Weeknote: 18 May 2024 – AI(EEEEE) edition

AI, Lego T. rex, RetroArch and ARc Search

Published stuff

For Stuff, I explain why Google AI will help you – but kill the web as we know it. This one features cameos by Arc Search, Retro Dodo and an actual dodo. I also updated my upcoming Lego sets round-up. Apologies to your bank account.

Over at TapSmart, I wrote about the best alternatives to Safari for iPhone and what I want to see at WWDC 2024. Somehow, the latter wasn’t just ‘an off switch for the Home indicator’ and ‘for Apple to FINALLY let you sync photos to iCloud without you having to manually trigger uploads because the iPhone only has 93% of its battery charge left’.

Other stuff

Apple’s emulation rules remain fuzzy, but RetroArch made it to the App Store. I never thought I’d see the day. Although it is cut down – many cores are missing, either because Apple won’t allow JIT, or because it’s pissing around with other developers and the RetroArch dev was being cautious. (Apple reportedly keeps rejecting MAME4iOS for spam, much to the chagrin of the MAME4iOS creator.) 

Unsurprisingly, RetroArch’s appearance on iOS kicked off yet more ‘emulation is illegal’ rubbishEmulators are legal. Yes, a great many files people load into them may not be legit but that doesn’t make the tech itself illegal, just as it doesn’t make e-readers, music players and video players illegal. Of course, that doesn’t stop people arguing otherwise. (Personally, I wish more effort was expended by games companies and individuals to provide legal routes to play – and buy – old games than spreading rubbish about emulators.)

It also made very clear broader reporting on emulators is crap. As I said on Threads, articles should make it clear that emulators are not always straightforward to use. People assume they’ll be like Spotify, when at best they’re more like VLC. Even for seasoned emulation fans, RetroArch is a UX nightmare.

Personally, I use it often – but usually with a front-end on Linux. As-is on iPhone, it’s trying. And I fear for the people who spend time setting the thing up on Apple TV, only for tvOS to one day randomly flush the cache and crush all their efforts.

Speaking of crushing, Apple’s terrible advert continues to cause fallout. Ken Segall has a great piece on it. And Samsung tried to capitalise on it with its own ad. “Creativity cannot be crushed” was the theme. A few tiny snags, however.

First, while the ad has more humanity than Apple’s, it lacks creativity. Secondly, ‘with Galaxy AI’ is mentioned at the end, for… some reason. And thirdly, the actual product – a high-end tablet – does nothing more than display sheet music the guitarist in the advert barely looks at. If anything, that neatly sums up the depressing state of the app ecosystem on Android, which Google crushed all enthusiasm for long ago.

Finally, Quinn Nelson showed off a new iPad hover trick. Some will doubtless dismiss this as gimmickry. But this subtle effect surely has potential benefits, in providing another visual cue regarding a tool that doesn’t exist in reality, including its orientation. Previously, just the mark was previewed. Now, the shape of the tool itself can also be seen. It’d be interesting to hear from digital artists whether they find this useful.

May 18, 2024. Read more in: Weeknotes

No Comments

Weeknote: 11 May 2024 – now even iPad Proier

iPad home button, iPad with macOS Finder icon, and Zzap!64 logo

Published stuff

I wrote two columns for Stuff on the recent Apple event. The first celebrates the Home button going away, and the second has my take on the iPad Pro running macOS – namely that it doesn’t need to

Over at TapSmart, I was also on the Let Loose beat, rapidly exploring 11 talking points from the event.

Other stuff

Apple apologised for an ad in which it crushed creative and cultural objects in a gigantic press, the output of which was an iPad Pro. I get what the company was going for – all these things can be squeezed into a super-thin tablet. But the execution was… bad.

The company in the past has been capable of whimsy and fun. Perhaps it could have leveraged animation, ‘sucking’ those objects into the iPad, like apps into the Mac Dock. Regardless, a clinical metal press crushing terrified toys and beautiful instruments wasn’t the best direction.

I’ve seen people excusing Apple on the basis culture has changed. Apple is bigger now. People are increasingly annoyed about digital tools due to AI. So years back, this ad would have been fine. I’m not convinced. I don’t think people would have cheered an advert where vinyl collections, record players, CDs and tapes were crushed, only to reveal an iPod.

There are also grumbles that the iPad Pro isn’t pro enough. I get it. Apple has long wrestled with how far to push the device, while balancing its need to not impact on the Mac. For years, external display support for iPad was laughable. And today, it’s a device that is fantastic for consumption, excellent for certain creative tasks, but sub-optimal for others.

I do wonder, though, how much of the frustration stems from YouTubers, programmers, or tech pundits griping that the iPad Pro isn’t perfect for them in quite specific ways, and ignoring the bigger picture, where lots of people happily use one every day, preferring it to a Mac. 

On Mastodon, mcc wrote about how map apps are incapable of routing when you’re on public transport. This is a frustration of mine. When I’m in a car or on foot, my map app will instantly outline how long it’ll be until I reach my destination. When I’m on a train, it has no idea what’s happening and attempts to route me as if I at that second just got catapulted out of the window.

