Apple should counter its emulation stance by adding retro classics to Apple Arcade

9to5Mac reports iDOS 2 is to be pulled from the App Store. This isn’t the first time the app’s been removed, and probably not coincidentally comes hot on the heels of news posts showing people using it to get Windows 3.1 running on an iPad. (With a bit of effort, you can get classic Mac OS running too.)

Apple, naturally, cites that its rules have been broken:

Executing code can introduce or changes features or functionality of the app and allows for downloading of content without licensing.

Presumably, Apple reckons the ‘executing code’ bit is the main issue; after all, kicking an app for running illegal content would be a touch hypocritical, given how many book readers and audio and video players are on the store. Ahem.

This also points to shoddy App Store review. It’s not like iDOS 2 snuck through. It’s been back on the store with this exact same functionality for a while now, and received several updates. I’d hoped this was a sign Apple was changing its tone on retro gaming and emulation, but feared it was not. And Apple’s seeming distaste for emulated classic games feels further cemented by it not approving entirely legal retro-gaming streaming service Antstream Arcade for the App Store.

So what now? If you like emulators and want them on your phone: Android. Sure, there are workarounds on iOS, but they’re more hassle than they’re worth. But if Apple was canny, there would be another way — a very Apple way: add a retro arcade to Apple Arcade.

Apple Arcade is oddly lacking in arcade games. Apple likes doing things by the book. Plenty of companies are happy to license out old IP. So alongside Arcade Originals, App Store Greats and Timeless Classics, let’s have Arcade Classics. Get fully licensed Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Robotron, Bubble Bobble, Dig Dug and loads more — an actual old-school arcade — on to Apple Arcade. It would be a great way to show off iOS 15’s new virtual controls overlay system, along with simultaneously dealing with the bizarre lack of arcade games in Apple Arcade and the paucity of classic games on the App Store as a whole.

July 23, 2021. Read more in: Apple, Gaming, Opinions, Retro gaming

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You can do real work on an iPad, so stop claiming otherwise

Now iPadOS 15 has appeared, it’s a crushing disappointment to those people who enjoy being crushingly disappointed when Apple doesn’t do precisely what they want. And it’s not like I don’t have frustrations with the iPad myself. For years, I’ve banged on about wanting full external display support, the dream being a fully modular computing experience that could ‘be’ tablet, laptop or desktop within relevant contexts. But as I wrote for Wired, this is not Apple’s strategy. The company isn’t seeking to replace laptops with iPads, but to “finesse the transition between its platforms, with all your hardware and software working together”.

In a sense, iPad still exists where it was originally positioned, between a smartphone and a laptop. It’s just this definition has expanded from the device’s originally fairly limited scope. But even from day one, it was a superior device for some tasks—without that, it wouldn’t have had any reason to exist. Today, the ambition of app creators has helped the platform evolve into a primary device for a wider range of users, including some illustrators and video editors on the move.

It’s with this in mind that I find increasing frustration in commentators who should know better slamming the iPad for not having “real apps” to do “real work”. It’s like the conversation hasn’t moved on in a decade, despite the platform and its capabilities being far beyond what was possible with the original iPad. And while I do understand some people are irked they can’t get Final Cut on their iPad, I’ve also watched video folks scythe through 4K edits on LumaFusion. Elsewhere, I’ve talked with visual designers using Affinity apps and illustrators working with Procreate. Writers? Plenty tap away on an iPad with the likes of Ulysses and Scrivener. Musicians? There are tons of superb synths, virtual instruments and DAWs for the system, many of which work brilliantly, and most of which cost a fraction of their desktop counterparts or equivalents.

Could Apple do more? Sure. But is iPad somehow deficient? I don’t think so, unless your requirements are very specific—or your real aim is screaming that iPad is doomed at the top of your lungs, despite all evidence to the contrary.

July 8, 2021. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology

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For Apple and others, flexibility is the vital component to the future happiness of workers

A tale in three parts:

  • Apple states as of September that employees will be back to the office at least three days per week, and will get the option of two additional remote-work weeks per year (The Verge)
  • Apple employees respond, asking Apple to be more flexible and account for individuals who might want to work from home on a permanent basis (The Verge)
  • Daring Fireball writes a surprisingly callous response, slamming the Apple employee letter and inferring those people “aren’t a good fit for Apple”

I’ve primarily worked for home for 20 years now. It has pros and cons. I’ve been fortunate to be there for most of the big moments in my child’s life, not least her first steps. If I’d been on a 9–5, I’d have missed those—and so much more. But I also recognise that for some people, being around others in an office environment is how they thrive. Also, some jobs can only be done in that way.

