! on Metacritic shows that reviews of Rovio’s latest game—essentially MarioKart with Angry Birds characters—has been broadly positively received. Only Pocket Gamer was really critical, ‘awarding’ the game 5/10.

I didn’t go into the game in a particularly positive frame of mind. Reports had suggested the IAP underpinnings weren’t too bad, but I’ve played relatively few titles where that’s the case, and only a tiny handful where IAP and micro-transactions have worked to the product’s favour. I was skeptical that a fast-paced kart-racer wouldn’t be undone by a freemium model. However, I truly love kart racers, and so I nonetheless wanted to like this game.

Initially, all appears well with Angry Birds Go!, and it gets two things very right. First, it looks fantastic on the iPhone. The courses are nicely cartoonish and organic, and the karts themselves are amusingly ramshackle. Secondly, it handles very nicely indeed. There’s little of the floaty physics evident in iOS kart racers—everything feels pleasingly solid, if still arcadey. It’s only when you play on for an extended period of time that you realise the game is a grindy, boring mess.

The problems with Angry Birds Go! are down to structure and greed. In terms of structure, you’re essentially forced to race over and over on the same small slice of track until you’ve ‘earned’ the right to progress to the next one. But the best kart racers (indeed, the best racers) thrive on variety. This is perhaps why the similarly IAP-infused Asphalt 8 doesn’t rub me up the wrong way—it’s still fun when you’re working your way through the game, because it regularly flings different tracks at you.

But greed is the bigger problem. Angry Birds Go! has a cooldown system for the racers—the conceit being that the birds doing the driving get tired. Naturally, they can be revived by spending one of the game’s two in-game currencies. Infuriatingly, the game also spams Notification Center when the birds are awake:

Your racers just needed some sleep! They’re now feeling fully charged and desperate to take the wheel!

Here’s a better idea, Rovio: how about you don’t place arbitrary barriers such as this in your game, and let me play for however long I want to? That way, I don’t have to make the choice of paying to continue or leaving your app, and you don’t need to spam my notifications!

Additionally, there are the usual walls racers of this ilk tend to throw up: races that need a certain type of vehicle upgrade; painfully obvious catch-up mechanisms; the requirement to have certain vehicles to race certain races; and stupidly expensive karts that you can only buy using real money. Furthermore, power-ups can only be used once per race unless you pay, and they’re also, astonishingly, ad-sponsored. A smaller number of these pungent ingredients wouldn’t have run Angry Birds Go! off of the road, but the combination makes for a truly grind-oriented trudge. And, of course, Angry Birds Go! will make a mint, thereby further justifying this business model, and validating it in the eyes of not only Rovio but also its competitors.

What could have been a minor iOS classic has therefore been reduced to a joyless slog through a business model, an accountant’s leer lurking underneath every angry bird’s feather.

December 16, 2013. Read more in: Apple, Gaming


Thoughts on iOS 7 buttons and UX

Steven Aquino writes about iOS 7.1 beta 2′s new accessibility option:

The biggest addition, feature-wise, is the inclusion of a “Button Shapes” option under Accessibility. If enabled, what this toggle does is puts borders around the heretofore plain text, non-bordered UI buttons.

Most of the commentary I’ve read on this change has been from designers who are upset that the borders are ugly, and they question why Apple chose to add them.

That’s not what I’m questioning. My concern is more that Apple has created an operating system that clearly has a ton of UX and UI issues, and yet is now burying ‘fixes’ within accessibility, away from where the typical user will see it. To my mind, the defaults of any design should be the most usable, even if that means some kind of compromise on whatever artistic and aesthetic vision you have. With iOS 7, Apple’s strayed some way from that goal; I hope as its mobile OS continues to evolve it will trend back towards being more usable, rather than being a showcase for Jony Ive’s infatuation with a certain kind of minimalism.

Further reading: Visual Preferences by Lukas Mathis • Shaping Buttons by Eric Schwarz.

December 16, 2013. Read more in: Apple, Design

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How modern gamers respond to mobile gaming and IAP

This entirely scientific post is inspired by recent App Store reviews I’ve seen, summing up how people respond to mobile games.

Free game with IAP: This is a total rip-off! I hate the developer! It’s totally unfair that they want to make money from this game that I’ve nonetheless played for hours on my shiny, expensive iPhone!

Paid-for game with IAP: This is a total rip-off on top of a rip-off! I will ignore the many hours of fun that the game gave me, and wish the developer accidentally falls down a canyon for having the sheer audacity to provide the means to pay for extra content and/or a means to progress more rapidly through the game.

A game with no IAP but in-app currency: This is a total rip-off, because I don’t understand what ‘in-app purchase’ actually means! Also, I’m really annoyed that I can’t just buy loads of extra currency to speed through the game, although I hate in-app purchases. Therefore, this developer’s supposed generosity has also denied me the opportunity to complain about IAP and also made me look stupid in an App Store review! I hope they get kidnapped by a giant eagle and dropped in the ocean, so they’re torn to pieces by sharks who also hate IAP!

A game with no IAP but generous in-app currency that enables rapid progression: I finished this game too quickly. This is a total rip-off!

A totally free game with no IAP and generous in-app currency that enables rapid progression, but that also, miraculously, lasts for ages, through new level packs being issued almost daily: Man, this game’s getting boring now. Why hasn’t the developer done something new, the lazy git?

November 21, 2013. Read more in: Gaming

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