Finally, over at The Guardian, Keith Stuart braved the deadly waters of retro gaming by outlining the best video game magazines ever. At least, if you’re British.

Unusually for a list like this, I was in broad agreement – although omitting Wireframe even from the honourable mentions was a pity. Also, I wouldn’t personally top the list with Edge, but I get why it was done here. And it was great to see Newsfield remembered so fondly.

I’m not sure what the boring Commodore User was doing twinned with the far superior Your Sinclair, though. And Retro Gamer got short-changed down at #14. At the very least, that mag – which is still going – deserved to be above Future’s weird ACE and Edge wannabe games™.

Still, a good feature from Keith, who I hope hasn’t met his untimely demise after being set upon by a horde of furious Amstrad fans armed with sharpened copies of Amstrad Action.

May 11, 2024. Read more in: Weeknotes

No Comments

Weeknote: 4 May 2024 – with-ad plans are bad plans

Published stuff

I got an email from Netflix this week, telling me my plan was going to be 35% cheaper. The twist? Well, you already know it. But I wrote about it anyway for Stuff: Sorry, Netflix: I don’t want your ‘with adverts’ plan – here’s why.

One of my passions is the preservation of old games, and I got to write about that too: Beyond Space Invaders: why preserving forgotten arcade games matters. This digs into the new Quarter Arcades, which are moving beyond the likes of Space Invaders and Pac-Man to preserve more niche fare.

For Stuff, I also did my annual revamp to The best Star Wars Lego sets to celebrate May the 4th and updated Best upcoming Lego sets 2024: this year’s top new Lego releases.

Over at TapSmart, I wrote about allergy tracking apps for iPhone (which, given my own personal collection of allergies, was a great thing to get down), the pros and cons of an iPhone 16 Capture button, and the wonderful Cs Music Pro, which is the latest addition to my classics series.

Other stuff

Screen Time continues to be awful. I needed to disable it temporarily on the youngling’s iPad, to sign out of iCloud. When I signed back in, Screen Time inferred the set-up had been wiped and made me go through it from scratch. Additions were then – Surprise! – merged with the old set-up, but all the block set-ups were gone. Dreadful.

It feels like no-one sufficiently senior at Apple has kids, looks after kids, or cares about how much Screen Time their kids have. I’ve written before about how the system lacks a kill switch. It also doesn’t allow you to zero out an app, game or website but allow permission to be asked later. (The workaround is to allow a single minute, which is ridiculous.) Someone on Mastodon also noted it doesn’t even work on tvOS either. Perhaps WWDC or iOS 18 will bring meaningful updates, but I won’t hold my breath.

On Threads, writer Kurt Andersen drew attention to the fact that half of US vinyl buyers don’t own record players. He called this “some seriously loony late-capitalist activity”. I disagree. 

Just because you don’t have a record player today, that doesn’t mean you won’t ever have one. But if you have a record collection, it’s always there with you. By comparison, the second you stop a streaming subscription, all the music is ripped away from you. 

As long as you don’t get obsessive about it in a manner that derails other aspects of your life, what’s the harm in collecting records? And rather than ridiculing people for buying into physical media and supporting artists, shouldn’t we be encouraging those things?

(I don’t own many records myself – loads of CDs, but little vinyl. But I do have Wire’s three classic EMI albums on my office wall. I don’t feel weird about that in the slightest. Those albums mean a lot to me, and having them always visible makes me happy.)

Dave Mark posted about the Internet Archive’s problems. It really is on shaky ground now, and I find that a huge pity, because it does such fantastic work – and has put everything at risk by going hard on blatant book piracy. Technically, a lot of the other archiving the organisation does is IP infringement too – even Wayback Machine. But that is doing something no-one else is, preserving an ephemeral medium. It is important. I’d also argue some other archival work – digital files; out-of-print magazines – has real value. But the book thing was a massive overstep and showcased a certain ideology over even the slightest notions of realism and pragmatism.

Finally, my RGB30 saga continues. I swapped out the OS and am now running ArkOS. That appears to have solved the battery drain issue, but ArkOS is clunky and ugly compared to Rocknix. Bleh. Not sure which way I’m going to go with this one. I don’t regret buying the device, though. I’m still having a ball with Pico-8 on it.

May 4, 2024. Read more in: Weeknotes

No Comments

Weeknote: 27 April 2024 – thinking about milestones

Game Boy, Swipe app logo, robot emoji representing AI, and Game Boy Mario jumping

Published stuff

My Stuff column this week is: Just say no: not every piece of tech needs subscriptions and AI. And last Sunday, I apparently traumatised several people by reminding them of their age as I wrote about the Game Boy turning 35. Still: it could be worse. My first computer was released in 1979

For TapSmart, I mull over where Apple will be in 2030 and add Tiny Wings to my classics series.

Other stuff

First up, Swipe magazine has hit the milestone of 300(!) issues. This iPhone-first indie mag (essentially the extended app version of TapSmart) is packed with app recommendations, tips and features. There’s a free trial if you’d like to check it out, and then it’s just a couple of bucks per month for two issues and back issue access, to support our work.