However, many jobs can be performed well in a distributed team environment. Apple itself has shown that, in all the many things it’s achieved during a pandemic. At this point, my take—as someone who is very aware of being in a fairly privileged position—is that flexibility is the way forward.

The Daring Fireball take is, for me, colossally bad. From a pure commentary standpoint, it’s distasteful for an individual working however they like to hand-wave away requests for flexibility from people who have discovered how they can do revolutionary work and not miss out on things like family moments (while avoiding soul-sapping commutes).

But the same is true in reverse. Some people thrive on in-person interaction. So denying that (as some other companies are looking to do) is equally problematic. Companies will have to figure out new ways of working that are flexible and smart enough to cater for alternate ways of thinking.

For Apple specifically, the company used to say ‘think different’. It could leverage that approach and lead a new way of how major corporations work rather than being so prescriptive. And while Apple shifting to three days in/two days out is a big cultural shift, it has an opportunity to do more. If your company has been by every measure a massive success during the pandemic, then it has space to be more radical, not less, regarding workers.

June 5, 2021. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology

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Changing my mind on Apple Arcade’s range of games

I’ve broadly been a fan of Apple Arcade since the start. Some gamers got sniffy about it, arguing it didn’t include ‘proper’ games or a pile of AAA hits. That missed the point: Apple Arcade was meant to be something different, not another me-too service. Thing is, I missed the point myself a bit as well.

My Stuff article on the best Apple Arcade games lists titles that personally clicked with me, but in introducing Apple Arcade to my daughter, the manner in which I’m approaching and thinking about the service has shifted.

My daughter has used mobile Apple devices since before she could talk. She could navigate an iPod touch at 18 months. Safe to say, she’s familiar with this stuff. These days, she has her own iPad, which she uses almost daily—for a limited amount of time. It’s stuffed full of games and educational apps. She loves it.

One thing, though, is she’s never been keen on games with risk. There are exceptions: she’ll happily play two-player retro games with me. Broadly, though, she dislikes arcade fare on the iPad (with the notable exception of Super Phantom Cat 2, for reasons I’ve never quite been able to figure out).

She likes comfort and repetition when playing games (and also watching TV) and so stuck with a lot of kiddie games she’s now outgrown. Yet she blazed through Hidden Folks (intentionally deleting her progress several times to start again) and happily plays Dissembler and Threes! So I got thinking… what about Apple Arcade?

I dumped a ton of games on to her iPad and kind of left her to it. She’s working her way through Monument Valley. She’s got quite far in What The Golf? Mini Metro has had a few launches. Farm It! has gone down well. I’m glad I figured out that this service could provide new gaming opportunities for her—new things to try; new challenges to solve. It also opened my eyes to a certain diversity of approach within Apple Arcade that I’d not fully considered before.

A lot of gamers—myself included—were (and, indeed, are) quite sniffy about certain choices Apple made. I still think some Apple Arcade games are objectively poor. But it’s interesting to see a few cute ‘grind’ games in the mix, since those tend to align with exploitative freemium loot boxes and related horrors.

Ultimately, these games sort of are freemium games without the hideous business model. But you know what? My kid is really enjoying Farm It! She’s having fun. BUT. There are no ads. There’s no IAP. It’s safe from the crap we so often see elsewhere. And it showcases that Apple Arcade is a service intentionally designed to be for everyone. Even today, that seems quite rare in gaming and can only be a good thing. I wish I’d figured that out sooner.

May 21, 2021. Read more in: Apple, Gaming, Opinions

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The iPad Air further cements the need for iPads to fully support external displays

Now the iPad Air has USB-C out, Apple’s seeming reluctance regarding full external display support for iPad is increasingly baffling. Surely the ideal should be to position the iPad as a fully modular device that promotes strong ergonomics? Most apps are designed to be responsive anyway, and so would automatically scale/resize for an external display.

The Magic Keyboard is superb in many ways. That you can detach the iPad in under a second beats every other iPad keyboard I’ve used, most of which force you to shove the iPad itself into a case. But. It still only turns your iPad into a ‘laptop’, not a desktop.

Laptop form-factors are ergonomic disasters—as I outlined in Working from home? Then set things up properly before you knacker your back and hands. They are like not-great office chairs: fine for short-form work, but terrible if you use them all day, every day. If Apple really does see iPad as the future, that future should enable you to fully use that device with an external display.

Right now, you can of course connect your iPad to big screens, and use external keyboards, trackpads and mice. But the iPad’s aspect ratio remains. So you end up with massive black borders left and right of the app you’re using. It seems such an obvious thing to fix—but when will it be fixed?

September 16, 2020. Read more in: Apple, Opinions

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