I wasn’t there quite from the start – I was brought on board with issue 17. But I’m now wondering if I’ve written for more issues of any other mag. Regardless, it’s been a privilege to be a part of Swipe, and I do hope it’s around for many issues more.

RGB30 running Pico-8

Elsewhere, I’ve been continuing to discover the idiosyncrasies of the Powkiddy RBG30. The company has a reputation for cutting corners, but I was seduced by the 1:1 720p display, which I thought would be fantastic for Pico-8. (Pico-8 is a fantasy console, with intentionally limited specs, for which developers have created a slew of amazing old-school games.)

I was dead-on about the display. As a real-world Pico-8, the RGB30 is hard to beat. And that’s even taking into account the iffy D-pad. That screen, though: so good. And ideal for Game Boy, NES and SNES too, along with vertical arcade titles. (Some 4:3 games also work well in 8:7, if you’re prepared to ignore slight distortion.)

Where the RGB30 falls into baffling territory is in how it charges. A hardware issue means it doesn’t recognise USB-C cables. But even when I use USB-A to USB-C, the device needs to be on to successfully charge. And if I shut it down in software, the battery continues to drain in a manner I’ve never seen before. Fortunately, turning off RGB30 by holding the power button down for several seconds reduces that drain significantly – or even eliminates it. I’m not quite sure which, though, because the battery indicator’s quality appears to be on par with the charging system’s.

April 27, 2024. Read more in: Weeknotes

No Comments

Weeknote: 20 April 2024 – it’s all about the games, boy

Published stuff

The big news in iPhone circles this week was the first release of ‘open’ emulators on the App Store. I covered this for TapSmart in Why an iPhone Game Boy emulator is a bigger deal than you think and for Stuff in I can now play stacks of Nintendo games on my iPhone – but I want more

I’m very happy for Delta creator Riley Testut. Frankly, his app should have been approved years ago. But in a roundabout way, Apple blocking it resulted in Testut creating AltStore, which is now the first proper third-party iPhone app store; and outside of the EU, Delta has topped the charts in the US and UK App Stores. Catharsis! 

Those “but no-one really wants emulators on iPhone anyway” takes are aging well…

Upcoming stuff

I have the possible go-ahead to write up a piece on Pico-8, which I very much hope happens, given how lovely it is. In many ways, it’s my favourite system right now, despite being a ‘fantasy’ console that never existed in the real world. Although with the magic of cheap Chinese handheld devices, you can sort of pretend it does today.

Other stuff

There’s a whiff of holier than thou about a chunk of the tech press pushing back against emulation, equating it solely with piracy, and backing Nintendo to the hilt. I find this strange. As I said on Mastodon, emulation is not illegal. And even though much emulation use infringes on IP rights, things aren’t that simple.

First, legal ROMs/disk images exist. Secondly, it’s curious certain people rally against emulation but not open video/audio players. Thirdly, while I’m not a piracy advocate, I’m very aware most games would be gone without pirates and emulators. Of course, that’s something few IP owners will ever admit – even when they sometimes use cracked games in commercial products. 

I’m not sure what the solution is. But we need something better than a tiny fraction of titles being re-sold time and time again and everything else being locked away – at least in a legal sense. Just imagine if other mediums were like gaming. 99% of music and film legally inaccessible unless you owned original hardware and original media, both slowly degrading and liable to die at any moment. It doesn’t bear thinking about.

Can bad reviews kill companies? That’s the question Marques Brownlee asked following the backlash over his Humane AI pin review.

It’s bad products that can kill companies. Bad reviewsmay impact on a company, depending on the sector, especially if the reviews are unanimous. But that’s not the fault of any one reviewer. 

It isn’t a reviewer’s job to make a company feel good about itself or improve its chances of success. That’s PR. A reviewer is there to act as a guide and filter, using their experience and expertise to ascertain whether or not a product is worth people’s time and money. 

Molly White wrote a piece about AI/LLMs, which is well worth reading. She looks beyond the hype to explore genuine use cases for AI, and ask whether they balance the negatives. 

As a writer, I’d be foolish not to explore this tech myself, and I’ve been doing so for months. Having A/B tested a slew of text pieces and experimented with several LLMs across a range of tests, my opinion largely aligns with White’s.

To my mind, LLMs are currently dreadful for writing from scratch anything that has the slightest complexity. For research, they can be an aid, but are often inaccurate (even Perplexity, sadly). And for proofing, they are mediocre at best. ChatGPT will find errors in text I send to it, but will more often than not miss mistakes, and will make recommendations that would make a good production editor angrily hurl a thesaurus at a swan.

On the flip side, LLMs can be useful for iteration, which saves time. Although I’ve never yet used a draft an LLM has provided me as-is. And I have found ChatGPT excellent for remembering words that vanish from your brain a nanosecond before you were about to type them. Although it’s hard to argue that’s worth all the power and water LLMs consume.

Finally, Rob Fearon has been getting his art in gear with a range of retrogaming illustrations. I think they are superb. Do lob him a few bucks via Ko-Fi if you agree.

April 20, 2024. Read more in: News

No Comments

« older posts